Eight for 2018: New Obstacles and Opportunities in the Arts

Over the first quarter of 2018 I’ve had the great opportunity to spend time listening to the wisdom of my colleagues in the field. From these gatherings, I continue to see first-hand the spectacular array of work and service offered by the non-profit arts community in our country. It is a vibrant, effective, optimistic, inciteful, and growing field that uplifts our communities across the country. Despite challenges in funding and support, the creativity of our arts field surges forward. There are new benchmarks to celebrate and new obstacles to overcome, all leading I hope to new opportunities for the arts. Here are eight observations for 2018.

We Should All Value the Artists and Their Vital Role in Our Communities

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. 

Looking Back and Moving Forward—Supporting Our Veterans Through the Arts

November is Veterans Month, a time to celebrate, honor, and reflect on the contributions of the men and women who have served our country in peacetime and in conflict. Earlier this month, I made my way to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for their 14th Annual Healing Arts Exhibit and Symposium, where I was met by the champion of this effort, Captain Moira G. McGuire, and had an opportunity to explore the art on display. My job there was to give the opening speech about the long history of connection between the arts and the military going all the way back to the days of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, but being surrounded by the incredible artwork produced by the wounded, ill, and injured members of the armed services and their families was the real benefit of being there.

Artists’ Voices Ring Through Civic Dialogue and Municipal Engagement

The role of the artist is changing. In the midst of these challenging times, civic engagement has become the focus of attention across many sectors and fields. More than ever, the arts are promoting greater awareness and understanding of community issues, contributing to shifts in thinking and in attitude. I see artists and arts organizations across the country being integrated into practices of civic engagement, and applying the power of artistic imagination to inform, inspire, engage, and motivate social action. And I continue to applaud state and municipal governments across the U.S. for embracing such collaborations.

Arts Education Transforms Teaching, Learning, and the Lives of Our Young People

During this week of celebration, advocates in every state are working to secure equity in access to arts education and articulate the role of the arts as a pathway to academic success, specifically in the education of students of color, students in rural communities, students who are classified as low-socioeconomic status English Language Learners, or those who require special education. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has stated, “This is absolutely an equity issue and a civil rights issue.” We recognize this issue. We stand against the barriers that cause this issue. And we are working to overcome this issue.

The Arts and Veterans: A Mighty Force

The Fourth of July is a time to honor and reflect on the determination and sacrifices of our service members in making our freedom possible. Over the years, stories have emerged of how veterans across the country come back—and what they give back—after overcoming sometimes decades of struggles with combat and service-related illness and injuries. Many of these veterans say that the arts saved their lives—but in finding their creative voice, they are also enriching our lives too.

From Jobs to Dinner to Even Milking Cows, the Nonprofit Arts Are a Multi-Faceted Economic Powerhouse

In 2015, Americans for the Arts set out to determine the economic impact of the nonprofit arts industry through Arts & Economic Prosperity® 5 (AEP5), the largest national study of its kind. It has been five years since the last such study, which came shortly after the Great Recession. We focused on 341 regions representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, including 14,439 arts and cultural organizations, and an extraordinary 212,691 audience members. Surveys were collected throughout 2016, and results were revealed June 17 at Americans for the Arts’ Annual Convention in San Francisco. The numbers are remarkable.

From Blues to the “Peanutcracker,” Government Support for the Arts Helps Create Access for All

It’s easy to rattle off numbers, but what does this increase in funding really mean? Great projects across the country will now get to continue. Last year, the NEA recommended more than 2,400 grants in nearly 16,000 communities in every congressional district in the country. A review of NEA grants shows that the majority go to small and medium-sized organizations, and the diversity among these grant recipients is unmatched by any other U.S. funder. One grant program, “Challenge America,” is dedicated to reaching underserved communities—those whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability.

Sometimes the Budget Pie is Big Enough for Everyone

It’s the late 70s and I’m standing in the rotunda of the Massachusetts State House with a 10-foot-wide Boston cream pie. A pencil-thin line of white frosting drawn from the center outward like the minute hand of a watch is punctuated by a tall cardboard flag that says, “A piece of the pie for the arts.” This might get us some curious onlookers, maybe some pictures, I think. But before I know it, every elected official and staff member in the entire statehouse is drawn to the spectacle and descends into the rotunda not only to view it, but to get a piece. My fellow advocates and I served a lot of pie that day … and we also got an increase to our arts budget. 

Robert Lynch Responds to Hill Commentary Calling to End Funding for the NEA

In his op-ed (“The case for cutting National Endowment of the Arts funding,” April 2), David D’Amato states that “Government-funded art is publicly-funded art only once government is lazily conflated with the public. It is not the public (whatever indeed that may mean) that decides which art projects are to be supported with taxpayer dollars.” That statement is simply inaccurate. Mr. D’Amato must be unaware that the public is embedded in the entire grantmaking process at the NEA. This in part is why the NEA has received wide support from both Republicans and Democrats for half a century. 

