Every day at work, I am reminded that the intersection between art and government continues grow in importance. Funding, allocation, and government spending is essential to developing our education system. I intern for Americans for the Arts because advocating for equitable access to art and arts education vastly improves our education system. Research shows that marginalized communities consistently have little to no access to arts education in schools. Some of the most diverse voices are being shut out of conversations and art creation. We are left with an education system that refuses to elevate some of the most integral voices in diversity for our dialogue and our art. I had the privilege of art shaping my entire childhood, but there are some places youth have no access to art at all due to systemic inequality in our education system.
Since the beginning of our Early Literacy Learning through the Arts program, parental engagement has been a purposeful component. It is our belief that a healthy and active relationship between a Pre-K child’s parent and their teacher will lay the foundation for continued parental engagement throughout the course of the child’s academic career. Further, it is our belief that the arts offer a level playing field of sorts, a non-threatening environment for risk-taking and trust-building, that can play a unique role in cultivating a sense of comfort and rapport on the part of the parent. Previously negative experiences from personal schooling of the parent can be replaced by new, long-lasting, fully-engaging and empowering relationships with their child’s teacher for years to come.
Talking with voters, framing issues, raising money. What’s happening to me and how can it feel so natural? For the past 20+ years I’ve been an arts administrator. For the past three, I’ve led our state’s arts advocacy organization, Oklahomans for the Arts. Now, I am running for State Senate in Oklahoma’s District 30. We focus so much attention on elected officials in arts advocacy. Now I’m striving to become one and it feels like just the right conclusion. I felt pushed off the sidelines into running for office from my experiences advocating for arts and education. We’ve led the nation in state cuts to education, and arts funding has been cut almost 50% in the past eight years. Marking this more-than-year-long marathon transition, here are some ways I’m finding that advocacy compares to and differs from running for office.
Creative placemaking has been an ongoing discussion in cities and towns across the country for several years, but where do planners sit in this dialogue? What role does a planner have in the development of a creative placemaking strategy? How can planners incorporate creative placemaking ideas into their projects? Or encourage communities to implement these kinds of projects? Americans for the Arts has partnered with the American Planning Association, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Area Planning Council and The Townscape Institute, on a National Endowment for the Arts funded project to develop a suite of curated resources to assist planners in understanding how arts and culture can impact their work. The tools developed in this project will live as a Knowledgebase on APA’s website, accessible to all who are interested in implementing creative placemaking projects.
On January 1, the 2018 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act went into effect, a substantial change to the U.S. tax code which has the potential to negatively impact arts and culture nonprofit organizations in a variety of ways. One of the most significant impacts will come in changes related to the thresholds and amounts associated with the charitable tax deduction. This 100-year-old provision was designed to stimulate giving to charities and other organizations serving the public good by providing an opportunity to claim a deduction as a reduction in an individual’s tax burden. While the repercussions of the federal tax code changes are still emerging, and corresponding shifts in state-by-state tax policy may impact your situation, the notes that follow are an introductory primer. If you have questions about state-level implications, we recommend you reach out to your state comptroller or state association of nonprofits.
Sitting down for a documentary interview the day before the unveiling of a monument to Maggie L. Walker in Richmond, community leader Melvin Jones Jr. was bubbling with joy in anticipation of seeing a project he had fought so tirelessly for finally come to fruition. A humble man in his early sixties, Jones felt familial to me. Never taking too much credit for accomplishments and always speaking with a smile, he wore his passion on his sleeve for all to see and had an arsenal of Maggie L. Walker wisdom that could supersede any textbook. His energy was contagious and he carried a binder full of documents he had collected. What I assumed would be a nuts and bolts interview about process turned into a conversation around history, legacy, and the diligence of a man who would go from a concerned citizen with an idea to public art proponent over the course of a decade.
Everyone should have access to making their life better and living a healthy life. This is where we can all make a difference: advocating to make the benefits of creative activity, arts education, and arts experiences more openly accessible to more people. You might be surprised to know that the arts and health have over 100 years of partnership. Visual art, music, dance, creative writing, dramatic play, and theater have been used for decades to enhance individual experience in hospitals, mental health treatment centers, senior care facilities, emergency rooms, occupational therapy clinics, in pediatric care, and more. Wherever people are in crisis—health or otherwise—creative activities are found.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Julie Muraco, the new Chair of the Board of Directors at Americans for the Arts. Julie has been involved with the Americans for the Arts Board since 2005, coming to the Board when Americans for the Arts merged with the Arts and Business Council of New York. In this interview, Julie talks about her enthusiasm for her new role, her vision for the future of Americans for the Arts, and the smooth transition and camaraderie between herself and former Board Chair Abel Lopez.
