Over the next week, I’m co-hosting this special blogfest on art and political power, planned with blogger Barry Hessenius, former Director of the California Arts Council; President of the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies; Executive Director LINES Ballet. Author (Hardball Lobbying for Nonprofits – MacMillan & Co.; Youth Involvement in the Arts – 2 phase study for the Hewlett Foundation; Local Arts Agency Funding Study for the Aspen Institute; City Arts Toolkit), consultant, public speaker.
The series begins with a dialogue between Barry and myself. Subsequent entries will be authored by Roberto Bedoya, executive director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council; Dudley Cocke, director of Roadside Theater; Ra Joy, executive director of Arts Alliance Illinois, and Diane Ragsdale, creator of the “Jumper” blog. To each, we posed this question:
The way we’ve been doing arts advocacy for the past thirty years isn’t working: the real value of the NEA budget has dropped by well over half, for instance, and state funding has nosedived. We remain timid and unimaginative, acting as if cultural support were a rare privilege instead of a human right. With a blank slate and all your powers of social imagination, redesign it: why and how would artists and arts advocates claim social, economic, and true political power? What would you do for the arts to develop real political clout—and what has to change for us to move down that path?
Please read, forward, and comment. The entire series can be accessed here.
ARLENE GOLDBARD: The last 30-plus years of arts advocacy remind me of a scene from Oliver Twist: “Please sir, can I have a little more?” Instead of making demands, asserting rights, or exercising clout, advocates tend to act grateful that they weren’t cut more. Often, even the advocacy strategy is minimizing: Look how much we do with so little; we hardly cost anything, and you’re spending lots more on other stuff. Give us a little!
Even the idea of “arts advocacy” is problematic. “The arts” is a funny, abstract category that lumps apples, oranges, mangoes, and watermelons. No matter how much most people love music or dance, for instance, they tend not to speak of “the arts” or think of themselves as included when “the arts” are invoked. If it means anything to people who don’t work in the field, it conjures marble palaces and velvet curtains, places they know or imagine to be unwelcoming. Instead, they like music or dance, they write poems or make photographs. That doesn’t reduce their capacity for beauty and meaning. It just means they call things by their true names. Why don’t we?
Many of the things I care about—rural cultural development, cultural equity—really aren’t part of the “mainstream” arts advocacy conversation. Within that conversation, there are few meaningful, functioning alliances with people in other fields who could be allies (and vice versa). There’s almost no discussion of the public interest in culture.
The result of all this bad strategy has been an NEA budget reduced in real value by more than half since Ronald Reagan’s time, and even worse news in some states. What would it take to convert the weak boosterism that passes for arts advocacy into a meaningful movement for pluralism, participation, and equity in cultural development? What would it take to convert timidity to chutzpah in pursuit of real power? Starting with the issues and communities you care most about, what would you advocate?
BARRY HESSENIUS: I have used the Oliver Twist metaphor a score of times over the past decade as a apt description of the timidity of the arts (though for poor Oliver, his act of asking for more was actually quite rebellious).
Anyone familiar with my position on advocacy knows that I believe that the core of our problem is that we have internalized the erroneous belief that advocating for our positions (read: telling our stories, enlisting communication with elected officials in reaction to some negative action on their part impacting us, trying to make the case for our value via economic and other arguments, and the ongoing education of elected and appointed officials as to the positive impact the arts have) is pursuing political power and clout. It is NOT. It is an essential part of the process of being political, but it isn’t real power. Over time successful lobbying campaigns send the message our “special interest group” (and that is exactly what we are) must be reckoned with, but even active (and successful) lobbying to influence legislation is only a first step in the development of real political clout. The only way to build real political clout and power is to have a large, mobilized constituent group that “puts its money where its mouth is.”
Despite the fact that the arts have an excellent claim to the value they provide the society and despite the fact that there is widespread public involvement in, and appreciation for, the arts, we have had only limited success in protecting our government support and/or in advancing a legislative agenda. Why?
