Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Will Maitland Weiss.
My arts advocacy advice: clog the elevators—in Albany, in DC, wherever arts policy and arts funding are decided. Based on 30 years in the field? On having managed an off-B’way theater (in part by laying off all of its company and staff, myself included, ouch, but it survives today)? On running a place called the Arts & Business Council for the last five years, where we bring business skills, interns, volunteers, board members, executive education, and other resources to the arts community? Not so much.
It’s my advice based on what the legislators whose elevators we might clog told our audience last week at our free panel discussion at the Foundation Center on working with government and getting our nonprofit arts voices heard. City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the Culture Committee; State Assembly member Deborah Glick, who supports the arts in Chelsea, the Villages, and downtown; and State Senator Liz Krueger, who does the same in midtown and up and down the east side impressed on us again and again the need for us to get organized and get ourselves heard above the din of competing special interests. The issue of NY State Arts Advocacy Day came up—Tuesday, February 8; for more information click here or here. Hundreds of people ride planes, trains, automobiles, and other forms of transportation (a chartered bus leaves from W. 125th St. in Manhattan at 6:45 a.m. and costs $10 or $15) and descend on Albany like righteous locusts. The goal is to impress upon each and every legislator (and/or his/her hard-working staff, who, we learned, absolutely have their bosses’ ears) the value proposition of the arts:
- job creation: theater, music, dance, and even visual arts are labor-intensive, and these jobs will not be replaced by automation or outsourced to Asia (we represented about 200,000 NY State jobs in 2005, stats from the Alliance for the Arts Arts as an Industry study);
- economic impact: put on a show, and your audience will buy tickets, eat in restaurants, park, go shopping, pay babysitters ($20 billion in NY State in 2005);
- nothing draws more tourists to the State, or encourages them to part with more money (tourism accounted for another $6 billion in 2005);
- creativity in the workforce is employers’ #1 concern in the 21st century; ABC/NY’s parent company, Americans for the Arts, has coined a great new tagline: “Inspired employees bring creativity to work.” I’m rolling that over on my tongue and liking it a lot. Dairy farming and apple picking are not the future growth industries for NY State. You want to attract smart, “creative industries” types? You want kids to stay in your community after college? You want families to move in, businesses to open up a branch in your upstate town? You’d better offer something creatively stimulating after work.
- this doesn’t even touch on the power of the arts to stimulate and motivate kids’ expression, collaboration, discipline, innovation in pre-K—12;
- and—hello!—truth, beauty, meaning, aesthetics, and fulfillment aren’t bad either.
But, per my friends Glick and Krueger (who are already pro-arts, and trying along with you and me to sell it to the less informed), on February 8, we’ll reach who we reach. Some yes, some no. Every Tuesday, some interest group is lobbying in Albany. Whether they meet or listen, the legislators get the message: our voters want ________ (something). Education. Security. Healthcare. Parks. Tax incentives. Clean water. Children; puppies and kittens… With all of which it is still, despite my list above, so hard for the arts to compete. These other guys all vote and they all clog the elevators. The arts must clog the elevators, too.
Looking ahead to February 8, and also to Americans for the Arts’ national Arts Advocacy Day, I have two other pieces of advice. But—just like you—I have to go out now and forage for money. Contributions, “earned” (please!) revenue, change from the sofa cushions; you name it. At least I don’t also have to get elected/re-elected. Small mercies. Clog the elevators; more to follow.
Photo L to R: Glick, Krueger, Glick, Van Bramer, Krueger
photo credit: ABC/NY