The recent passing of the inspiration for Rosie the Riveter underscores the importance of public art … and the role of women. The real Rosie the Riveter—Naomi Parker Fraley, a waitress in California—lived to be 96. An image of Naomi, hair tied in a polka-dot bandana, became an iconic symbol for unity during World War II and, later, for feminism. After she died January 20, 2018, her lengthy obituary in The New York Times was worthy of rock stars or heads of state. She was overlooked for decades, but when the public learned that Naomi was Rosie the Riveter, she said she wanted neither fame nor fortune.
Above the door of my theatre teacher’s classroom is the saying, “Step into the fear.” This saying has become a motivation of mine during this turbulent environment where support for arts education is more important than ever before. As a theatre student, history and human behavior jump off the page and come alive, forming an ensemble of different perspectives from a wide range of characters. These characters help me better understand the evolving world in which I live and inspire me to make a difference. Theatre has taught me to speak up, and this skill is not lost on me as an advocate. As I learn more and more about the world through plays, art, and music, I find myself with a greater efficacy and understanding of the value of arts advocacy.
In advocacy, there’s enormous value in the large numbers of voices coming together, unified around an issue. Arts Advocacy Day brings together more than 500 individuals who are passionate about the policies that support artists and audiences in their communities. Those who visit Washington, DC each spring roam the halls of Congress, meet with Congressional members or their staff, and follow up with thank you letters and stories. We bombard lawmakers with a lot of information, facts, and anecdotes, bringing a wave of enthusiasm for pro-arts policy-making. But what happens throughout the rest of the year in DC?
I am a US Army veteran, artist, teacher, creative soul guide, and like all of us—a work in progress. With all of these things that I feel I am, I know that being of service to others has been and will always be a thread in the tapestry of my life. The many journeys within my life always bring new challenges, self-awareness, and growth. It's been 20 years since my first battle with suicidal ideation and major depression. I've had some relapses since then, but with each fight, insights surface and propel me to more self-discovery and deeper healing. It wasn't until after my last relapse four years ago that I discovered what my “service to others” would be, and that my journey of healing through creativity would be born.
Although years may really just be a number, in its 31 years, Arts Advocacy Day has seen six different U.S. presidents spanning both political parties. It’s witnessed sixteen different congressional sessions and eight different Speakers of the U.S. House. Through it all, every year, attendees hear that “the arts are bipARTtisan.” Because, no matter who’s in office, arts advocacy matters. Funding decisions are made every year. Who’s deciding this year may not be deciding next year. Who’s to remember what happened before? Who’s to know why it matters? Who’s to learn from each other? The answer is us. All of us. All of us together.
Myah Overstreet (20) and Jason Wyman (41) are an intergenerational producing team with The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture. They have worked together for over two years co-piloting The Alliance Youth Media Initiatives. Their latest endeavor with The Alliance is The Issue, a new arts + culture magazine designed to inspire a future where we all belong, which was published on January 11, 2018. The Issue is a model of intergenerational collaboration and mutual reciprocity, where diverse voices are artfully represented and joyfully celebrated. Overstreet and Wyman recently sat down to chat how and why they collaborate and create across age as a means to create a more inclusive future.
Through the public art process and with input from the community, the monument to Maggie Walker would be a reality at last. We’d build on the work of those who came before and follow the path for a project that was long overdue. It would be done by the 150th anniversary of her birth. Easy and uncontroversial, right? However, when I truly reflect, the path to that day was longer and rougher than any of us on the Public Art Site Selection Team anticipated. Many, many times we found ourselves turning to Walker’s quote about determination and perseverance: “Have faith, have hope, have courage and carry on.”