Because unlike a pantheon of other special interest groups, we refuse to organize ourselves to be political—to form Political Action Committees (PACs) and to get actively involved over the long term in the election (or defeat) of candidates sympathetic (or opposed) to our interests. We do not contribute money in the name of the arts to candidates. We spend precious little time building long term meaningful relationships with elected and appointed officials (and their staffs), and we do not volunteer in numbers to work for the election of the candidates we support. The arts not only will not measurably contribute to the campaigns of our supporters, we won’t even dig into our own pockets to support widespread advocacy organizations with paid staff and significant resources. We do not run for office ourselves. We are decidedly not proactive. Why not?
Because we mistakenly believe that the laws prohibit us from doing so. WRONG. Because the people in our field don’t want to mix politics in the arts. Because we organize our even small attempts in this area as volunteer efforts, and with only a few notable exceptions we do not even fund our own advocacy efforts with paid staff. Because we are territorial and have difficulty cooperating and collaborating for the common good. Because we simply do not understand that politics is at the essence of all the governmental decisions that we are interested in—from direct funding support to a diverse legislative agenda. Because we cling to the notion that because we are “worthy,” that alone ought to be enough to win the day and because that notion misunderstands that every decision (money or otherwise) in “favor” of one special interest (like us) is very likely to be “against” some other special interest group (like us). Because, as you point out Arlene, we do not (with only a few exceptions) effectively reach each out to form alliances that would increase and enhance our clout.
All of this limits our access to political power decision-making. In short, what we call advocacy simply isn’t how the political game in America is played. We can whine and moan and pout and whatever to deny that reality, but it will NOT go away. (Again with some notable exceptions, chief among them AFTA’s PAC—the Arts Action Fund) we deny the maxim that IF we want political clout, we must be political. For whatever reason, the nonprofit arts have repeatedly decided that they do not, will not, be political. I do not understand why, but it is not surprising that we are at best Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill.
ARLENE: Deepak Chopra of the Center for Community Change put it well, I think: “There are two kinds of power in this country, organized money and organized people.” Quite a few special interests succeed entirely on account of organized money: there’s no big popular groundswell or volunteer corps behind all the sweetheart deals Big Oil or Big Pharma have made with politicians, for instance. Some red-carpet arts institutions may have major financial access through wealthy Board members who are active as political donors (and there are a few sweetheart deals to prove it), but for the rest of the cultural landscape’s population, if there is a route to political power, it must be through organized people, as you point out.
Where we may diverge is on the type of political power we believe is needed. It’s good to have members of Congress vote for budget allocations for existing arts agencies, of course. But I see the need for changes that are beyond yes or no votes on funding. Social change happens long before elected officials recognize and formalize it: by the time Congress passes a bill that expands human rights, for example, a grassroots movement has already brought the issue to public awareness and done the hard work of getting people to see what’s needed.
So where is our grassroots movement? I think part of the problem is weak and boring “arts advocacy” rhetoric and campaigns. “Support the arts” is never going to rally millions: where’s the passion? What difference will it make to voters’ lives? I think we have to catch up with the widespread (if not always articulated) understanding that today, culture is the container in which people work out their identity, shared values, social imagination of the future. We communicate through music, debate public issues through films, express our shared heritage through public celebration and spectacle entailing many art forms. Above all, supporting a vibrant, creative, accessible apparatus for making and disseminating art—music, dance, theater, writing, visual arts, media, and on and on—is supporting our resilience, building capacity, creating a foundation for innovation in all things. Our common culture matters because it answers the key questions for any civil society: Who are we as a people? What do we stand for? How do we want to be remembered? We need answers worthy of our aspirations. But right now, if you look at how we spend our commonwealth, our answers are frightening: above all else, we value war and punishment, profit for the wealthiest, and social control. I know many of us do not want to leave that as our legacy to the future.
So while you are urging on people who want to create the kind of political clout that aims to affect Congressional (and other) votes on allocations—an important aim, and one you have characterized aptly—I want to urge organized-people coalitions on essential cultural issues that aren’t yet on the Congressional docket:
- We need a new WPA to address epidemic unemployment, and cultural-sector jobs should be as core to that as they were to the New Deal 80 years ago; there’s common cause with everyone concerned about unemployment and infrastructure deterioration. I’m not the only person appalled at four years of a Democratic president without a public-service employment program in a time of tremendous suffering over joblessness. It would take a while to succeed, but along the way, alliances would be powerful.
