Our Life in The Arts

Questions, reality, and musings on a life of joy and wonder

Vol. 1, No. 10

October 8, 2021

Arts Advocacy

By Rich Holly

Somewhere around the year 2000 I started becoming aware of my own desire to get involved with arts advocacy. Up until that point, my professional waking hours had been focused on my own artistry, teaching, and administrative obligations. I wish I could recall what exactly spurred these new thoughts and feelings, but I can’t. Yet that doesn’t diminish how important they were and continue to be.

At times it pains me that we need legions of people to advocate for the arts. How is it that other academic disciplines and professional pursuits either don’t require such advocacy or got into the advocacy game earlier, making it more difficult for the arts to gain a foothold in this space? How is it that society (especially in the US) has favored facts and figures rather than thinking and feeling?

Here’s a fact using figures, for those of you in that camp: “The arts and culture sector is a $730 billion industry, which represents 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP—a larger share of the economy than transportation, tourism, and agriculture.” (more here)

And think about how the arts intersect with both the transportation and tourism industries. Musicians, dancers, theatrical productions, and visual art exhibits all utilize transportation – and contribute to those sectors’ percentage of the GDP – to have viable careers, and tourism brings people to see and hear those offerings.

(Hmm…mmm maybe we need to find a way to partner with agriculture, since that sector gets so much attention from local, state, and federal governments)

Just as (if not more) important than facts, though, is how the arts make us feel. And think. And then act. Readers of my previous posts will know that I am fond of stating that the arts make us human. At times it feels to me as though being a thinking and feeling being is not appreciated in our country. And I suspect you’ve had those moments, too.

Without going into specifics, I’ve had the distinct honor of being a board member and officer for several regional, national, and international arts organizations. Through all those experiences I’ve learned (and continue to learn) a great deal from my colleagues and our clients about what arts advocacy is and can be.

One of the organizations for which I’m proud to have served as board chair is Triangle ArtWorks, an organization dedicated to advocacy and support for artists and other arts organizations. A few years ago we came up with the idea that our annual (extremely well-attended) networking event would include a superhero theme, which continues to this day.

Rich (back left) with several of his arts superhero colleagues

Have you given thought to participating in arts advocacy and becoming an arts superhero? I’m sure I can’t produce an exhaustive list of ways to get involved, but here are several. The most important thing is to volunteer your time – as little as one hour a year, or as much as you can fit into your schedule:

  • Bring uninitiated friends with you to an art exhibit or performance
  • Present a brief, hands-on arts workshop at a local daycare center, elementary school, or assisted living facility
  • Support the arts at a local school board meeting
  • Learn more facts and figures about the arts and the economy and discuss those with a local elected official
  • Become a donor to an arts organization (at any level) and encourage your friends to join you in doing so
  • Attend an arts event that takes you out of your comfort zone
  • Teach an arts course through a local life-long learning institute
  • Encourage developers and city officials to include public art in their construction budgets
  • Host a house concert and explain to attendees the value of supporting the arts

Hopefully these ideas will spur you to thinking about how exactly you can spend your one hour or more each year in advocating for the arts.

Check out this song from Mary Chapin Carpenter – what meaning do her metaphors have for you?

And sincere kudos to all those I know – and don’t know – who are spending nearly every moment of every day in arts advocacy. Their work is of the utmost importance to all artists and those who work in arts support industries.

So, if you’re not already engaged in arts advocacy, I hope you will join me in adding it to how you spend some of your time. And perhaps I’ll meet you some day at an arts superhero gathering.

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Rich Holly serves Arts NC State and the NC State University community as the Executive Director for the Arts.