October 2012 found an article in the The New York Times that stated “advocacy groups find themselves competing for financing against the very cultural organizations they were created to support, which in turn can no longer afford the dues required by some of the groups that advocate for them.” With simple and compelling arguments from individuals like Metropolitan Opera board member Robert W. Wilson-“I would rather support the arts organizations themselves”-the question now becomes… do the arts need advocates?
The article’s answers are unsatisfying. Executive director of the theater-advocacy Alliance of Resident Theaters/New York, Virginia Louloude, argues “In times like this advocacy is even more important, not just to fight for the dollars, but to let people know the value arts bring to the community.” Reynold Levy, the president of Lincoln Center, believes “[cultural organization’s] business is generating and producing art, their business is not generating resources for it.” Jimmy Van Bramer, chairman of the New York City Council’s Cultural Committee, attempts to give arts advocacy a fighting spark: “If you’re not at the table, your seat is going to be filled by some other advocacy group and some other issue. We need more money for day care, we need more money for libraries, we need more money for parks.” Finally, executive director Michael L. Royce of The New York Foundation for the Arts, points out the obvious: “It’s very important for them to be part of the political process and not rely on advocacy groups to advocate for them.”
Louloude, Levy and Van Bramer’s statements assume arts organizations are too busy creating art to show the community their value and fight against day care and parks for funds. Unfortunately their argument is based in truth. However Royce’s argument that arts organizations should be part of the political process can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. Not only do arts organizations have the opportunity to participate in Arts Advocacy days, write their congressperson, and check off extensive lists of relationship cultivation and political engagement techniques… they can advocate for the arts by simply existing.
Bold statement? I think not. Do these tough times really call for tough measures? If an organization maintains a steady existence in a community, they are a success story and therefore, automatically an arts advocate. Did your donors carry you through a rough couple of years? Did you have to tap into your carefully built reserve funds? Were you forced to think and behave creatively in order to find new solutions to unprecedented problems? Did you break even last year? If your organizations can answer YES to one of more of these questions, then maybe it’s time for a mental shift. Get some perspective! Each arts organization that remains open another year is a successful advocate.
Lets define advocate. According to my Macbook OS X dashboard Dictionary widget, it’s “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.” So arguably as an arts manager simply by showing up to work every day is a public display of support. In fact every constituent who shows up at your performance, visits your exhibition, or buys into your product in a public manner is in their own small way supporting your cause.
Now I believe advocates for the arts are important. Advocacy organizations do provide an important function and many arts organizations wishing to serve a public should focus more on their creative process than defending their right to existence. But it is important to realize that all arts organizations simply by being arts organizations are arts advocates. The individuals behind the organizations must re-cast themselves. While some may be more talented and have more advocacy resources/success, every arts manager, from the underpaid development associate to the overworked executive director, has untapped potential as an advocate. It’s not a state of tough times, it’s a state of mind.