- We need to institute something like a “cultural impact report,” analogous to an environmental impact report, assessing the cultural impact of public actions such as leveling historic neighborhoods to build sports stadiums. If a community’s cultural fabric has no legal standing, we’ll just keep on making those same inhumane and short-sighted “urban removal” decisions over and over again. The environmental impact report was one of the first innovations of the environmental movement to infuse daily public decisions with environmental awareness. I’m not saying it would be easy to institute a cultural counterpart, but campaigning for it would do a lot to raise cultural awareness.
- We need cultural equity, in which access, funding, and other social goods are distributed fairly among all groups and categories. There’s always been a contradiction that funding is skewed toward the haves—mostly white, urban institutions—but when advocacy time comes around, the have-nots are expected to be good sports and rally to the cause. In my dream, the most powerful spokespeople for the subsidized arts—the heads of the major institutions and agencies—stand up to advocate in no uncertain terms for equity for communities of color and others without the same access to capital. That would attract some attention!
I’ll stop here for now, with a final point. The existing “arts advocacy” culture has been tremendously short-sighted, willing only to advocate for what seems most doable, modest, and immediate. There’s something to be said for working toward immediate gains (although even on that score, the track-record is poor), but to build a movement, you need a long view: social imagination, aspiration, passion. Artists have these things in abundance, but if there’s one thing these campaigns have lacked thus far, it is art. Mostly, these are conceived and run by administrators who mistakenly believe that success will come from acting exactly like their counterparts in health or business. What would it look like if we acted exactly like ourselves, organized around our deepest truths, stood for what we really believe?
BARRY: I agree with you, and I don’t. I agree that in the long run what is needed is as you describe—a massive, sustained grassroots demand for support for arts, culture and creativity akin to what we have seen as the green movement over the past fifty years—real social change that drills down to the core of societal fabric. I also agree with you that such a movement needs to have at its essence the value culture has in people’s lives, and cannot come into being without passion and our willingness to dig deeper than we have in the past. But the problem is that broad social movements of the type you envision—even if they can be jump-started by some conscious attempt (problematic at best)—often take decades, if not generations to grow and succeed. I would agree that we have to start that somewhere and the sooner the better, but even if there were a “perfect storm” to set it in motion, it will take a long, long time to even begin to flower.
In the meantime, I argue we ought to develop more practical political clout so as to protect ourselves as best we can in the near term, and that such effort will help us to better organize ourselves into cooperative collaborative efforts that will improve our sense of ourselves as ‘community,’ and be ready to capitalize on a social movement should we be able to mount such an effort. That effort is characterized by thinking more about organization, tactics, and the cold hard reality of how special interest groups get what they want within the system (or fail to get what they want).
I would hope there would be room for both approaches in our thinking and that we could figure out—given all the assets, talent and intelligence within our sphere—to move forward simultaneously on both fronts.
As to your specific recommendations:
- I am not sure a WPA approach is viable in this new century. I think the goal is lofty and admirable, but I think we have to come up with something better.
- I absolutely love the idea of a cultural impact report and think that might even be a catalyst to begin to launch the kind of grassroots movement you espouse. Brilliant.
- I completely agree with you about the need for a united front that demands cultural equity including in education and agree that would be attention grabbing. Alas, I think the haves are not likely to quickly join in such a clarion call. That is a challenge that has been around for some time and we have not yet met it.
Finally, I completely disagree with the assertion that we “mistakenly believe that success will come from acting exactly like their counterparts in health or business.” Politics is a game with very defined rules. To be a success in that arena (until they change the rules), you must play by and master those rules. Political success in that sense for the arts depends on us acting “exactly” like our counterparts in health and business—to play the game by its own rules, and to play it as well as any other sector. Now if you mean that we will not likely successfully launch and nurture a long term grassroots ‘movement’ that will change how our society looks at arts and culture, then you are right—being successful political activists and lobbyists will not do that. And I think you are right that if such a movement flowered, it would make it much easier to achieve our political goals. But again, that is going to take years and years to grow. We are talking about two very different things here. Forsaking one in favor of the other seems counter-productive to me. I do not see them as mutually exclusive pursuits that we have to choose between. I believe we have to use every weapon at our disposal, employ every strategy we can devise to develop political power that will help us to realize our objectives and ends—long and short term.
