Art in Politics: Why Both Matter

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. 

Understanding, Connecting, and Seeking the Common Good

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.

Maggie and Melvin—Generations of Advocacy

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.

Step into the Fear

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.

Strength in Numbers

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?

Arts Advocacy Day Is Coming

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.

Americans for the Arts Releases 2018-2020 Strategic Plan

Friday, January 19, 2018

The three-year planning document describes how the organization—in alliance with our members, partners, and stakeholders—will build recognition and support for the extraordinary and dynamic value of the arts, and lead, serve, and advance the diverse networks of organizations and individuals who cultivate the arts in America.

Americans for the Arts Joins Federal Amicus Brief in Support of Free Speech Rights of Congressional Art Competition Student Artist

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. 

Why I support Americans for the Arts

The arts are important to me, and if you’re reading this, I bet they’re important to you too. I know you’ll agree that the arts help communities heal, learn, and grow. And that’s why I'm proud to support Americans for the Arts: because they help make it possible for arts organizations and artists in communities all over the country to do what they do better, through education, advocacy, professional development, case-making research, and more. I hope you'll join me.

Americans for the Arts Issues Statement in Response to Proposed Funding of $150 Million to NEA, NEH

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Category: 
Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert L. Lynch offered a statement in response to the November 20, 2017 action on the FY 2018 Senate Interior Appropriations bill, which includes proposed funding of $150 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
 

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.

Skin In The Game In the Fight for Arts Funding

Art has the power to transform our lives and strengthen our communities. In spite of this, the future of our beloved arts has experienced a hair-raising roller coaster ride over this past year. Like many of you reading this post, a fire has ignited within me to stand-up for what I believe in—and, I believe in the arts. When the going gets tough, we must speak loud, stand up tall, and refuse to back down. The arts are the most vibrant and expressive of the vital pillars that make up our great nation. In this fight for the brightest and most prosperous future for the arts, we all have skin in the game.

UPDATED! Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts for National Arts & Humanities Month

October is National Arts & Humanities Month, a time to celebrate and champion the arts locally and nationally. The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. The arts bring us joy, help us express our values, and build bridges between cultures. The arts are also a fundamental component of a healthy community—strengthening them socially, educationally, and economically—benefits that persist even in difficult social and economic times. The effective arts advocate needs a full quiver of case-making arrows to articulate the value of the arts in as many ways as possible—from the passionately inherent to the functionally pragmatic. To help fill your quiver, I offer an updated Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts.

Why We Celebrate: The Power of Youth Voice

We don’t empower young people for the simple concept of empowering young people—but instead because it is the right thing to do. How dare we sit around as adults to discuss the future of arts education without the young people who participate and benefit from that arts education present? Additionally, I know that from experiences like advocating publicly, we are building the leadership skills of the next generation through intergenerational dialogue and cyclical mentorship. We learn just as much from young people as they do from us. Lastly, we know that decision-makers respect the power of authentic youth voice, speaking from experience. So, my message this National Arts in Education Week is simple: Let us take the lead of our youth to support a shared vision for the future of arts education in America.

Support People, Progress, and Empowerment

In my role as chair of the Educational Theatre Association’s International Thespian Officers, among my responsibilities is to advocate on behalf of theatre and other arts education. Last month, while I stood near Capitol Hill, just a few yards away from where policies were being made and bills were being passed, I asked myself a simple question: why arts advocacy? Why was I, a high school senior, standing in my nation’s capital for the second time in the past year, pouring my passion, time, and hard work into this cause? My answer is one that may seem perplexing at first, but is easily echoed by every member of my Thespian community.

The Arts Give us a Social Conscious

Equity issues are deeply rooted in and infiltrate our society. My understanding of equity issues in arts education has given me a context to understand inequity in a broader sense. It brought to light the impact of socioeconomic status, race, geography, and how equity is different than equality. My arts experiences nurtured a social conscious that otherwise I may not have developed and allowed me to see so clearly that my experience was a privilege. This is why the arts are so important, and this is what will keep me advocating for arts education.

Unexpected Insights

You have to remember, legislators spend their days with adults worried about infrastructure, healthcare, and taxes, all of which are legitimate concerns. However, the needs of high school students and their right to a well-rounded education are just as important as all those. As Ben Martin, Executive Director of the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education always told me, “They work for you!” So, we have just as much right to meet and express our sometimes surprising insights as anyone else.

Advocate with Grace

I had the honor of creating the Kennedy Center Youth Council (KCYC) in Spring 2016 with a specific mission of investigating how the Kennedy Center can positively impact and be positively impacted by youth. The KCYC founding was inspired by the Kennedy Center’s yearlong celebration of the centennial of John F. Kennedy’s birth, which included the exploration of citizen artistry, defined as using the arts for positive social impact. One of our most extraordinary KCYC members, an embodiment of the citizen artist ideology, is Grace Dolan-Sandrino. Grace, a 16-year old senior at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, has accomplished more than seasoned professionals twice her age.

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.

Leading from the Front: Arts Advocacy Strategies for the Public Sector

What does adaptive leadership and effective advocacy look like for those working in the public sector? Over the course of the past year, I began seriously wondering how public employees might be able to take an active role in raising political support for cultural agencies and state arts councils, within the legal restrictions that apply to their self-advocacy. I interviewed arts leaders in six states to find out how they were steering their agencies to serve many diverse publics within their state in spite of significant political and economic challenges—and in some cases, a lingering threat of elimination.

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