Arts advocacy matters as major budget cuts threaten our cultural institutions

“The Arts and Sciences, essential to the prosperity of the State and to the ornament of human life, have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his country and mankind.” – George Washington

Arts advocacy is an important aspect of our theater and performance community, and there’s never been a more pressing need. Simply stated, organizations that promote or present art are a favorite target for defunding by fiscally and socially conservative politicians. Many consider our cultural institutions superfluous. Some see the exchange of new ideas and artistic expression as threatening to their social constructs. Almost all seem to agree that funding the arts is a waste of resources.

In March of this year, the president proposed eliminating and defunding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, including its affiliated National Public Radio (NPR) stations. These actions, if carried through, will have devastating effects on art and culture in our country. With the revival of conservative politics and leadership, arts organizations, in particular, are on high alert. Is there any support in the administration for these organizations? Will funding be reduced or completely cut out? Do we have a large enough donor base to make up for funding shortfalls?

Luckily, art advocates are not taking the news lightly, and are speaking out.

The Missouri Arts Council (MAC) coordinates our state’s advocacy efforts, educating and lobbying the state legislature. A grass-roots organization, MAC supports the arts through its efforts to encourage community involvement. They ensure that our state legislators hear, from a variety of constituents, that Missouri citizens support the arts. The non-profit sponsors events, workshops, and webinars. MAC also sends email alerts using feedback and national studies to promote funding of art organizations and education. On February 8, 2017, a group of patrons, students, and artists joined MAC for its annual Missouri Citizens for the Arts Day in Jefferson City.

MAC uses their time in Jefferson City to demonstrate the broad public support for the arts. And anyone is welcome to join. That’s right, you don’t have to be a trained lobbyist or theater professional to ensure that your voice is heard. Well-organized campaigns and constant pressure by lobbyists are important aspects for securing and maintaining arts funding, but everyone can share their voice. It’s as easy as letting legislators know that they, too, want to see art thrive in our communities.

As a theatergoer, you can show your support in a number of meaningful ways. Many efforts require only a small amount of time or money. First, and perhaps most importantly, show up to the theater! When companies demonstrate that they are filling seats and selling tickets, legislators are more interested in seeing them succeed. And please don’t just limit your attendance to the biggest companies and touring shows. Would you be surprised to learn that there are approximately 100 professional and community theater companies in our metropolitan area? A ticket to one show at the Fox is usually more than enough to buy a season ticket for many of our local companies. So consider spreading the wealth and catching a show by a company you’ve never seen before.

You can also take an active role in arts advocacy by letting your state representatives know that you are an arts patron. Write to your legislators and tell them that you care. Studies show your efforts are most successful if you contact them at least four times per year regarding arts funding. Be specific, mention a show or a company you admire, and let them know that it’s important to you. Tell them that the work of artists matters. If you take a friend to the show with you, ask them to write their legislator as well. It’s often easiest to speak up when you know that others are also doing their part. You can also consider joining MAC, or the national organization Americans for the Arts.

Arts Advocacy simply means standing up for the arts – and it’s something I encourage every reader to consider.

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