We haven’t talked about all of the barriers and obstacles to our becoming effective political players. Perhaps this discussion will begin to touch on why we have failed to a large degree in pursuing both my practical approach and your more visionary one.
ARLENE: The “new WPA” discussion is a whole ‘nother topic, so I won’t attempt right now to engage your reasons for rejecting it. I’ll just say that I’ve written extensively on how it could work today, notably in the two “New-New Deal” essays that can be accessed from this page of my website, and the only arguments I’ve heard against it are that people don’t think it’s doable in this political climate. To that, I say that if we curtail our aspirations to the currently doable, we’re sunk. Setting our horizons too low is part of the problem.
I agree that there’s a more immediate option of using conventional forms of political fundraising, aggregating donations, and lobbying to build clout for public arts funding. I just don’t know if the passion, commitment, and imagery is available to make it a popular cause. If what people are doing now reflects the best, most creative thinking in the field, it won’t fly. Right now, the weakness of arts advocacy has meant that as a political tool, arts funding works best for its opponents, as a symbolic way to oppose government spending without cutting much, as I wrote in my series “Life Implicates Art.”
As is so often the case, real political power needs both a grassroots movement and an advocacy apparatus for existing (and increased) allocations. If the political will is there to do both, we will succeed. Let’s see what our colleagues have to say about it.
Stay tuned all week for more posts in Clout: A Blogfest on Art and Political Power, and be sure to comment!
Experience tells me that part of the problem of positioning ourselves for support has to do with dignity. When we (I ran an NGO creating live/work space for artists for 20 years) approached city leaders for funding in the early days we would say something like, “we’re the poor artists of the city and we need your support.” Asserting our needs in front of the others competing for funds was not easy, since often they were from food banks, women’s health centers or those sheltering the homeless.
But once we changed our approach by stating instead that, “we are the artists of your city and we have a great deal to offer,” we opened a dialogue with funders who would say, “what do you have to offer?” And we could lay out before them a string of tangible impacts, from creating cultural destinations for tourists and citizens that would add to the tax base, reclaim underutilized buildings and give them new life adding to the safety of the streets, adding to the affordable housing portfolio, and bring new, 24 hour life to neighborhoods that had only seen use 5 days a week for 8 hours a day. This was only some of what we offered, but it opened a dialogue.
Once we accepted how we truly had something to offer and took it seriously, asserted it genuinely and over time demonstrated our success with real financial, environmental and social impacts, funders both private and public became true partners rather than just benefactors.
Dignity, a sense of our ability to authentically heal, repair and transform places and the people within is an essential piece of our political power.
Absolutely, Stephen. Thanks.
Hi Barry and Arlene,
Been a long time. So, I have a slightly different take on the above. I agree that your suggestions might be useful, but I look at it from an artists’ point of view. The “Art world” has changed drastically in 30 years. No longer are most galleries interested in new ideas or work that is not sellable, and the gallery scene has turned into a giant corporation. There is not much out there that hasn’t been regurgitated over and over, and a lot of that work is really boring, but it sells, so it makes the corporate types happy.
I think that change will have to come from the artists themselves, which is usually how change happens in the art context anyway. Most of our organizations are forced to conform to a nonprofit model, or have not figured out how to make changes within that model. The once alternative space movement is now quite established, and while there are new organizations and projects popping up (over 60 in Los Angeles in the last 10 years), artists are still being trained in schools and through business of art consultants that the gallery is still the end all for artists. If we keep telling our artists this, then we are teaching our artists to fail.
Most interesting things these days are done with DIY strategies by artists, not waiting to be validated by the art world gatekeepers in order to get something done. New ways to fundraising are helping and so is information for artists on how to do a project yourself. I am not arguing that this is better, but it means that artists are learning how to change the art world themselves.
