BWW Blog: Advocating for Change
Have you ever been in a room surrounded by people who are passionate about the arts? How about people who are excited to make a difference and advocate for change? If you haven't, then I recommend you find the nearest arts council near you and see what you can do to get involved. I had the pleasure of attending ARTS Day in Raleigh, North Carolina last week. This is a two-day conference for arts councils, advocators, and artists to convene together and share ideas, reflect on the year, and prepare to advocate more! I was one of the very few college students there, yet it was such a fulfilling experience! I definitely suggest that anyone who is interested in arts advocacy or political involvement to look into ARTS Day, or a similar conference offered in your state. Read on for a recap of the inspiring events!
Tuesday was full of lectures, performances, and breakout sessions. Jaki Shelton Green, NC Poet Laureate, spoke some very powerful words that morning. Green prepped us for the event by encouraging us to "own your voice, and own your story." I learned that within any sort of advocacy, especially in the arts, stories are so powerful. It's not just about statistics or numbers; it's the tangible stories and emotion that can make a change.
After this, we reflected on the past fiscal and political year for North Carolina arts. As we all are aware, there is quite a lot of political tension in our country. Political consultant Mr. John Davis reminded us of the friendship between U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia. The two of them do not share the same political viewpoints, however, they have a very strong relationship. They love attending operas together; there was even a comic opera written about them, titled Scalia/Ginsberg: the opera! If I had to pick one thing to take away from the conference, it was that the mission of arts advocates should be to unite people through the arts, in order to strive more towards political/partisan civility. An example of partisan unity through the arts is North Carolina's very own Arts Caucus. This is a sort of "arts club" for legislators who support the arts! They convene at the NC General Assembly or throughout the state during the year, and educate NCGA members about the civic, educational, and economic impact of the arts. There is representation from both the republican and democratic parties on the caucus!
Wednesday was "Legislative Day." To be quite honest, I was a little intimidated before I arrived. I have never visited a legislator before, or advocated for anything on site! However, I quickly learned that I had nothing to be afraid of. The legislators were excited to meet with us- they want to hear our voices! We pitched the $1 for the Arts Campaign- which would allocate 5 million dollars to grassroots arts programs, and 5 million to the NC Arts Council General Grants. We provided stories, just like we discussed the day before. I even got to share my personal story of involvement with non-profit arts with Senator Sam Searcy, and how much the arts changed not only my life, but many of my friends, classmates, and colleagues.
If you're more of a statistics person, here are a few facts to back up why the arts are so important to North Carolina. According to a study conducted by Americans for the Arts in 2015, North Carolina non-profit arts is a $2.12 billion industry, and has created 71,977 jobs. Rural counties with performing arts organizations experience population growth three times faster than those without, higher household income, attract more workers and jobs, and recover from recessions quicker, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Low income students are five times more likely to graduate from high school, and two times more likely to graduate from college when they're actively involved in the arts.
Overall, ARTS Day NC was an incredible experience, and I hope that there will be many opportunities for me to attend again in the future. Nothing is more encouraging than being surrounded by passionate people who are invested in their field. I pride myself in being an advocate for the arts, and I want to continue to work towards making a change in the community around me. One quote that I wrote down from NC musician Nicci Canada, spoken during our breakout session, was "how can you dream if you don't see or hear?" I believe that every child, young and old, should be able to dream. If we work together, we can make that a reality.