On Feb. 15 Governor John Lynch will announce his budget before submitting it to the House of Representatives. With much rhetoric about large budget cuts, many in the arts community are nervous about what is to come. Yet panic has not set in. The Citizens for the Arts, an arts advocacy group, wants anyone invested in the arts to be prepared to act if called upon.
To educate members of the community, the Citizens for the Arts hosted an Arts Advocacy Summit on Jan. 4 at the Capitol Center for the Arts. About 50 people from a diverse range of arts organizations from various corners of the state attended the meeting, giving input and learning how to advocate to local legislators on behalf of the arts.
Those in attendance recommended doing homework before speaking with a legislator. Blue books are available, which give information about legislators including their interests. While it is important to know information about the legislators, it is also important to research. Don’t assume that legislators know a great deal about funding for the arts or what the NH Council on the Arts does. Explaining this is not insulting but can be helpful. Many politicians have the best intentions but are often overburdened, according to Judy Rigmont. The key for any advocate is to connect the dots between, say, a local art gallery and tourism. Much of this can be done by a combination of personal anecdotes and bottom-line facts. The Citizens for the Arts said they would put together statistics to illustrate the power of the creative economy.
“Don’t talk about the arts in general,” said Carol Batchelder of the Citizens for the Arts. “Talk specifics of your local community.”
The best way to know a local legislator is to develop a relationship, making it easier to craft arguments that person can hear, according to Nicolette B. Clarke, executive director of the Capitol Center for the Arts. Also, don’t just thank legislators but invite them to events. And when you do invite them to events, like a ribbon-cutting, it is important for members of the local arts community to come out in full force to show how united they are, according to Meena Gyawali, development coordinator at the Manchester Economic Development Office.
Such face-to-face encounters are more personal than an e-mail and help establish a connection, which makes it easier for advocates to call upon their legislators. It was also advised to have such conversations early and not when crisis mode kicks in. If the issue becomes a battle of arts versus something else, arts are often at a disadvantage, the experts said.
Thirty-three people in attendance, many of whom have significant backgrounds in the arts, believed private rather than public funding was the best way to increase funding. However, Dr. Roger Brooks, chair of the Arts Councilors, believed there was an appropriate role for public funding in the arts. He said such funding faces an uncertain future.
Brooks was confident in the arts because, as far as the budget deficit goes, the arts are not part of the problem but part of the solution. The key for advocates is to educate the public and legislators on all the many fields the arts touch.
“I think most new legislators think of arts as the ballet or the symphony,” Rigmont said. “They may think it is elitist. I don’t think they know about community art and public art or arts in health care.”
Such an understanding will be even more crucial as the demographic of our state changes. Marcia McCaffrey of the Department of Education said that according to 2010 census data 30- to 40-year-olds with higher education and higher salaries are the largest group moving into New Hampshire. Such people might have a strong affinity to the arts, so it is important to have programming that appeals to them.
“We have a great legacy of the arts in our state,” McCaffrey said. “We need to remind people of that.”