One of the most successful infiltrations I was involved recently, was to set up an arts council primarily to interface with Karen Bass, our District House of Representatives member. Right after her election, we met with her to explain the self employment that most artists fall into. We also explained how “Hollywood” was able to get stimulus money, but if you were a documentary filmmaker you did not qualify. She had never thought of artists as small businesses before, and this was a huge eye opener for her.
The nonprofit and for profit laws are antiquated and should be changed so we can get on with developing new operating models and new ways to conducting art business.
I am also a fan of educating artists so that they are smarter than their dealers, or other curators they may meet. This has a huge impact on driving how things will change for the future. Although you are both talking about top down strategies for the most part, imagine if we supported the grass roots movement of DIY and alternative strategies for artists – to keep them working as long as possible. I am so tired of watching artists quit because they are fed up with how things work. If we could keep everyone’s creativity working, we would be in a lot less trouble. Artists need to keep educating both the public as well as the art world gatekeepers, funders, and participants.
Just a thought.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks a lot, Karen. As an artist who is very active in this conversation, I agree we have an important role to play (and in fact, I was pleased to provide some assistance to Lyn Goldfarb last year in setting up the advisory group for Karen Bass). Artists, of course, is a broad category far beyond those you mention, including writers, filmmakers, musicians, dancers, theater makers, and on and on. The scale of what’s possible changes depending on what type of art one is making. DIY is increasingly important in all fields, but it can never and should never replace the articulation of a public interest in art. Gatekeepers respond to public pressure. Artists can’t generate enough of that on our own to move things, though; we need allies. That pressure is grassroots up, not top-down, as you suggest.
I look forward to the rest of this blogfest on this important topic. I’d like to offer a different perspective. I’ve been wondering whether we have too much arts advocacy and too much monies going to support arts organizations. Let me explain.
Ever since the culture war began in the 1980’s there has been a political battle for the control of the arts. A lot of changes have taken place since then but the major one being the shift between directly funding the producers of the culture we all say we cherish to the funding of organizations that present artists and programs.
While it is true that arts organizations offer exhibition opprotunities and programs to artists and performers a problem arises when these organizations function, in a sense, as gatekeepers to the art that moves forward in society.
The language used today by the NEA, and which filters down through the plethora of regional and state arts agencies and arts advocacy organizations, is the language of diversity, inclusion, community involvement and partnership with business and foundations. This is a model that may in fact provide more access to art for many but is it a model that will foster the excellence of artistic production that was the focus of the original National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965?
The discussion across the internet by arts organizations and arts advocacy organizations talks about “the arts” and “arts and culture” and finding ways to improve funding for your organization but there is little direct mention or discussion about “artists” and how to provide the production of new art. How many arts organization or arts advocacy organizations even have an artist or performer on their boards?
We need to remember that arts advocacy, arts awareness, arts accessibility, is different that what is really important- art.
Thanks, Richard. This series isn’t about arts organizations per se; all the funding discussed goes both to artists and to organizations. Also, of course, many arts organizations are artist-run: gallery spaces, performing groups, music groups, independent media makers, etc. There are top-heavy institutions that spend most of their money on things other than art and artists, to be sure, but many smaller groups have been created by artists precisely to support their work. You are making assertions without evidence: I see much writing about artists and support for new creation, and in fact, I’ve written quite a bit of it myself. In some ways, the biggest new funding trend has been support for individual artists through Creative Capital, US Artists, and other fellowship programs, which have proliferated in recent years. There needs to be much more, no doubt, but what exists is a substantial slice of an under-supported sector.
As to fostering excellence, that’s a different story. Name almost any work of art or body of work, and you will find respected commentators on both sides of the excellence question. Is Jeff Koons a brilliant artist or a hack? Who’s judging? Who’s the gatekeeper? After all, taste is a huge part of any qualitative judgment, and it is subjective. So far as I have seen, there’s no funding system that guarantees excellence or even promises to deliver more of it, no matter how you define that. The choice is between an abundance of opportunity and resources for artists (I vote for that side) and scarcity. When you support more, you get more good, more bad, and more in between—there’s no system that guarantees more excellence.
