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.

Robert L. Lynch Submits Congressional Testimony in Support of the NEA

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Category: 

With Congress now turning to work on the next fiscal year’s budget (FY2018), Lynch provided testimony in support of $155 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This funding amount is the position taken by the 88 national partners of Arts Advocacy Day and reflected in the numerous advocacy efforts being pursued currently by Americans for the Arts and dozens of other arts organizations.

Artists For The Arts: How One Voice Became a Movement

It was January 19, 2017, and news had just broken that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Humanities (NEH) could soon be at risk of elimination. As an opera singer and creative entrepreneur, I knew how crucial arts funding was for society at large. Inaction was not an option, so that night I turned to change.org and created a petition to save the NEA. I’m not sure what I hoped would come of it, but I knew that this was an issue near and dear to my heart, and perhaps, if enough everyday Americans realized what was at stake, the community could have a fighting chance.

Empowering and Inspiring Student Voices

As a senior in high school, I will be attending my third National Arts Advocacy Day this year. For many students, the words “arts advocacy” make us feel small. Upon hearing that phrase three years ago, it sounded like something I was not old enough to know about. How can my voice matter in changing things so far above my power as a teenager? In school, we are taught to get the best education possible to become someone who can affect change, but often we aren’t told that, as kids, our opinions matter. When policy makers shape decisions about arts education, they are making decisions about us, the students. Yet for some reason, it is the students who feel as though they are out of place in a Senator’s office.

Action Both Today AND Tomorrow

There are a lot of bases to cover when preparing people to be effective arts advocates—especially when those aspiring arts advocates are undergrads. This isn’t work to be done alone. We have the distinct pleasure of working together, a boomer and a member of the Oregon Trail generation preparing arts advocates of the future. We met through ArtPride New Jersey, the state arts advocacy organization and member of Americans for the Arts State Arts Action Network. It was kismet. One had suffered through too many save-the-state-arts-council and save-the-NEA crises, the other through the inherent trials and tribulations of strategically navigating academia.

There’s No “I” in “Arts Advocacy”

While a presidential election season is the most intense time of political engagement for most citizens, advocates who dedicate themselves to a particular issue or set of issues know that there is seldom a defined starting or stopping point to our work. This is especially true for the arts, which encompass a wide range of policies in addition to federal funding (for example, improving the visa process for foreign guest artists to perform in the U.S., or protecting the ability of musicians to travel across international borders with instruments that contain protected species material). Happily, speaking up for the arts and our many policy concerns is easier to manage thanks to the work of coalitions such as the ad hoc Cultural Advocacy Group, which my organization—the League of American Orchestras—has been a part of for decades.

A State Captain’s Final Log: The Future is in Our Very Creative Hands

One of my first trips as Director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts (MCA) was to the small, western Maryland industrial-town of Cumberland. Known as “Queen City,” Cumberland was Maryland’s second largest city in the 19th century thanks to the three R’s: roads, rails, and rivers. Arriving, one might expect to see a typical forgotten rust-belt town. Well, not this town! Cumberland became an Arts & Entertainment District in 2002, one of Maryland’s first. The management team targeted artists looking for affordable space and great proximity to major markets. The downtown felt as vibrant as any I’d seen, and there was a provincial feeling in the air—in the best sense of the word.

The Significance of Arts Advocacy: A Graduate Student Perspective

W.E.B. DuBois once said that we should “begin with art, because art tries to take us outside ourselves. It is a matter of trying to create an atmosphere and context, so conversation can flow black and forth and we can be influenced by each other.” As I read this quote during the final stretch of my undergrad years at Saint Louis University, I had just became an art history minor. Though I held a deep admiration for visual arts as well as the critical analysis of the work, I had absolutely no idea where I would end up with a liberal arts degree. It was not until I was perusing the internet that I was drawn to American University’s Arts Management program. Now, a little over a year later, I have been fortunate enough to not only be a full-time student of the Arts Management program but also the Government and Public Affairs intern at Americans for the Arts. 

Darren Walker to give 30th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture

Annual Lecture is held the evening before Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Ford Foundation president will speak March 20, 2017, at 6:30 p.m. at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are free, but seating is limited.

The Importance of State Captains for Arts Advocacy Day

There is one thing without which Arts Advocacy Day could not happen—State Arts Advocacy Captains!  Though Americans for the Arts’ State Arts Advocacy Captains are instrumental in fighting for the arts year-round, their work is also integral to the success of Arts Advocacy Day each spring.

State Arts Advocacy Captains are the eyes and ears on the ground in each state nationwide, serving to recruit the best and most dedicated advocates from their state to attend Arts Advocacy Day. During the months leading up to Arts Advocacy Day, captains make sure colleagues, artists, university students, and concerned members of their states know the importance of bringing your voice to Capitol Hill to meet with your Members of Congress directly in the fight for arts and arts education.  

Welcome to Innovations in State Arts Advocacy Blog Salon!

Who are the players in statewide arts advocacy you might ask?

Text book speaking, state arts advocacy leaders and their organizations are the primary source of advocacy promoting arts and arts education friendly policy from state governments. Many statewide arts advocacy leaders belong to Americans for the Arts’ State Arts Action Network (SAAN), so you may also hear them referred to as SAAN members.

Honey, I Empowered the Kids

As a high school student, the guideline I was given to write this blog post, “operationalizing access and equity in arts education,” sounds inaccessible within itself. I won’t lie, I had to look up what equity means (it means fairness). In my life, access to arts education is something I rarely think of as an idea; it’s something I’m accustomed to. I’ve had it for so long that I often forget that I fought for it.

The Four Minutes That Changed STEM to STEAM

If you were in Washington, DC a few weeks ago, you might have participated in several events surrounding the National Arts Action Summit, now marking its 29th consecutive year of arts advocacy days on Capitol Hill.

One of those events might have been the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy, delivered by John Maeda, designer, technologist, and catalyst behind the national movement to transform STEM to STEAM. He was introduced by co-chair of the Congressional STEAM Caucus, Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).

How did this duo come together before a crowd of over 1,200 to talk about STEAM on the national stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—for a lecture about how STEAM makes STEM taste better?

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.

Americans for the Arts presents the 29th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy on Monday, March 7, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. at the Eisenhower Theater of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

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