Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Survey Says!

Summer in Vermont is the time when many of us put into action all the plans we have been fine-tuning since the weather drove us indoors last November. There is a lot to pay attention to.

Here at the Arts Council we are in the middle of taking stock of a couple of key items that have been commanding a lot of our attention.

The first is The Art of Action. We want to know from all of you who participated in it, helped organize it, or for any reason have an opinion about it, to let us know your thoughts. We are putting together a brief survey and would love to have feedback from you. Look for it in the next few days...

The second is the upcoming primary and election.

In part because so many important statewide offices are up for grabs this year (meaning an incumbent is not running), and in part because we were all quite surprised at the last-minute sales tax on tickets to non-profit performances that was passed by the Legislature in May, we felt that this was a good time to find out where all our candidates stand on arts-related issues.

A few days ago we issued our first-ever “Candidate Survey” on the arts to all those who have registered as candidates for Governor, Lt. Governor, and Vermont House and Senate, and asked them to please respond by August 2. This will give us time to tabulate responses to our questions and share them. [ Note: less than 24 hours after it dropped we already had 37 completed surveys submitted. Thank you!]

It is our intention to provide clear information about every candidate’s level of commitment to the arts and to arts education. We have also asked candidates who have already addressed the arts as part of their platform to provide a link to their documentation so that we may share that information with Artmail readers as well.

Since, as a 501(c)(3) non-profit we are not allowed to endorse any candidate for office, it is our intention to let the candidate’s own responses to our questions speak for themselves.

Some candidates have already responded by saying “I make it a policy not to respond to surveys…My record speaks for itself.” While I understand the frustration people running for office must feel about having to respond to surveys on many different subjects, my over-riding response has been to respectfully ask those candidates to reconsider their policy.

First, what "record"? In the Vermont legislature, issues involving the arts are usually buried deep in the Appropriations Bill, or—as is the case with recent 6% Sales Tax on nonprofit ticket sales—buried in a huge “Miscellaneous Tax Bill.” It is impossible to carve out an incumbent’s voting record on the arts because there are usually so many other material issues in a bill affecting a legislator’s vote. The only effective way to let the candidates speak for themselves about the arts is to ask them.

Second, I believe that there is too little attention paid by the media and, consequently, policy-makers, to the role the arts play in our economic recovery. Candidates from all parties talk about the importance of investing in vital communities, in improving communications infrastructure, creating jobs, curing whatever ails our schools, and in general improving Vermonters’ quality of life. But hardly ever does the word “art” or “culture” appear in their words or in print. (Yes, I may be exaggerating to make a point, but-ahem-my point speaks for itself!)

So here is what we need YOU to do. Between now and August 24th, let your candidates know that the arts are important to you and ask them whether they have responded to the Arts Council’s survey. If so, thank them; if not, ask them why. If they say it is not their policy, then make it YOUR policy to ask them how they would vote on increasing support for the arts, on increasing funding so that every schoolchild would have adequate resources to study the performing or visual arts during their K-12 years. Then let US know how it went…!

As soon as we have tabulated the results, we will share them. Look for them around August 10.

In the meantime, enjoy the sun, the showers, the fresh vegetables from your garden and take in a concert or a show. Or take in two or three—there is plenty to choose from!

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