Arlene, First let me say I am all for artist run initiatives and artist support organizations that are modeled like Creative Capital and US Artists. Programs and projects that are artist led rather than arts organization led will always be a step in the right direction. Unfortunately the fact remains that there are not many other national funding sources like CC and US-A. And if your blog question is how do we as artists and advocates take more control of the politics of the arts in this county then we need to take a hard look at what is the current political system of arts support which is the NEA and it’s partnering regional and state organizations and the problems inherent in this system.
The important and refreshing thing about both CC and US-A is that they clearly state they are looking for and will make selections based on quality and excellence. My point was that artistic support should be based on excellence as deemed by knowledgeable people in the field. And the history of public support since the NEA shows us that politics has played a role in changing the focus from excellence to a new type of populism. Taste is different than knowledge. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not all of those opinions will be knowledgeable.
Good morning, Richard. Thanks for your reply. There’s an argument for the subjectivity of “excellence” that to me, can’t be refuted, and you and I are now demonstrating it. We gaze out at the same landscape and see two entirely different things, just as two knowledgeable critics can see the same work and draw two entirely different conclusions as to its level of excellence.
First, all public and private funders are part of the “current political system.” If grants funds don’t directly derive from taxpayers, the tax exemption that enables private philanthropy does. Foundations, for instance, are forgiven taxes on the grounds of public benefit, and if you read their guidelines, they all include not only excellence, but other criteria that establish public benefit. Private sector individuals, including many, many artists, serve on grantmaking panels bestowing public funds; and there are many public-private ventures, in which foundations and individual donors match public funds. You write as if there is some clear distinction, but mostly, there’s not. That’s one of the ways I’d like to see the system change: I’d like the public parts to be shaped less on the private model, and care more about the public interest (but that’s another subject on which I have written long and often—click on the essays or talks tabs of this site to see).
Second, both public and private funders, across the board, list excellence prominently among their criteria. Visit the NEA site and read the guidelines. Take a look at the recipients of recent Creative Capital and US Artists grants. Very few of them have not also received support from public arts agencies. If the applied criteria are so different, why do they both fund the same people?
My answer is that there is no such thing as objective knowledge behind a judgment of quality in art. In the first place, knowledge changes as times change: what was deemed a masterpiece fifty years ago is often forgotten today. But more important is that, in all systems, who you know and who says good things about you counts for a great deal, even if the influence isn’t always acknowledged by the funder. That is political in the lowest sense, and those politics permeate all arts giving.
In short, I think you are seeing distinctions without a difference. Review those recipient lists, and then tell me populism rules. I don’t regard that prospect with the horror you do, but either way, the proof just isn’t there.
Thanks for the great discussion. I think your thoughts display a key difference about how the general public in this country thinks about art and how artists think about art.
Dr. Cornel West once wrote that the we suffer in this country from our Puritanical roots where we place more emphasis on morals than on aesthetics. I fear that if we follow you logic, that art is subjective, that personal opinion (taste) trumps knowledge about art, then what is the point in supporting the arts in any capacity? If you insist that quality in art is completely subjective then what argument will you make that the arts have any intrinsic value and therefore are worthy of any public or private support? Art becomes simply entertainment with no real intrinsic value.
I think you are once again confusing personal taste with knowledge when you assert that we all look differently at the same landscape. Two art historians or art writers or art aficionado’s are going to have completely different opinions on who is there very favorite artist but if they are knowledgeable in the slightest degree about art they are not going to say that Picasso was a bad artist. It’s never going to happen because we can talk intellectually and with knowledge about why he was a a great artist and what made his art great. Thats not being subjective.
As an artist I worry when arts advocates or agencies promote this happy myth that everyone’s opinion about art is as important as the next or that every one is creative a la Richard Florida’s hijacking of the term. And from a political point of view this is only a continuation of the conservative culture war that believes that there are no professional standards or experts in the field of art and the only thing that is important is populist opinion which will help lead society to a complete privatization of the arts. Good bye NPR. Good bye PBS.
