Tuesday, January 29, 2013

CHOOSE ART (The Big Ask, Part 3)

Several months ago I outlined the case for the Vermont Arts Council’s request for a 100% increase from the State appropriations process in two posts: The Big Ask, and The Big Ask, Part 2.

It gives me great pleasure to report that last week Governor Peter Shumlin released his 2014 budget with a significant increase to the Arts Council’s budget:  $210,000, or 41%.  In addition, the Governor recommended increasing the Vermont Humanities Council‘s budget by $45,289 (or 26%), the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s by $27,393 (or 24%), and the Vermont Historical Society’s by $74,525 (or 9%).

Without belaboring the point that this increase will almost certainly enable us to avoid leaving Federal funds on the table, this makes Governor Shumlin by far the most arts and culture-friendly Governor since Phil Hoff, and the thanks for this significant step forward is due to all of you who phoned, wrote, or in countless other ways let Governor Shumlin know that standing up for the arts at a time of economic uncertainty is good for business, good for communities, good for schools, good for tourism, and, in general good for Vermont.  So, good for all of YOU who made this case to the Governor, and Thank You!

So now the hard part begins…

Regardless of your political affiliation, the Legislature has very hard choices to make this year. For example, should it fund low-income heating assistance or fund weatherization? Fund programs that help incarcerated individuals transition out of prisons, or fund programs that help prevent young men and women from going to prison in the first place? Fund more arts education, or fund more free and reduced lunch programs in schools?

Where public funding is concerned there is always going to be disagreement among well-informed, well-intentioned leaders.  To me, however, this is really not an “either/or” but a “both/and” conversation.  Every one of the choices listed above are good.  We need BOTH heating assistance AND weatherization.  We need programs BOTH for incarcerated individuals AND for those who are at-risk.  We need BOTH reduced lunch programs AND the arts in order for our students and our communities to prosper.

But let us not lose sight of several important pieces of information that are frequently overlooked by policy-makers.

Where the arts thrive, so thrives the school—attracting young parents to the community, and providing a broad range of activities (beyond academics and athletics) to engage young minds
Where the arts thrive, so thrives local business and entrepreneurship—attracting and retaining businesses requires more than just a salary.  Businesses need art and culture and recreation in order to have healthy, productive, educated workers who are happy doing their work
Where the arts thrive, so thrives the economy—for every dollar of public (state and local) investment in the arts, Vermont and its municipalities receive more than $6.50 in tax receipts.  (Note: this is real impact, not an expression of economic activity.  There’s a huge difference)
Where the arts thrive, so thrives the community—communities that pay attention to the “look and feel” of their downtowns, to what happens to their graduating seniors, to the quality of life that their senior citizens enjoy attract more civic-minded and creative people to serve on school- and select-boards, planning commissions and other community-oriented bodies

This year, for the first time in a generation, Vermont’s Governor has asked the Legislature to increase the support for art and culture state wide.  Now it is your turn.  Please ask YOUR legislators to support the Governor’s recommendations. 

Ask them to choose art.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


(inspired by Martin Niemรถller)

First they came for the teaching artists because they weren’t employees and their “value added” couldn’t be measured. And I wasn’t a teaching artist, so I said nothing.

Then they came for the music teachers because band and string instruments were expensive to buy and maintain. And I wasn’t a music teacher so again, I said nothing.

Then they came for the dance teachers because, they reasoned, the Physical Education teachers could get the students to move just as easily. And not being a dance teacher, I again said nothing.

Then they came for the art teachers because even though the cost of supplies was small, student “outcomes” were too difficult to measure.  And not being an art teacher, I remained silent and said nothing.

Then they came for the choral teachers and theater directors because those critical after school hours spent rehearsing and preparing for shows and concerts was considered better spent studying so-called “real” subjects.  And I wasn’t a choral teacher or a theater director, and so said nothing.

Then they came for the sports teams like football and hockey, whose equipment and injury costs were high. And though I and others around me began to get nervous, still we remained silent.

Then they came for all the remaining extracurricular activities: all sports activities, clubs, yearbooks, proms, and other student-centered committees because it was all so expensive.  At that point, there was nothing we could really say.

Finally they came for the school itself: the buildings, the buses, the desks and chairs, the kitchen equipment.  And left us with nothing.

They left us with nothing, that is, except an open field and a couple of hundred isolated teenagers each stoically studying the STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, and math)…

And then one day we looked over at the young children who weren’t quite school-aged.

And the children were singing.  And dancing.  And clapping. And drawing with sticks in the dirt. And playing tag and keep-away.  And their lives were full of joy and excitement and an obvious eagerness to learn.

And we were no longer silent.

The Vermont Arts Council urges you to support your local school budgets and to voice a vigorous objection to any attempts to cut music, art, dance, theater, or film programs.