Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Paul Nagle.
It’s great to be in the Guest Blogger clean-up position. I’ve read all of the ITF guest blogs for advocacy month and each one has had very valid things to say. If, as we know, the arts are critically important to communities, and if we have such smart people in the forefront of the charge advocating for the arts, why do we feel like the proverbial hamster in the wheel about all of this? How do we keep coming back to fighting for tiny restorations to tiny budget allocations that bear no real relationship to the current impact numbers (by far too low anyway in my opinion) that represent the benefits that the arts bestow on society? At ICSCS (The Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability), we believe there are two key issues: that the arts are undercounted and isolated.
Some great work has been done in the last few years, particularly by Randy Bourscheidt and the studies he produced through the Alliance for the Arts. But the arts remain undercounted. Economic metrics, at their best a partial and inferior measure of art’s value, still fail to take into account the employment of many many individual artists and freelance creative workers. We do not have a sufficient method to account for the intangible benefits of the arts. Valuing doesn’t take into account value of mission, or value of service to the community. We don’t have an effective way to present the macroeconomic benefits of the arts, even though we know that urban centers cannot be competitive these days without a healthy cultural sector.
Quantifying these deeper values of the arts has been elusive and hard, but that thinking, that new knowledge is out there. It’s really at the tip of our fingertips. How do we get at it? How do we achieve that needed innovation that ties it all together into a cohesive but expansive narrative? Open up the conversation; both who is in on the discussion, and the range of topics to be considered. Culture is a broad topic and it deserves broad complex consideration. New technologies that are highly interactive with maximum efficiencies can facilitate discussions and inquiry involving the entire cultural community. There is a lot of untapped expertise out there in the trenches.
But even if we achieve that expanded grassroots discussion within the cultural community, the arts could remain isolated. For some reason, we have been repeating many of the same rhetorical mistakes for 40 years now. The political discussion has moved very little in real terms and is presently moving backward again. At ICSCS, we believe that part of our mistake has been sitting in a room full of arts people, telling ourselves how special and important we are. That doesn’t necessarily fly so well with the greater community, especially once you leave the cultural cocoon of New York City.
In fact, most of the problems we face are not so different than those of most of our neighbors. And the really big issues like climate change and worldwide recessions affect us even though, not because, we are artists. It must become clear to the greater community that the health of the cultural sector and the health of the community are interdependent, not because we say it is, but because they see that it is so.
That is why ICSCS will concentrate on creating conversations and initiatives between artists and advocates from other sectors over the value of art and the role of artists in addressing shared issues of sustainability. There are networks all over the globe of people who are not artists, and yet who understand the deep relationships between art and culture and a sustainable life. It’s a matter of creating the synapses of good will and unity of purpose that will make the connections among these networks.
We are artists in trouble, in a world full of trouble. We are artists with new ideas in a world full of new ideas. If we can open up the conversation, not only within the cultural community, but beyond its borders, then we can tie our fate as artists to the fate of the greater community. If we can have these conversations not only with our friends in New York City, but with our allies across the country and in Berlin and Poland and Kenya, then for arts advocacy, I believe it is a game-changing moment of opportunity.