"The Arts Need New Advocates" or, Why an Arts Champions Congress?
- Posted by Terry Rock on September 14th, 2011
In my weekly Grantmakers in the Arts newsletter, there is a link to "The Arts Need New Advocates" by Elizabeth Kramer in the Courier-Journal (which I gather is located in Kentucky). We're two weeks away from Calgary's first annual Arts Champions Congress, finalizing the agenda, watching registrations roll in, calling everyone we can think of and asking them to join us for some or all of what we intend to be a solid day of inspiration, new connections, ideas and, quickly soon after, action. The article was timely.
I was particularly struck by Kramer's discussion of how difficult it is to bring a strong arts voice to public dialogue:
To be effective, advocates and groups have to unite to make their case for the arts. As it stands now, very few arts organizations have the resources and connections to successfully get their messages across to lawmakers or the general public.
Those that do are often very large groups that are lobbying primarily for themselves, which is completely understandable. But for the arts to truly reach people of all walks and for the public to understand the reach of art — in all its colors and shapes — they need to be able to recognize it in their communities and in their own lives. Reaching that level of understanding often requires someone with passion who can help them see where art shapes their lives.
Over the years, Calgary Arts Development's connection to the community has grown in size and scope. We now fund 162 organizations through our operating grant program (up from 119 when we took on the granting function for Calgary). Our clients work in all corners of the city, are increasingly diverse (in ethnicity, age, and artistic practice), and range in size from small collectives to large institutions. In addition to this existing client group, we expect the number of organizations that we could or should fund to grow by an additional 50% over the next 3 years (most of those new organizations have already been in touch with us). Finally, we are keenly aware that we do not currently have any programs to support the thousands of individual artists studying and working in Calgary. In short: Calgary Arts Development is a hub in the large and growing circle that is the arts in Calgary.
Kramer's observation that "to be effective, advocates and groups have to unite to make their case" couldn't be more true. Since we published our first white paper on the organizations we fund, our eyes have been opened to the power of that collective story. When you dig just a little bit deeper, you realize that these organizations each has a detailed story of artistic and public impact, has dedicated board members (at least 5 per organization), employs artists, has volunteers, works with children, advocates, etc.
Back of the envelope calculations tell us that at least 10,000 people could be considered "champions" of the arts sector through their active support of the organizations we fund. The Arts Champions Congress is an opportunity for these people to get together in the same room. Lets put a visual on this abstract notion of "champions." Let's talk to each other about what we're doing and figure out if there are things we can do together that strengthen our organizations and enhance our impact. Let's challenge ourselves to sharpen our message and expand the number of people who really understand the multiple dimensions of value of a thriving arts sector brings to their lives.