Oct 24, 2011

Speak Softly and Advocate for the Arts

Margy Waller* has a blockbuster post today at Createquity proposing that arts funding advocates stop shouting and e-blasting, and instead start doing business the way every other major industry lobby does: Quietly work behind the scenes with lawmakers and stakeholders to change minds and line up commitments. As Waller puts it succinctly: "Is our advocacy goal a widely seen news piece outlining all sides of the issue? Or, do we want a successful budget outcome? I think it’s the latter." She quotes Donna Collins, executive director of Ohio Citizens for the Arts, which successfully led an effort to increase Ohio's arts budget:
“We didn’t want to be in the headlines,” she said. “We didn’t want to see masses of people on the statehouse lawn with signs about funding the arts. We wanted people on message, talking with their own elected officials at home, as well as in Columbus. Our advocates, from the smallest rural community to the large urban centers, all had compelling stories about the positive impact of the arts.”
Waller does acknowledge the counter-example of Kansas, where the Governor started the fight against arts funding, and that that kind of action requires a defensive response.

Indeed, I'd argue that the reflexive stance a lot of arts advocates, which is to man the barricades and speak out despite the diminishing returns, was learned during the "culture wars" of the 1980s and '90s, when it was the Republican right, not the arts lobby itself, that was using the arts as a political football. The culture wars arguably have moved on (in large part because arts funding has essentially been decimated), and Waller's post makes a compelling case that we should unlearn those defensive reflexes. While it's true that arts funding, like funding for PBS and NPR, remains an easy target for conservatives in budget-conscious times, the last thing supporters of public arts funding should be doing is setting up the target for them. If every lobby that receives government subsidies thrust itself into the media spotlight with every budget cycle—well, some would argue we'd have a much more transparent democracy. But with a playing field so slanted toward ginormous industry lobbies and their constituencies, it's only fair for arts advocates to get their relatively infinitesimal piece of the pie via the same process.

*This post has been corrected; it initially credited Ian David Moss with authorship of the Createquity post.


Ian David Moss said...

Thanks! I just need to point out that the post was by Margy Waller, who works for Topos Partnership and ArtsWave. I did provide some light editing, but all the credit goes to her.

Ian David Moss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Weinert-Kendt said...

Corrected, Ian! Sorry for the confusion.