Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hi Ho, Silver Bullet!

A legislator asked me last week what the Vermont Arts Council was doing to create jobs in Vermont.  The current recession has gone on for so long and transformed our historical employment patterns to such a degree that it appears that the only relevant public policy conversation anyone can have now is about jobs.  It is an important and relevant topic for everyone, including the arts community.

The legislator was talking with me about our request for a 100% increase in our State Appropriation and her concern was that we were asking for an increase even as Federal funds for low-income heating assistance were being diminished, food bank shortages were mounting, and essential health and human services were being discontinued.  In that context, it was going to be hard to entertain a request for more support for the Arts in Vermont.  It might sound a little like asking for more sheet music for the string quartet on the deck of the Titanic.

Here, then, is what the Arts Council is doing about job creation. In collaboration with State and local partners too numerous to mention, we are:

·        Strengthening our educational system so that our students are not just “taught to the test” but are being trained to think critically about core subject areas, make public presentations on topics they have researched themselves, and work collaboratively with their peers on complex projects to “bring them in on deadline” (this is 21st Century Creative Workforce Training at its best; turning STEM to STEAM!)
·        Constantly encouraging our local partners to create meaningful public places and ceremonial activities (like First Nights or multicultural Farmers’ Markets) in our downtowns which, in turn, encourage people to open new businesses or relocate already existing businesses to those places (Creative Placemaking for one and all!)
·        Providing core business training to artist/entrepreneurs through our “Breaking into Business” and “Nonprofit Management Training” workshops and scholarships (No, fries don’t come with that…)
·        Supporting the delicate infrastructure that supports the Arts sector statewide; a sector that ALREADY employs 6,400 people (more than are employed in Vermont’s insurance sector), and is the source of nearly $19.5 million in state and local tax revenues (Wait…repeat that please?  One more time?!)

Here is the first message we must constantly hammer home:  the Arts are a force to be reckoned with. 

It is not just that the Arts entertain and enlighten (which, of course, they do).  It is also that they employ, beautify, revitalize, and pay taxes.  Artists are often the first to move in to a “depressed area” to revitalize it. Artists need space, time, and an affordable (read “inexpensive”) cost of living. This has been true in places like Soho and Chelsea in New York City, and increasingly in Vermont in towns like Brandon, Barre, White River Junction, and South Burlington.  Bring in art and artists, and revitalization is just a matter of time…

Here is the second message that we must constantly remind policy makers: the State budget consists of an expense side and a revenue side.  Right now, state and local investment in the Arts sector is less than $3 million dollars (of which $500,000 is the Arts Council’s appropriation). Revenues from the sector, as mentioned above, are nearly $19.5 million.  If the State needs additional revenue for LIHEAP or the Vermont Food Bank, or to address any of the countless societal needs that this recession has wrought, it seems like a little more investment in the Arts sector could quite possibly be the “silver bullet” that policy-makers have been looking for all these years. 

If you think this is true, you are not alone.  No one wins when we each act like a Lone Ranger where supporting the Arts is concerned.  Join our effort to double the Council’s budget by contacting Governor Shumlin today!

Hi Ho, Silver Bullet…Away!

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