We are kicking of our Arts Advocacy Blog Week with our very first guest blogger of the year – Chelsey Anderson, a first year student at American University. Here, Chelsey recounts her experience at Maryland’s Arts Day.
What is the difference between school and the “real world”? I believe that I am one of the AU Arts Management Program’s younger candidates and as such am still exploring this question. The answer may be that, in the real world, no one will be there to call on you, force you to do hundreds of readings in a very short amount of time, or challenge you to give an opinion on a concept that you’re not sure you fully understand yet. Additionally, I am learning that it is all of these things that make us feel inspired, that allow us to dream, and that leave us not only wanting, but needing the world to be a better place. Perhaps one difference between school and the real world is that in school we are surrounded by challenges with a world of support for us to succeed. Out there, no one will call on us, expect us to sort through the materials, or possibly even expect us to make a difference – which is why you have to be the one to call on yourself. I believe that is when leadership begins to happen.
This past Wednesday, February 12th, I attended the 2014 Maryland Arts Day — an annual, state-wide advocacy day for the arts, held in Annapolis MD. Art leaders and organizations come from all over Maryland and the DC metropolitan area to speak to our senators, members of congress, and political leaders about how important the arts are to our communities, education, and life. I was pleasantly surprised to see the 2014 Sue Hess Art Advocate of the Year Award go to Fred Lazarus IV, who is basically responsible for the vivid art scene that exists today in Baltimore MD, as well as a major influencer in the arts on local, state, and federal levels. Maryland’s Governor, Martin O’Malley, received the Outstanding Leadership in the Arts Award for his amazing commitment to increasing Maryland’s arts budget, finally funding the MD Art Conservation Bill, and for passing the MD Arts Stabilization Bill. Ben Cameron, Program Director for the Arts-Doris Duke Charitable Foundation was the keynote speaker and gave a very passionate speech about arts participation. He said, “Arts attendance is dramatically falling and that might seem scary but arts participation is on the rise”. When he said this, my eyes grew wider with excitement; however, a very eccentric looking woman sitting to my left leaned over to her friends with a smirk and said, “Oh my, now what are we supposed to do with that type of audience?” This brings me to another question; what is it like to be an emerging arts manager at a grown up arts advocacy event? I feel this is a relevant question, since so many of us are going to be braving Capitol Hill for the first time this coming spring with Arts Advocacy Day and EALS. First, my advice is to play the student card as much as you can. I was surprised at how much this turned into a networking opportunity. Secondly, I realized that there are changes happening in the world that don’t scare us like they do others. When I heard Mr. Cameron say those words I imagined worlds of opportunity with audiences who are willing to participate, while the woman to my left might have seen her organization shutting down.
After some networking, the keynote speaker, and awards, it was time to break into our individual counties and we were off to personally speak to our political representatives. I felt nerves starting to spin around and collect in my stomach at the thought of raising my hand to speak to one of our political leaders among my Montgomery County team of mastered arts managers. Half of me was rallying to speak up, while the other half was saying no you’re just a student, you don’t know enough yet. We finally stepped into the conference hall where several congressmen and women were scheduled to stop by to see us before we ventured off to individual offices. Suzan Jenkins (who is also on the AU Arts Management Advisory Council) was our Montgomery county team leader, and she did a fabulous job at introducing all of the leaders that came in to speak to us. Before this meeting, we were given a pep talk — a list of “talking points” and coaching on how to raise our advocacy for the arts, but surprisingly no one was speaking. Basically, our political leaders would come in to tell us a story of how they used to play the guitar, were already in favor of the arts, thank us for our work, and leave. Finally there was one councilman who asked us what we would like to tell him, and no one spoke up. I was on the edge of my seat wanting to tell him that there are dozens of master level students coming into the field of arts management, and the research that we are doing is impacting the field in so many ways, etc. However… nothing would come out… I was so disappointed with myself! Finally, Fred Flont, an advocate for the Walter Reed Arts & Wellness program and a leader in Military and Arts Wellness, spoke up with how the arts impact our veterans. I was so relieved that somebody said something! Although, I was more disappointed that it wasn’t me.
Everything became true — no one was there to call on me or force my opinion on something I didn’t know everything about yet… and what happened? I didn’t say anything; because, I chose not to call on myself. Even a half-baked comment, filled with more passion than facts would have filled my purpose of being there. First, advocacy is having the courage to show up, because that means you have picked a stance that means the world to you. Second, advocacy is speaking up. When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the parts that people remember are not the facts and statistics that he may or may not have given; people remember the vision of the world that he outlined and described for them. Having all the knowledge in the world about your position is of course useful, but sometimes it’s not what will sell your policy – only the heart can do that.
I would like to conclude that my experiences at Maryland Art Day first, taught me that I have more to say than I realize, and second, we need more people that are willing to speak up rather than just show up. I wish everyone the best throughout EALS and Arts Advocacy Day! I thank the EALS committee for allowing me to share my experiences.