The State of the Arts – What is Arts Advocacy?
By Melinda Childs
Development Director, ArtStart Rhinelander
It is hard to ignore the fact that we are in an election year. Everyone seems to be talking about issues of local and national importance. Politics touch upon everything from land use management to school funding formulas. Of course financial policies, healthcare, and social services are usual topics, but what about art? Art and politics are typically not seen as intertwined, but more and more that is precisely the conversation that is happening. On March 9, my husband and I traveled to Arts Day in Madison. It was one part a show of force to Wisconsin politicians that the arts have a voice and one part an opportunity for comradeship and education for arts administrators and artists across the state. Arts Day is at its core a celebration and a demonstration about how prevalent the arts are in our state and in our lives. To share the experience of Arts Day with you I have compiled the top ten “takeaways” from Arts Day.
10. The Capital is beautiful.
One of the best benefits of participating in Arts Day is you have a reason to be in the Capital, a building that was built for the people. You run into others who are there to represent ideas they believe in and to participate in democracy. The architecture, the spirit, and the act of being in the Capital make a beautiful experience.
9. Wisconsin has a lot going on.
We met folks from our region and beyond. We ran into a group from the Manitou Arts League and the Northwoods Arts Tour on our way into Rep. Swearingen’s office and laughed about how we needed to go to Madison to run into our neighbors. Representatives were present from the Northwoods to The Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend and every place in between and wow do we have a lot of great art in our state!
8. Your legislators are accessible – access them.
Ironically enough we ran into Rep. Tiffany on the street outside the Capital and he was very willing to have a conversation with us. Unfortunately Rep. Swearingen was not in town (we did not have an appointment), but last year he was very accommodating. We did have great conversation with his two aids who took notes and promised to pass on our concerns. We must all remember our representatives are there to represent us but it is our job to reach out and tell them what we care about.
7. The arts are tied to economic development.
There were a great number of arts representatives in attendance but equally impressive were those who were representing their communities as politicians, appointed officials, or otherwise. They were there because they know that the arts are part of a positive economic development equation to draw visitors and attract and retain residents and employers.
6. Every community has people who are driven to serve.
The passion that was in the room was unbridled. Often those that are drawn to the arts are volunteers in one or more arts organizations and have invested time, energy, and spirit all for the sake of impacting others, lives. Be it through creating artworks, facilitating community programs, or creating assets for their community, the arts become a tool for greater community development initiatives.
5. Wisconsin has a rich legacy in the arts and the past can and should inform the future.
Honored at ArtsDay with the Rabin Youth Arts Award was Harv Thompson. Harv is one of many I have met since moving to Wisconsin that have been “touched” by the Wisconsin Idea or by Robert Gard in some way. The Wisconsin Idea is a wonderful model of arts accessibility and the possibilities for inclusion in all aspects of modern life to the benefit of all. As we contemplate the future of some beloved Wisconsin Idea programs such as School of the Arts Rhinelander, we need to honor and learn from past successes.
4. Connecting with other people is energizing.
My husband and I went our separate ways to have the conversations we needed to have in order to remember that there is a larger world than our daily Northwoods routine. Connecting with like-minded people inspired new ways of thinking, possible collaborations, resource sharing, and broadened our horizons.
3. The creative economy is our future.
Much of what Arts Wisconsin, Arts Day and other arts professionals are discussing is really relevant to trends and issues in a larger economic context. Connectivity, technology, and generational differences are defining new ways of doing business. Creative thinking will be necessary in the future to accommodate these economic changes.
2. Art education changes lives.
A group of teenagers from the Wisconsin Repertoire Theater Teen Council performed monologues, songs, and speeches that spoke to the importance of art in their lives. Most prefaced their performances with personal stories about what participating in the arts meant to them. Especially striking was the comparison between the support our education system gives those who have dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, or engineers with the support given to those with creative aspirations. Of course creative problem solving and outside the box thinking are an asset in any field but the arts are a sometimes forgotten part of the education equation.
1. The Arts Matter.
Exclaimed on buttons, signs, in the selfie booth (of course I was too busy to get a pic) and across all the literature was this slogan. Fundamentally this is at the core of what all of us in attendance believe. Hopefully others believe it too. Imagine a world without art… not a pretty picture. If we do not advocate for it, who will?
More information about Arts Advocacy in Wisconsin can be found at www.ArtsWisconsin.org or just contact me at ArtStart. I personally invite you to join us at Arts Day next year regardless of your profession, all arts lovers welcome!