"And the beat goes on............................."
Arts Day Shout Out!
Arts Day in California is the first Friday every October (October 7th this year). It was created because Arts & Humanities Month is too large to get a real handle on and to sell effectively to the media and public. A single day is easier to package conceptually and there are parallels like Earth Day. I think this is the 10th anniversary of Arts Day in California and over that decade hundreds of organizations have celebrated Arts Day and used the platform to make the case for the value of the arts to their constituents, local decision makers, the media and the public in scores of different ways - from special performances, open houses and events, to planting stories in programs, newsletters, blogs and local newspapers; from involving artists to involving schools and teachers and kids. There have been poster design contests, tee shirts and other merchandising, rallies, online stuff and more. As a platform it is a convenient, usable device to call attention to both needs and wants of the field and individual organizations. Moreover, albeit slowly, over time it begins to sink into the collective public consciousness - and in so doing Arts likewise almost subliminally registers in the public psyche as something of value to the community.
I do wish it would grow faster though. Of course, it takes time to firmly plant a day of celebration, recognition, and acknowledgement of something in the mind of the public. Earth Day is 40 years old and had a much bigger launch.
So I wonder what we need at this juncture to jump start Arts Day as more of a media event so that it can expand in the public mind much as Earth Day has done over the past four decades? Taking a lesson from the Earth Day success, I think there are three things we need to figure out how to do over the next three or four years so as to make Arts Day something much more meaningful.
Earth Day actually started in San Francisco but quickly went national, then international. And so the first thing that might help spread Arts Day is to make it a national celebration -- the kickoff as it were to the national Arts & Humanities Month of October. We need the Endowment or AFTA or someone to get behind that concept and find someone in Congress to introduce legislation making the first Friday of October national Arts Day (best if you had a bipartisan co-authorship for such legislation to which you could work to get many members to join in support). This kind of legislation is very common,costs nothing at all and is one thing fairly easy to get through Congress. Long term we can then, like Earth Day, move within the UN to make it a global event - and that might actually be easier than to get it designated a national celebration. The world (and the U.N. in particular) seems very pro arts and culture.
Second, we need some real media attention, so we need a press conference announcing the introduction of the legislation proclaiming Arts Day (or on the first such date), and to get the media to cover it we need to have a stage full of celebrities, sports figures, prominent civic and business leaders etc. Real media NAMES. That ought not to be that difficult -- we could just tap into the current television line up of arts shows - from dance to music and anyway, we have plenty of name supporters that we could call on for something like this. Yes, it would take some organization and calling in of some favors, but it is do-able.
Third, we need a massive participatory effort by the whole of the arts community for the first national Arts Day - with thousands of open houses across the country, special performances, newspaper editorials, poster contests and any and everything else we can think of to call attention to the designation. And, taking a page from the early Earth Day supporters we might hold some of that 60's stalwart - Teach Ins - to inform and educate the public as to the loss to the nation in not supporting the arts. We just need to make a splash and given that there are tens of thousands of arts organizations and millions of people involved (not counting hundreds of thousands of artists) we can certainly do this.
Finally, also stealing from Earth Day, we need to involve the younger generation of Millennials and K-12 school children. Somehow we have got to involve them - as a generation - in taking up support for the arts as a worthwhile cause. There are a million plus arts majors in colleges, and probably twice that number of kids who are involved in the arts on some level in their communities and at their schools. We need to tap into that sitting group.
And what good would a national or global designated Arts Day do for us? As alluded to above, for one thing it will provide a platform for each arts organization and every community to tout their value to that community and to current and potential supporters. It will give us a platform to make the case to politicians for support. It will increase awareness that we are here and that we have value. It will publicize and inform local constituents as to all that is available in their local communities. It will expand our opportunities for getting more stakeholder support. It will ratchet up opportunities for media coverage. It will shine a spotlight on the contributions of arts education. And it will help to galvanize us as a field - to think more like a community of mutual interest and so spark more collaboration and cooperation among us. And it doesn't really cost that much to do.
Meanwhile, I hope everyone in California celebrates this year's Arts Day as vocally and prominently as possible. Use the platform to contact local media, inform your own constituents of what you do, write a letter to your locally elected officials, reach out to local schools, add some notation to your website (wouldn't it be nice to see what Google would do to their masthead for a national Arts Day?), solicit some new donations, and push the celebration to the public.
Ten years from now Arts Day could be like Earth Day and actually mean something to the public, and to us.
Have a good week.