Friday, January 4, 2008


As Jimi Hendrix said on his live recording with Buddy Miles, “Happy New Year first of all!”

In the spirit of the moment, I have put together a wish list for the coming 12 months. Some of them are large in scope (global, even), and some are more intimate—suitable for a state the size of Vermont. Please share with me your own wishes, but above all else, have a safe and pleasant New Year!

I wish …

… to wake up sometime in January 2008 and learn that the proposed increase for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was a typo and that the real figure is $200 million, thus bringing NEA closer into alignment with its 1992 appropriation. For now, we are all well-satisfied with $20 million! Thank you, Rep. Welch, Sen. Sanders and Sen. Leahy. Your hard work and support for the NEA and for the arts in general are well-appreciated.

…to convince, by the end of the 2008 Legislative session, the Governor and a 2/3rds majority of both the House and Senate that the Arts and Cultural sector in Vermont is a profound income-generating sector that far exceeds the cost of the state’s investment in it through us. Not only will the $20 million NEA increase directly impact our program support, but any grant from the NEA comes with a matching state requirement—which for Vermont could mean a significant increase in our state appropriation. Over the years, our own studies have shown consistent, 7-to-1 returns on our own investments in Vermont communities: for every dollar the Arts Council invests in programs throughout the state, the organization receiving our funds generates seven dollars from local and private resources. We are an “income center” to the State of Vermont, not a “cost center.” We need to get better at explaining this to all of our legislators so that they really understand it.

…policy-makers in Vermont allow local investment in the Creative Economy to occur primarily (though not exclusively) in the Arts and Cultural sectors. We already have large state agencies that support (or easily could support) innovation in Agriculture and Commerce/Community Development. Sure, “improvements in technology,” “sustainable and clean energy production,” “affordable housing,” and “affordable health-care” are all crucial to Vermont’s vision of itself in the 21st Century, and established systems already exist to facilitate investment in those areas. However entities that support individual creativity, like our museums, galleries, and performing arts centers, only have us and relative to the growth of the rest of state government in the last 15 years, our budget is 30% smaller.

…the School Boards across the State would recognize that learning in the arts, and learning about the arts are not just words in the No Child Left Behind Act, but crucial investments that not only help kids with certain types of learning disabilities or “engagement issues” stay in school and become productive, but they offer a safe, time-tested means to practice being creative, collaborative, and focused on achieving positive outcomes. As Liz Lerman once said, if anyone in the Bush White House had done theater in high school or college and used the skills they picked up in rehearsals as part of the planning process for invading Iraq, they would have learned very quickly that their script lacked a coherent ending. Arts Education should be the last thing on a school’s chopping block, not the first.

… for Vermont’s creative sectors to seek out the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s "Council on the Future of Vermont" meetings all over the state and play a very visible role in these important, once-in-a-generation discussions. We all have to figure out how to confidently manage Vermont’s unique natural, cultural, and economic assets so as to not destroy them even as we exploit them. Call me biased, but if it’s a conversation about innovation, creative workforce preparation, building community and social capital, improving public transportation, creating more affordable housing and health care, improving access to fiber-optic technology, and managing our energy and environment so that there is some of both in the coming generations—artists MUST be at the table. After all, history has shown that artists’ creative output is consistently the most thoughtful and honest reflection of the human experience. And what is needed most is creative thinking, right?

…Vermont would listen to Sen. Bill Doyle and the Snelling Center for Government and consider a proposed four-year election cycle for the Governor and other statewide elected officials seriously. It helps create better long-term policy and, as an added bonus, makes us pay more careful attention to who we vote for.

…every man, woman, and child in the state of Vermont will participate in Art Fits (our next planned statewide community arts project like Palettes of Vermont), and as a result of their incredible experience, will be inspired to contribute $1 to every one of their local arts organizations, and then—after thinking about how little that is, contribute another dollar! That $1.24 million will sure do a lot of good in communities all over Vermont!

Does anyone out there have any more to add?

Happy 2008 to all of you!

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