Dear fellow performing artists,
Last Tuesday, with a nudge from the Field, I participated in Arts Advocacy Day with the goal of asking for a reduction in cuts to the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). The day went by quickly. It began at 7am on the corner 33rd and 8th where I found my fellow arts advocators and we boarded two busses, a big one and a little one, bound for Albany. I really had no idea what the day entailed, but hoped I could be a good soldier and do what I was told. I have learned that when the Field staff points me in a direction outside my comfort zone, it’s generally a good idea to go.
We were briefed on the bus by Norma Munn from the New York City Arts Coalition. Read Norma’s orientation to arts advocacy on the IT Foundation blogspot, http://nyitawards.blogspot.com/.
Norma passed out packets that included team assignments, a list of talking points and a series of 20-minute appointments with legislators. We were, apparently, divided into small teams that were going to spread out over the LOB and actually speak to people one-on-one. She tried to assign us to representatives from our own boroughs, to the largest extent possible. Arts consultant Anne Dennin, would my team leader and we would be joined by Joyhdae Albert from Harlem Arts Alliance, and Nicole Sealy from Poets & Writers.
My team, while walking, came up with our “pitch”. Anne would start, in a friendly way, by explaining the impact of the proposed cuts to NYSCA and making the modest ask. Then she would turn to us for examples of why NYSCA is critical to what we do. Joydae would talk about what the Harlem Arts Alliance is doing as a re-granting agency. I would then speak as an individual artist who has benefitted from other local re-granting and service organizations funded by NYSCA, namely Brooklyn Arts Council and the Field. And Nicole would bring it home by talking about the readings and workshop programs that Poets & Writers was doing in the legislator’s home borough.
Our talking points were created in conjunction with the state group, Arts NYS. Their site is a great resource to learn about the proposed cuts, for facts about how the arts sector fits into the economy as a whole, and to send messages to legislators. We learned as we went along how to talk to people. It was an active, energizing day, frustrating only in that there seemed to me to be huge missed opportunity in the lack of voice from artists.
Today, our unified message was: Please cut us a little less than is proposed. Arts stimulate the economy and create jobs. I thought—here we go again defining ourselves in terms of anything but art … the economy, jobs, education. Even the Arts NYS button seemed to be having an identity crisis, as it tried cram together several visual messages that might appeal to legislators aligned with different issues. It read “ARTS=JOBS” and depicted a fourth grade girl holding up a heart. The message I got was “ARTS … ‘N’ CRAFTS!” There was nothing artistic about it. I am grateful that somebody was making buttons for us to wear, but we were all jealous of the cool marriage equality buttons that read “I DO” in big red letters, so my team picked up those and wore them around too.
I wished that I could invoke Arlene Goldbard, who beautifully conveys the necessity of art on its own terms. It made me wonder, “Where are the artists on Arts Advocacy Day?” The bus seemed to be full of program staff from different organizations and not the artists themselves. Playwright Rogelio Martinez was there. He gave a great speech at the press conference that closed the day. You can read here on ART NY’s Facebook page.
It was so simple, and so necessary to communicate with legislators, but as an artist I have not always understood my place in the system. We are used to defining ourselves by our aesthetic, or our discipline, or our individuality, and not as a workforce or as a group of constituents. From spending time with the lovely Audra Lang on the ride up to Albany on Tuesday, I know there are about 2200 of us that the Field serves. NYSCA needs us more than we need them right now. If you are now jealous of me, and wish you had joined, here’s a way to make your voice heard. Just come to the Field starting Friday and pick up a stack of pre-stamped cards, write down your name and your artist-occupation, and pop them in the mail. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until we have distilled our voices into a new message, let’s join the message of the day. Here’s what I’m asking you to say:
ARTS = JOBS
Dear [Senator/ Assembly member So-and-So],
I am a(n) [Occupation: playwright, painter, dancer, musician, etc.] from [Borough].
As an artist, I am part of a workforce that generates approximately $25 billion and 200,000 jobs for the state of New York each year. I contribute to our economy and quality of life.
I am writing today with a modest ask: Reduce the cut to the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Aid to Localities budget from 10% to 2%, and reinstate $2.8 million to NYSCA. Governor Cuomo’s proposed cuts will disproportionately affect NYSCA, slashing the agency’s already stretched grants budget of $35 million by 10%. NYSCA expends 88% of its entire budget in grants to arts organizations and has already lost 30% of that allocation over the past four years. Another 10% reduction will shake the infrastructure of the arts community.
Artists are real people. We make wise use of limited resources, and we give back to our communities exponentially—in dollars and in inspiration. Please protect New York’s investment in the arts and preserve our ability to do our good work in the future.
Your sincere constituent,