Hi, Richard. I have made many, many arguments for the public interest in art that are not grounded first and foremost in a judgment of quality. Since no one sets out to make bad art, and despite your assertion about Picasso, people do indeed disagree on what they consider good and bad, that judgment is a very weak basis for public decisions. Take a minute to view one of my videos or download the text of any of my recent talks; or go to the blog page and select the category “Life Implicates Art.” The beneficiaries of public policy must be the public. Involvement with art nurtures creativity, empathy, and connection—and much, much more, as I am constantly saying. Your feel that without excellence as a primary goal, there is no legitimate argument for cultural support, but I’d be more inclined to give that weight if you’d actually read and rejected all the other arguments, the ones I find stronger.
In fact, you are laying out arguments that bear no resemblance to the actual public discourse. The culture wars aren’t saying there are no professional standards or experts; in fact, the right says it dislikes the elitism of the experts, not that they don’t exist. And once again, that argument is only a smokescreen for the real right-wing agenda, which is to cut public funding for all social goods, not just art, not just NPR and PBS. You are taking a quick snapshot of the surface of a deep and complex debate, and writing as if you had captured the whole truth. I think we can play word-tennis all day, but without seeing the same landscape of argument, policy, and possibility, we will never agree.
I’d like to Amen Arlene, ask a question, and offer a couple of community-based examples. How are we being good neighbors, engaged in the many integrated issues that make for a healthy community? Tonight I attended a neighborhood meeting to imagine how our local branch library could be more of a creative civic space. Wednesday two of us in the arts are organizing the Expo for Participatory Budgeting – where city councilmembers in 4 districts in New York have given $1 million to their districts to decided how to spend. In both cases I think of this as advocacy. Not because we’re arguing for more money for the arts but because we’re joining with our neighbors to build a healthy community where we can participate in the decision making that impacts our lives. And I can’t imagine a healthy community without the arts. Yes we need to organize politically (and know how to do it effectively), yes we need to be savvy about advocacy – but we need to be at the table for the long haul as well, and its not only an arts table. We need to advance cultural equity by supporting the key hub organizations that knit their communities together. And we need to be allies in struggles like the one that is happening in Tucson Arizona where Mexican American Studies has been eliminated from the Tucson Independent School System. Its all connected and when we just pull one thread, we loose our power.
Absolutely, Caron. Thanks! Tomorrow’s installment is by Roberto Bedoya focusing on what’s happening in Arizona, so be sure to check it out and comment!
Remember when the American Conservatory Theater came to Mills High School and put on Androcles and the Lion? I give back for the great start I got in music and theater … but I acknowledge the right of others to oppose use of public funds (other people’s money). Some communities just “get more” from the arts. I don’t require others to listen to what I love. Very few will come to the same affection.
For me, Speight Jenkins and the Seattle Opera are the model for acquiring public support for arts. Sometimes there is a geography effect – it’s not only a question of money.
Wow, Calvin, that’s just one of many things I have forgotten about high school, but I wish I did remember.
Everyone has the right to oppose the use of public funds. I oppose my involuntary underwriting of the world’s largest prison-industrial complex, and my taxpayer funds going to subsidize arms sales throughout the world (two name just two of many). But some things are deemed public goods, and even if some people object, they are part of public provision (e.g., education, highways, waterways, parks). I support public underwriting of the public interest in art, giving everyone the means to create and participate. I don’t know how requiring others to like what you like even comes into the conversation: who’s doing that?
[…] What it is ain’t exactly clear, but there seems to be a growing questioning of the status quo, or rather the stati quos. Perhaps it’s a response to shrinking arts funding, declining audience numbers, exponentially growing means of distribution, or all of the above and more, but the ground is shifting. I could list the many blogs postings I’ve read (and a few I’ve written) that address, for example, the concentration of “wealth” in large institutionalized predominantly white nonprofit arts organizations or the democratization of creative production and criticism or the need for artists to be more entrepreneurial and arts organizations to develop new business models, and on and on, but I will refrain from doing so and point instead to a blog conversation going on this week on Arlene Goldbard’s site. […]
[…] it is ain’t exactly clear, but over on Arlene Goldbard and Barry Hessenius’s art clout blogfest, Diane Ragsdale suggests that the NEA should be “disintegrated and it’s components set free” […]
[…] (Just after penning that title, I discovered that I’m not the only one publicly admitting that making the case isn’t working.) What do I mean by that? First, we know that there are a lot of arts advocates doing amazing, […]