Monday, September 5, 2016

The Arts and the 2016 Election - Asleep at the Wheel

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on.........................."

The election is now just two months away.  Despite this being one of the strangest elections in memory, the whole process after the vote will be largely the same as it has always been. Special interests of every kind will line up to inform and educate the new administration as to their contributions, value, needs and wants.

Already most of the major interests - from the gun lobby and farmers, to teachers and big pharm - long ago formed committees and began strategically planning how to best position the interests of their constituents to advise the new administration of their positions on issues, appointments, and legislation.  Most of the better financed groups will have also long begun bundling contributions to the candidates so as to stand out from the crowd, and insure that they will at least have their concerns addressed.

 (Bundling is the process of aggregating small contributions, that are otherwise lost in the pantheon of big money, so that the candidate knows that there is a substantial population for which certain issues are critical.)  So, in the arts, let's assume that 10,000 or more individuals will make a small contribution to the candidate of their choice - hypothetically $25.  When bundled, that $250,000 gains attention within the campaign of the candidate.  This isn't a pay for play, quid pro quo process where contributions automatically translate into what the contributors want; but it is an effort to insure access and get a fair hearing as to positions and needs.  And that's how democracy has worked in America for eons, and will continue to work.  And those that don't play by these rules, can't rationally expect miracle outcomes in their favor.

In 2008, if memory serves, an ad hoc committee representing at least some of the issues of the nonprofit arts sector, was launched, supporting Obama.  That committee helped to position the arts in the new Obama administration and made recommendations for appointments, funding, and more.

Where is that committee in this election cycle? Americans for the Arts' - Arts Action Fund - is the only vehicle we have (and thank God for them) to bundle contributions and position the arts post Obama.  And they do a remarkable job with amazingly little. But we need more.

What would be valuable would be a national committee of arts leaders - those from the national service provider organizations, including dance, theater, symphonies, museums, film, multicultural groups and more.  A committee sprinkled with some recognizable names, the purpose of which would be to develop positions as to public funding for the arts, various pieces of legislation that impact artists and the arts field, arts education, and to recommend people for a wide variety of political appointments to the new Executive branch that would bear upon our fortunes.  This kind of committee would draft evidentiary support studies, surveys and other research substantiating our claims of value and importance and be ready to present that material to the transition committee of the victorious candidate.  It ought to be bi-partisan and widespread.

Ideally, this committee would be in a position to lobby for the interests of the nonprofit arts irrespective of which candidate prevails, but even if such a committee was partisan, the effort is still worth doing.   Appointments to the NEA, the NEH, the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the Secretaries of Education, Housing, Transportation etc. are all important to our future, and we ought to have a united voice making suggestions. We also ought to make our best case for funding.

It isn't too late to form that committee now, but we need to move quickly.  You don't start planning a major wedding the week before the appointed date, and waiting until one candidate is victorious puts us way behind the curve.

I don't understand why this hasn't happened yet.  Or maybe it has.  But if not............

..........then an open plea to AFTA, NASAA, the Regional Arts Organizations, the heads of the dance, theater, symphonies, museums, multicultural groups and the Arts Education Community -  please, please get together and form this kind of effort now and solicit all of our support and backing.

While Clinton is at least nominally arts supportive, and we don't know where Trump really stands, neither of them at this point can reasonably be expected to embrace our causes wholeheartedly.  Will Hillary be supportive if elected?  Yes, of course; but probably much like Obama - supportive, but unlikely to truly embrace us for our value and contributions.  Unlikely to actually get it.  More likely, she will focus her support on arts education. Why?  Because it's safe; it's about kids.  We need her to more fully understand the sector and to more fully embrace it.  Trump?  Who knows?  We need to be ready to convince them why we are important, and part of that argument is political -- that there are tens of thousands of us out here for whom the arts are the critical issue. We need to be on their radar screens now, and ready to move with a united effort the day after the election.

But so far I don't see anything going on.  Maybe I'm just out of the loop, and behind the scenes there are major plans afoot.  I hope so.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

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