First, I want to acknowledge that the past few months have been tough; it seems like anytime I refresh my web browser, there’s more bad news happening in our nation.

From thousands of migrant children still separated from their parents after families entered the U.S. seeking sanctuary; to another school shooting which targeted students in art class; to the relentless news coverage of the investigation in Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election; to a Caucasian police officer shooting an unarmed, African American teenager in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA … I know that I am becoming emotionally and mentally exhausted.

Personally, I find some solace in the work that we as arts advocates do at the federal, state, and local levels in advancing the healing and transformative power of the arts and arts education. I think it’s important to remember the positive moments and for us to celebrate the victories that we as a field are achieving.

In that spirit, to build upon my last piece, I want to share with you a few stories about the current advocacy successes at the federal and state levels, spearheaded by the State Captains, State Arts Action Network (SAAN), and their states’ advocates.

U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committees Support Increased Arts Funding

On June 6, 208, the full U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to approve the Interior Subcommittee's vote to increase funding by $2 million each to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)—increasing federal funding to $155 million for FY 2019. New Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Chellie Pingree (D-ME) was also successful in adding the following report language to the arts funding bill:

"The Committee acknowledges and appreciates decades of arts and humanities advocacy by the late Rep. Louise M. Slaughter. In her memory, the Committee encourages NEA and NEH to expand grant-making activities in a manner that honors her advocacy, especially in rural and under-served areas, so more Americans are able to benefit from the economic, social, and educational impacts of the arts and humanities."

This language was approved unanimously by the members of the House Appropriations Committee. Then on June 14, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved their bill for FY 2019, which matched the House's NEA and NEH funding. The bill passed unanimously, making it a truly bipartisan effort.  

Both bills are now readied for floor action and votes, which may occur later this summer. With midterm elections on the horizon, it remains unclear when Congress will finish their work for this year and provide final FY19 funding.

Illinois’ State Arts Funding

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed the Fiscal Year 2019 budget bill on June 4, 2018. The state budget includes a 30% increase for the Illinois Arts Council Agency (IACA), which boosts the agency's funding by $3 million (from $9.9 million to $12.9 million).

The increase brings IACA to its highest level of funding since 2009. Also, it comes just two years after Illinois had no budget whatsoever. The FY 2019 IACA budget triples grant funding for undeserved constituencies and more than doubles state support for arts education. 

The FY19 budget process began with the governor proposing a nearly 20% cut to the IACA's budget. Driven by SAAN member Arts Alliance Illinois’ leadership, arts advocates generates nearly 850 messages to more than 125 lawmakers in support of the IACA and arts funding.

Photo by Zachary Whittenburg

California’s Budget and Arts Education Wins

Due to the perseverance of SAAN member California Arts Advocates, Governor Brown included an additional $5 million in one-time funding on May 11, 2018 for the California Arts Council (CAC) in his May Revise budget—a 31% increase in funding for the CAC. Then, on May 15, the Senate Budget Subcommittee No. 4 heard a presentation from the CAC, and Senator Scott Wilk made a compelling case to provide the CAC with an increase higher than $5 million. The committee decided to leave it open to see what the assembly would do next.

Ultimately, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed a state budget on June 27 that includes an $8.8 million one-time increased funding allocation for the CAC. With all federal and state sources combined, the CAC’s total 2018-19 budget will be approximately $27.53 million. The budget also includes an additional, separate $8 million state allocation for California’s Arts in Corrections program, administered by the California Arts Council.

Photo by Jae C. Hong

The governor also signed off on Senate Bill 933, “Arts for Every Student Incentive Grant Program”—introduced by Senator Ben Allen and sponsored by SAAN member California Alliance for Arts Education. The legislation is intended to provide underserved school districts and special needs students with a “jump start” in arts education funding in order to bring California into better alignment with the state Education Code and provide students with robust visual and performing arts instruction.

The allocation of $44 million will be coming from one-time federal Title IV funding for grants prioritized for 1) enhancing visual and performing arts education, or 2) expanding access to physical and mental health care, including dental and vision care, in schools by supporting school health centers. How that funding will be divided among these priorities is yet to be determined.

Michigan’s Relaunched Arts Advocacy Day

After an absence of 10 years, Michigan Arts Advocacy Day returned on April 18, 2018 with more than 100 attendees in Lansing, MI—with hundreds more voices across the state sharing through social media—who raised a unified voice for the arts, culture, arts education and creative industries in Michigan. Under SAAN member Creative Many Michigan (CMM)’s leadership, Arts Advocacy Day was made possible by five sponsors—Michigan Municipal League, Kendall College of Art and Design, Carbon Stories, META Collective, Varnum LLP, and Fusion Shows as well as 85 partners statewide.

The event resulted in 72 legislative meetings, added 5 new members of the Michigan Legislative Creative Caucus for a total of 36 members, 101 messages sent online asking legislators for increase support for state funding, 6 artists contracted, 5 fact sheets created, and thousands of social media impressions.

Photo by Creative Many Michigan

The world of late seems like a scary and hopeless place. Yet, if you could indulge me in a moment of sentimentality, I want to end with the words of a very wise wizard, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore:

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” —Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

May your work in shaping, leading, and advocating for the arts and arts education give you light.