By Ann Marie Miller
Use the word “advocate” and more often than not, the response is a blank bored stare. Ask people to speak their minds about a cause they care about, and chances are you won’t be able to stop the rant of an impassioned advocate. The challenge is always how to sustain both passion and momentum to effect positive change.
In the arts, you might suspect, there is no shortage of passion. Last week cyberspace was brimming with over 5,000 emails from New Jersey residents sent via Art Pride NJ’s Arts Action Center to NJ district legislators to speak, plead or argue (the book definition of advocate) that state arts funding should not be reduced. Countless phone calls were made, and according to one legislative aide, not all were as pleasant as you might expect from cultured New Jerseyans. The result was that collective voice was loud enough to move Governor Christie’s red pen across the budget, striking language that would have resulted in a decrease of 27% to arts groups awaiting operating grants from the NJ State Council on the Arts in a few short weeks.
New Jersey was not alone in fighting for stable, if not increased state arts support. Last month Kansas lost all state arts dollars including those that would match federal funding (NEA funding was reduced by 20% this year and is facing even more significant reductions for FY12). Washington, Wisconsin, Arizona, South Carolina and Pennsylvania were on the short list of other states waging similar battles.
So what does this all mean? Some speedy conclusions are:
- Stable government support for the arts is history.
- People are never going to understand why government should fund the arts.
- Arts advocates can only be counted on during a crisis.
All of these hastily formed statements are false. Just about one week ago, Ohio Citizens for the Arts were successful in adding $6 million to the Ohio Arts Council’s 2012 budget. Pennsylvania Citizens for the Arts prevented a 70% reduction in arts dollars, and the South Carolina Arts Alliance helped override Governor Haley’s veto of funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission. Florida advocates helped restore $2 million to the Department of Cultural Affairs after significant cuts over the past few years, in addition to New Jersey’s ability to retain level funding for the NJ State Council on the Arts without earmarks.
The message is being delivered, by a significant and growing number of arts advocates around the country, that government support makes a huge difference in assuring that cultural programs are available and accessible to ALL people, including children, seniors and those who cannot afford higher ticket prices. As Alec Baldwin said on National Arts Advocacy Day earlier this year, “When our local, state, and federal government decrease support for the arts and arts education, there’s no way that private foundations, businesses and individual donors alone can fill the gap.”
Finally, success cannot be achieved in ANY advocacy effort unless it is ongoing and only heightened during a crisis. In effect, that means arts advocates have to remain on constant alert—staying in touch with legislators on all levels all the time, reminding them of specific and meaningful ways government support makes a difference in communities throughout New Jersey. It’s not as hard as it seems, and we’ll look at ways to keep lively messages and stories flowing to prevent those uncomfortable pleas for support in crisis. The bottom line is that the arts will remain vulnerable as long as they are perceived as a fringe element, not tied closely to tourism, education, healthcare, transportation, and economic development. And it’s important to remember that all of these sectors are also experiencing cuts during these trying economic times. It’s our job to “mainstream” the arts, and it’s New Jersey’s turn to raise the bar yet again and increase state dollars for arts, history and tourism support. The funding is there, in tax revenue earned through the NJ Hotel/Motel Occupancy Fee.
In future blogs we’ll look at creative messaging, mainstreaming the arts, and how Art Pride NJ provides leadership as the voice for arts support on a variety of fronts.
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