Advice for Arts Advocates Everywhere

At a time of volatile change, we must be relentless in voicing a strong and clear message. Learning more about our elected officials and then actively engaging with them will serve to advance pro-arts policies that will impact our society and communities for years to come. 

Robert Lynch Responds to Wall Street Journal Commentary Calling for an End to the NEA

Thank you to Patrick Courrielche (“Save the Arts by Ending the Endowment,” Jan. 25), who made an excellent case for protecting the National Endowment for the Arts and even increasing its appropriations. However, his letter needs to be read from the bottom up. Mr. Courrielche’s summary called for Congress and President Trump to create a robust, expanded national arts council, but that is in fact what the NEA is. 

Goals Worth Fighting For

We now know that some of President Trump’s transition team advisors are recommending elimination of federal arts and humanities funding along with many other non-arts related cuts. The arguments are old and tired and fly in the face of some of the very things our new President wants like building new infrastructure, jobs, a stronger economy—all areas where the arts are proven allies. As we wait for more clarity, Americans for the Arts will continue to celebrate those who are making a difference, and work with arts advocates across the country toward goals that could strengthen our country through the arts.

The Arts Don’t Just Heal, They Also Unify and Inspire Action

I have been playing a lot of piano lately—my antidote for when I am feeling low, or my energy source for when I am working through challenges. This election season has brought to light challenges in our country, divides that I have always believed the arts can bridge. And so I find myself sitting at the keyboard and playing tunes by artists I admire like Bob Dylan, or trying out some dark Leonard Cohen pieces on guitar, or writing some of my own poetry in order to help me get from one state of mind to another. It also makes me imagine how to better convey the power of the arts during these difficult times as part of the solution for our country, much like my own art does for me.

Robert L. Lynch Speaks of Hope, Unity, and Resilience at the End of This Presidential Election

President-Elect Trump has said, “…supporting and advocating for appreciation of the arts is important to an informed and aware society. As President, I would take on that role.” Americans for the Arts hopes for a White House and administration that supports the nonprofit arts community, the local and state arts support infrastructures, as well as independent artists and creative entrepreneurs. We will work hard to advance pro-arts policies and strengthen our efforts to transform communities through the arts. It is more important than ever that we use the arts to help the economy, our communities, families and children, and our nation to seek hope, opportunity, and ultimately to come together.

Celebrating National Arts and Humanities Month with an Eye to a New Cast of Characters

We are at the edge of a changing political tide, whereby elected leaders and administrations will change and support mechanisms for the arts will necessarily evolve. We have one last shot in 2016 to show our future elected leaders the importance of the arts in America.

The Future of Arts Education is a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy at the Podium

Today when I think about back-to-school time, I worry. Will the teachers be prepared to reach every student—and reach them in the poorer corners of cities as well as rural areas? Are the schools welcoming and enticing to students and parents? Will creativity be a daily activity in the lives of our country’s next generation of thinkers, leaders, and artists?

My Experience at the 2016 Political Conventions

This July, I was excited to help deliver the Arts Action Fund’s message to both Republican and Democratic audiences through ARTSSPEAK, the public policy forum series that is a core part of our ArtsVote2016 campaign. ARTSSPEAK discussions were centered around the transformative power of the arts on people’s lives, schools, and communities, with the ultimate goal of electing candidates that support doubling arts funding to $1 per capita for the arts. 

Who Gets Your Vote This Election Season? The Arts!

Getting the word out to elected leaders about the inherent and practical value of the arts is critical. As Americans for the Arts has done for the last three political conventions, we will make the case at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia for better policy and support for the arts and arts education in America. 

For the Love of It: Lifelong Joy Through the Arts

The powerful effects of the arts on our well-being is undeniable. We do it because we enjoy the act of creation, even if it’s just for ourselves. But mostly, it’s for the love of it. 

Reflection and Revolution: AFTACON 2016 State of the Arts Address

“All the arts, all the people” has been our steadfast declaration about equitable access to the transformative power of the arts. It is an aspirational phrase—and one we all must strive to meet.

The Arts Add Powerful Voice and Vibrancy to Corporate America

Fifty years ago, David Rockefeller, Chairman and CEO of the Chase Manhattan Corporation, gave an address to the National Industrial Conference Board (now The Conference Board). It was The Conference Board’s 50th anniversary, and his words changed how the business community viewed the arts world.

Rockefeller has always been a visionary who understood a half century ago that the arts could go a long way towards helping businesses as well as humanity. He called for businesses to assume a much larger role in supporting the arts for the many ways that they improve both the business and the community. He helped lead the formation of the Business Committee for the Arts (BCA)—since merged with Americans for the Arts—which has encouraged, inspired, and paved the way for businesses to support the arts in the workplace, in education, and in the community.

The Passion of Arts Advocates Driving Change: Kennedy, U.S. Lawmakers, and You

Earlier this month I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, giving a lecture on arts and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Policy. In lieu of standard hotel accommodations, I was offered the chance to stay in John F. Kennedy's senior year suite in Winthrop House—and of course I jumped at it. Sitting down at Kennedy’s desk—complete with an Underwood portable typewriter—I was profoundly moved. I thought of his inspiring words and they resonated with the event and work of the week to come, Arts Advocacy Day, when citizen advocates take to Capitol Hill to make the case for federal support for the arts and arts education.

I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.

Five Macro Trends That Arts Organizations Need to Watch

2016 is off and running, and guaranteed to be a dynamic presidential election year. Along with a new administration in Washington, five broad cultural and economic trends are sure to impact sectors across America--affecting our work in the arts in the coming years. Candidates at all levels of government will need to evolve positions on each of these trends so we can work more strategically to ensure that the arts continue to thrive and enrich the lives of every American.

Happy New Year from Americans for the Arts!

Happy New Year from all of us at Americans for the Arts! Together our work has helped transform America’s communities through the arts.  

Share with ARTSblog readers one way the arts helped transform your community in 2015, in the comments below and on social media! Tag us @Americans4Arts.

Congratulations on your success in 2015! We look forward to an exciting and productive New Year.

The Arts Help Us Find Comfort, Peace, and Unity

2015 is almost over, and what a year of successes and changes we've had as a country. The unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level in more than seven years; the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide; a landmark climate change agreement was approved; the U.S. embassy reopened in Cuba after 54 years; and a week ago, the Every Student Succeeds Act passed--a tremendous win for arts education. The arts won a number of other legislative victories too, such as increased federal arts funding and arts-friendly legislation regarding both IRA tax rollovers and visa law along with key successes at the state and local levels.

Through the Power of their Creativity, Veterans Continue to Serve

During a recent trip to Denver to join in presenting a national award for state arts leadership to Governor Hickenlooper, Deborah Jordy, Executive Director of the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, approached me. "There is someone I'd really like you to meet." Curtis Bean was his name.

A remarkable community activist, an entrepreneur and an artist, Curtis is doing transformational work through the arts. He is also a Veteran. Straight out of high school and over the course of five years and two tours in Iraq, he completed his military service as an Army sniper.

Like many others, Curtis returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He planned on being a fireman, but anger and nightmares were interfering with his life. His girlfriend, an art student, suggested he try painting when counseling wasn't enough, and that's when something clicked. Healing started to happen -- and a new doorway was opened.

The Importance of the Arts in our Communities: Robert L. Lynch and Laura Zabel

October means something very important to the arts world and to communities throughout the United States -- National Arts and Humanities Month, now in its 30th year. Citizens of Minnesota have celebrated through numerous events that proudly showcase the state as an eclectic and dynamic artistic community, rich in cultural heritage.

It is fitting, then, that our capital city be the starting point for a nationwide dialogue exploring the future of local arts in America and the ways that community members can shape that future.

Powerful and Surprising Arts and Business Partnerships: Enriching Workplaces and Communities Nationwide

Imagine that you are arriving to a job interview at a tech company. As you wait, you take a look around you, and notice beautiful, thought-provoking works of art displayed on the walls, plus sculptures in the public and outdoor spaces. Imagine working for a manufacturing firm, when one day you receive an announcement of an exciting new art contest for employees. Or, attending your national insurance firm's annual meeting, knowing that you'll soon be able to take the stage for a company-wide battle of the bands and sing and perform your heart out. In these three examples, you would actually be at Microsoft, Ford, or Aetna, respectively, but in reality it could be any one of thousands of businesses that are harnessing the power of the arts...because it is good for business.

Join Me in Celebrating National Arts in Education Week!

Throughout my 30 years at Americans for the Arts, I have seen first-hand the profound impact that the arts have on children's lives. Just the other evening, a YoungArts alumna, singer/bassist Kate Davis, performed before a crowd of national policy leaders, senators, members of Congress, and famous artists, for an event honoring the U.S. National Medal of Arts and Humanities honorees in Washington, D.C. I first met this young lady just a few years ago and she was a high school student who so impressed me that Robert Redford and I invited her to our National Arts Policy Roundtable, where she in turn impressed the leaders of President Obama's President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. The next thing you know, she is sharing her art and ideas at the White House. Magic can and does happen all the time through the arts and arts education.

As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Congressionally designated National Arts in Education Week over the next few days, I want to share just a few of the experiences I have had in the arts with students as I travel the country, with the hope that these will bring to mind experiences of your own that you will share with others.


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