Monday, January 31, 2011

Clog The Elevators


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


  1. One of the biggest obstacles to attending Arts Day in Albany is finding transportation and other arts advocates to travel with.

    Thank you for providing links.

  2. Will, thank you for this post. In your opinion, when meeting with electeds, what is the most effective approach? Is it arriving with 1 idea and a lot of people behind that idea or many different ideas presented by many different people?

    Also, do you think that emailing and letter writing is actually effective?

  3. LIT reports from last year's Arts Day in Albany confirmed that most elected officials didn't even know that it was Arts Day. Any chance our Service Orgs will send a press release, letter, or something to get their attention in advance of all the elevator clogging?

  4. Will, thanks for the talking points that will make an excellent elevator pitch for Arts Advocacy Day and beyond.

  5. I think arts administrators in general are passionate about their organizations and the arts. And most are really good about pitching a program to a specific and carefully researched/vetted funder, but where we come up short is in crafting the message to our legislators (and the general public). Why are the arts important; not a specific program or genre, but the arts overall? How can we bang that drum all year long so it's not such an uphill battle to get the message across once a year on arts advocacy day?

  6. You can travel inexpensively to Albany with the Harlem Arts Alliance if you're coming from NYC: see its Web page:

  7. MMDG, good question.

    Also as someone that works a day job, does theatre on in the evenings and weekends, plus just trying to have a live, I need to be able to focus my efforts. I don't have time for tons of meetings, but I want to help and give support where it is most needed and will do the most good.

    Not sure how to do that.

  8. Yes, lets indeed clog the elevators on Arts Day, Feb 8. There will be a Press Conference on Arts Day at 2PM. More info will be made available soon at If you can't get to Albany (or DC for that matter) make an appointment to meet with you representatives at their district offices. You will get more time, they will be less distracted, and no crowded elevators. Get your audiences and sponsors to do the same. We have to tell the arts story! When you do speak with your representatives, remember there is plenty of arts happening in New York State outside of the 5 boroughs. THANKS Will! Onward!

  9. Thanks for all your comments! Clearly this is a hot topic for all of us in the arts, especially right now.

    Denny: One idea is better. We need the arts to speak with one voice. What REALLY matters, though, is less how many people/how many ideas you present, and more how you present them. Can you make a convincing "elevator speech" about the idea, and convey both what you want to happen and what you want the elected official to do to make it happen? Please see my next post for my thoughts on letter-writing!

    Janette: Good point! Benjamin Krevolin and ARTS NYS are hard at work on promoting Arts Day in advance - see his comment.

    MMDG: I agree that we need to be getting our message out 365 days a year (see next post!). I hope the messages about jobs, economic impact, the creative workforce, and even quality of life are more universal, less program/arts organization-specific.

    Melissa: You can support this effort by contacting your elected officials, and even more so by getting people who are not working in the arts to do so. A recent survey conducted by One Percent for Culture showed that what people who are not in the arts respond to best is a message delivered by someone who is "like them" - someone who looks like they could live on (or vote on) their block. Can you make one call or send one e-mail and get one such person to send a short message to an elected official to reiterate our message? Can you encourage your friends in the arts to do the same?

  10. Great statement of the case in your six bullet points! Your entire series this week is terrific. Thank you!