I am the great, great-granddaughter of Maggie Walker and am truly honored and humbled to be related to this magnificent woman. She is an important character not only in Richmond history, but also in the history of African Americans and women. I am blessed to be able to tell her story and even more grateful to be able to drive down Broad Street in Richmond and see her standing in her rightful place. Monuments like hers are important in a city like Richmond, where Confederate ghosts loom. By having this public art in the center of the city, it serves to educate people who may not have known her and her contributions to the community.
When I started working on the Maggie Walker project, I had no idea of the magnitude and importance of the project, nor its national significance and impact it would have upon our community. Now when I walk by her statue, I see community members feeling connections to each other and sensing the investment made into this place of memorial created with public art. My own motivations to work in the field of public art stem from the compelling need to create more beauty, joy, and connection in the world. In using the arts to tell our stories, and in the process of working together as a group to make a project happen, we find community connections as beautiful as the pieces of art themselves.
At Americans for the Arts, we are always looking for stories that demonstrate the transformative power of the arts and how the arts can impact people's lives in positive ways. When I was tasked with creating a video about a statue in Richmond, Virginia, what I had first thought would be a simple project about a public art piece became much more complicated than I had ever imagined. But thank goodness for complications, because I am so grateful to have been able to share the complex story of the monument to Maggie L. Walker, a civil rights pioneer and the first woman to be memorialized as a statue in the city of Richmond.
Americans for the Arts joined 17 national, state, and local arts service organizations urging reversal of a ruling that permitted Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers to remove a painting by St. Louis high school student David Pulphus from a Congressional Art Competition exhibit at the U.S. Capitol. His allegorical post-Ferguson painting depicts a civil rights demonstration and includes two police officers with boar heads; one is pointing his gun at a protester with the head of wolf. The painting was removed under pressure from a small group of Congressmen, with the contention that the exhibition was “government speech” which the government could censor at will.
As an undergraduate student at Wake Forest University studying Health and Exercise Science and aspiring to be a future physical therapist, I was excited when I learned about a pioneering Parkinson’s Disease dance class developed by Associate Professor of Dance Christina Soriano, which is now trademarked as her own IMPROVment™ method. Soriano has crafted a pedagogy of improvisational dance movement that aims to improve the mobility, balance, and overall health of older adults, giving participants a beautiful and joyous way to practice how to handle the challenges that a life with Parkinson’s—or any neurodegenerative disease—brings.
Over the past year, public monuments have been scrutinized and reviewed: What are the roles of these artworks? What relevance do they play in history? In contemporary culture? And, what do they say about the community where they are located? Richmond, Virginia has been looking at their monuments and considering what is missing for quite some time. As Americans for the Arts was looking to enhance the tools we offer to the public art field, the story of a new monument to civil rights activist Maggle L. Walker in Richmond proved to be an ideal subject for a short-form documentary video.
While we all work to serve audiences that are growing in diversity, we cannot prescribe the art that might engage our audience without engaging in conversation. We must be ready to walk with them, to find out through relationship and exploration together what their expectations, needs, and wants are. And that’s how we truly build community through the arts.
Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to speak with Abel Lopez, outgoing Chair of the Board of Directors at Americans for the Arts. As Chair since 2013, Abel has been an instrumental part of the growth of Americans for the Arts, particularly in sustaining leadership, developing goals as part of the organization’s most recent Strategic Plan, and spearheading the Statement on Cultural Equity. In this interview, Abel talks about his history with Americans for the Arts, his experience as Chair, and his excitement for the future of Americans for the Arts and the nonprofit arts and cultural sector.
Nearly a year ago, two members of Trinity Repertory Company’s resident acting company proposed an idea: use the Rhode Island tradition of presenting A Christmas Carol to amplify our institution’s commitment to community engagement. They dreamed of incorporating different community groups every night, connecting our audiences to work and people they might not otherwise know. Fast-forward to now, somewhere mid-run of an unforgettable Christmas Carol. Every three days a new community group steps into a show so full of heart it bursts off the stage. The results of this work are still uncountable, and yet the reverberations are already so easy to see.
As we celebrate the holidays, I encourage you to think of all the ways artists have helped your company, organization, place of worship, community. How have artists bettered your family and your life? Think about the artist behind the public art mural as you pass by while running errands. Take a moment to listen to caroling. Take family and friends to galleries, a live music venue, or small theater production. Let’s all support these artists and community change-makers this holiday season.