In his createquity blog, Ian David Moss wrote “of fostering a sense of shared responsibility among arts advocates in every state for what happens to the arts in every other state.” Of course we need to do so. But, we also need to start telling a different story and telling it in different ways. Politicians love stories, they tell stories, and they will (maybe) listen to stories. We need to drill down deeper than the state level, deeper than the municipal level, down to the individual level. As Jaime Dempsey wrote in a comment here, “Governments invest in that which benefits the individuals and families within their jurisdictions.” When we take our discourse out of the realm of the state and into the realm of the individual, we make support for the arts about people rather than about institutions, and therefore make it more palatable to those politicians who can see themselves supporting schoolchildren and their families, but not necessarily theatre companies or dancers.
So, here is an idea: write to your representative, assembly person, senator, and governor, but write from your perspective as an individual, as a neighbor, as a parent. Sending a letter pre-written by an advocacy group to your representative is akin to the representative delivering a robo-call to your cell phone – and he or she pays it about as much attention. Instead, tell your representative an interesting, and hopefully true, story about how some publicly funded art program or institution actually affected your life, your family, your neighborhood for the better. Talk to your neighbors — not other arts advocates – but to the physical therapist or business owner or teacher who lives next door and find out how some experience with the arts affected them. Help them tell their story to their representatives. Ask them this: What would happen if young Ethan didn’t have orchestra in middle school? And then help them write that in a letter to their representative.
Yes, states advocating on behalf of states is critically important, institutions advocating on behalf of institutions is critically important, but ultimately, politicians listen to people.