My activist colleague sent me a message that appeared to be written in Martian: “ITOS BET SPOFTA?” is what he wrote, kindly providing the translation: “Is There One Senator Brave Enough To Speak Out For The Arts?” Judging from recent debate in the Senate, where the Right seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the answer may be “No,” though I continue to hope. But change one letter and the picture brightens considerably:
ITOR BET SPOFTA? Yes! Congressman George Miller, Chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, has announced that he will conduct “a series of hearings this Spring to examine how the arts benefit the nation’s economy and schools—and what can be done to improve support for the arts and music fields.”
Please convey your gratitude via email (or by telephone to 202-225-2095) to Congressman Miller for his courage under fire and his wisdom in giving serious attention to an essential social good that has become the Right’s favorite object for target-practice.
Offer your help and support, and while you’re at it, please ask that the hearings include not only the powerful arts-related unions, celebrities and establishment arts organizations that tend to be asked to offer testimony on Capitol Hill, but also a good representation of community artists and community arts advocates in all our diversity.
As yet, there is no indication of how many hearings will be held, or whether they will be in locations around the country or only in Washington, DC. To be truly inclusive and encompassing in portraying the cultural landscape, it would be best to go to the people, holding hearings in several regions. Click here for a list of committee members with links to their own Web pages. If you have contacts with any of these representatives, get in touch to advocate for a hearing in your own region and to suggest people who can give expert testimony grounded in real connection to community and culture.
I applaud star power in the service of good, which is why I’m so happy to see Bill Irwin, whom I knew as Willie the Clown when he worked as a CETA artist for San Francisco’s Pickle Family Circus, testify in behalf of public service jobs for artists. Here he is in a video created for the National Campaign to Hire Artists to Work in Schools and Communities: