This blog originally appeared on March 16, 2018 on City Theatre's blog. Ryan Ferrebee, staff member at City Theatre, joined 16 other arts delegates from Southwestern PA on March 12 - 13 for National Arts Advocacy in Washington, DC. Ryan is also co-chair of the Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Network, a peer network of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. More about the Southwestern PA delegation in the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council press room, here.
I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Washington, DC, where I represented City Theatre at National Arts Advocacy Day organized by Americans for the Arts. Over the course of two days, advocates underwent training and took to Capitol Hill, urging elected officials to take actions on arts policy. These ranged from very public issues like funding the National Endowment for the Arts and enacting a universal charitable deduction for all taxpayers, down to including tool replacement grants under FEMA for self-employed artists effected by disasters–under current policy, for example, a self-employed potter whose kiln is destroyed during a hurricane is ineligible to receive a tool replacement grant from FEMA.
On top of all that learning, we had really great meetings with legislative teams from across Pennsylvania. I felt listened to and supported by our legislators and—most importantly–I feel like they understood just how important the arts are for the residents and the economy of our region. In total, the Pennsylvania delegation stumped for 18 arts-related issues to 13 of our elected legislators. It was, quite literally, all in a day’s work.
I learned a lot during the training sessions and my visits. Another Pennsylvania advocate said trying to take in all the information was “like trying to drink from a fire hose,” which I totally agree with. Since I can’t list them all, here are my top three favorite things I learned while repping City Theatre at Arts Advocacy Day 2018:
1. Arts Advocates are Fierce.
Rest assured, the people who go to DC for arts advocacy day take it very seriously! Many of them are spending their own money and using vacation days to spend 20 hours training and advocating for your arts organizations. More than 700 advocates from 49 states (where were you, Montana?!) and DC showed up, trained hard, and pounded the pavement and hallowed halls of Capitol Hill for the arts.
Me? I logged over 10,000 steps in 6 hours going from meeting to meeting. That’s a lot of walking!
2. The Arts Are Great for the Economy.
In the last recorded year, what industry added four times more to the U.S. economy than the agricultural sector and $200 Billion dollars more than the transportation sector?
Answer? The Arts!
The arts sector is a huge boon to the economy. Locally, according to the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, City Theatre’s economic impact was $3.7 million last year. That includes $905,362 in audience direct spending on food, beverage, parking, lodging, babysitting, and other associated expenses. That breaks down to about $30.64 per person per visit, much of which goes to local businesses like Streets on Carson and The Urban Tap.
Let’s look at it another way—everything you buy on top of your ticket when you come to the theatre amounts to supporting 28 full-time, local jobs.
Great work! Celebrate by ordering yourself another round next time you visit us.
3. The Arts Are Bipartisan.
A lot of people today feel like the arts are a one party issue based solely in spending philosophy. Conservatives would rather cut the NEA to save the country money while Democrats want to expand arts funding at the risk of increasing the deficit, right? Wrong!
It’s not that black and white. People on both sides of the aisle understand the value of and support the arts! 161 out of 435 members of the House of Representative and are members of the Congressional Arts Caucus and 33 Senators are in the Senate Cultural Caucus —they span the whole political spectrum. It’s important to remember that our legislators are real, three-dimensional people, elected to represent the interests of all of their constituents. I may not agree with a certain legislator on all their policy issues, but I can still meet them, learn where they stand on what’s important to me, and provide them the strong information on why it should be important to them.
I met with Democrats and Republicans. It may have taken different strategies to get everyone on the same page, but within 15 minutes—whether through discussing economics, Veterans affairs, or education—it was clear that each one of them saw the value of the arts for their districts and was willing to help ensure their constituents had the access to the arts that they deserve.
The arts are a big part of our economy and our identity as a nation. They help everyone—from children in community programs to veterans suffering from PTSD (both of which are NEA-funded projects, by the way). Nearly everyone has had a life-changing experience with the arts at some point, and those are the stories we tried to tell.
So, what’s next? Advocacy, much like the seasons, is cyclical. Now my job is to keep the arts at the top of our legislators’ minds by calling, writing letters, scheduling more meetings, and (most importantly) thanking them when they take action that positively impacts the arts. Want in on the action? Pick a day in April, call your representative, and let them know that you would support their decision to fund the NEA at $155 million for the 2019 fiscal year!
Thanks for reading!
Ryan Ferrebee is the Development Officer—Institutional Funding for City Theatre. In his six years as a fundraising professional, Ryan has raised over $5.5 million to support programming at nonprofit theatres. He lives in Swissvale where he spends his free time renovating his 90-year old house and trying to provide the best lives possible for his two rescue dogs, Dottie Mae and Boomer Ray, his cat, Freddie Purr-cury, and his husband, Kevin.
We in the non-profit arts talk a lot about ticket sales, individual donors, foundation and corporate support, memberships, and public support for the arts. Understandable. Steady, reliable income streams are essential to our survival and to our abilities to reach and serve the public.
But, increasingly, our sector is having different kinds of conversations. In a variation on the words of President Kennedy offered in 1960, we’re saying: “Ask not what our communities can do for the arts, ask what the arts can do for our communities.”
One platform where these ideas are taking shape is the “New Community Visions Initiative” of Americans for the Arts (AFTA), the nation’s largest arts service organization, of which the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council is a member.
The Initiative’s starting point is the premise that the arts don’t stand alone. We are, instead, one of 30 linked “contributors” which can make our communities healthy, vibrant, and equitable. Sectors, in addition to the arts, range from social justice, the environment, faith, aging, cultural heritage, and the economy to innovation and technology, education, the workforce, health and wellness, the military, and infrastructure, among others.
The over-riding question for the Initiative is: “What roles can the arts sector play, in partnership with these other sectors, to help our communities become more vibrant, healthy, and equitable over the next decade and beyond?” We as a sector seem no longer satisfied to be “amenities”—as nice but not really necessary, at least in some eyes. How can we make a difference on this broader platform?
I recently had the opportunity to participate in one of the AFTA Initiative’s many national conversations, a gathering of 120 arts leaders from around the country held on June 16-17, 2016, in Boston. The group generated a number of visions for how, in the future, the creativity of artists can and will work in partnership with other sectors to make positive change in communities:
- In the face of neighborhood gentrification and displacement, artists will help preserve cultural traditions, and bring new and existing residents together
- The arts will provide ways for individuals, including recent immigrants, to express their true identities in the face of pressures to deny and suppress those identities
- As new devices create ubiquitous connectivity, artists and other “creatives” will be a driving force in the design, structure, and nature of those devices
- The arts will be integrated more fully into the health care system and entrusted with the care of our citizens though arts-based therapies and preventative regimens
- In response to pressing ecological issues, artists will increase their production across all mediums that will create new public knowledge, dialogue, and action. (We're doing that, soon with the Re:NEW Festival)
Realizing these ambitious visions, of course, will not be easy. Within the year, AFTA will be offering “A Blueprint for 21st Century Healthy Communities through the Arts,” a combination of visions and practical, how-to strategies to help the arts sector along this path.
In the meantime, GPAC, for its part, held a workshop called “The Why, When, and How of Cross-sector Arts Partnerships” in May to explore the risks, challenges, and benefits of artists and arts organizations working across sectors. We drew on the experience and expertise of three local organizations—The Sprout Fund, the Office of Public Art, and New Sun Rising. Based on their collective, cross-sector experience with government, community development organizations, real estate developers, environmental groups, the gathering identified a number of keys to cross-sector success:
- Meet people and organizations where they are
- Build trust and familiarity
- Define and agree on specific goals-- some shared, some individual—and develop strategies to reach all of them
- Anticipate, communicate, negotiate (and communicate some more)
- Be sure you have “skin in the game”
It’s clear that cross-sector arts partnering is here to stay and will likely grow. The days of focusing mainly on income streams are over. Yes, there is much to learn, and much to aspire to. But going forward, the arts sector will continue to seek collaborative ways to engage our communities that help ensure those communities are healthy, vibrant, and equitable.
David B. Pankratz is the Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Thank you to Citizens for the Arts in PA and the PA Council on the Arts for a 2016 Professional Development & Consulting grant to participate in the New Community Visions conference.
photo: courtesy of Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center, artists and community members painting a mural, together.
This past June, I had the opportunity to present at the first Cultural Equity Preconference at the 2015 American for the Arts (AFTA) gathering in Chicago, IL. Over 100 people spent three rigorous days thinking about art, diversity, and their own communities. Each presentation created space for me to consider, reflect, and question. From chats over lunch about gay zombie theater to bus rides investigating the urgent need to include dialogue about ability and accessibility in social justice movements, every interaction was steeped in expansive conversations.
During my time at the conference, I was dangerously close to feeling like I don’t get to engage in conversations like this in Pittsburgh. However, that simply isn’t true. Here in Steeltown, I am a theater artist and youth worker wearing many hats and constantly thinking about, and hopefully impacting, who engages in art. I facilitate youth programming at The Andy Warhol Museum, create original performance with queer and allied teens at Dreams of Hope, and generate socially engaged theater with Hatch Arts Collective. So really, it seems that I can’t talk about anything other than diversity and art.
That said, there was a lot happening in Chicago that made the dialogue feel unique. Being at the AFTA pre-conference afforded me the opportunity to be surrounded by dozens of folks constantly thinking about privilege, access, and the arts. And unlike much of my time in Pittsburgh, the conference provided me with 72 continuous hours when I wasn’t the only queer person of color in the room. I didn’t have people turning to me every time someone asked a question about diasporic arts or LGBTQ+ experience. Instead, there were many voices in the room that could respond. We weren’t in danger of “single stories” (as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's would say) curating the experience of entire communities.
There is an immense pressure put on minority folks amidst overwhelmingly straight white groups to not only sum up the experience of minorities, but to validate or explain decisions made that directly impact minority and marginalized communities. Chicago provided me with time away from that pressure to have a chance to breathe and realize how revolutionary it is for multiple folks from minority communities (pluralism) to be at the table.
Reflecting on my time at AFTA has led me to be even more passionate about finding and facilitating spaces in Pittsburgh where multiple voices from minority experiences are empowered. The Transformative Arts Process (TAP) at the Heinz Endowments is thinking about cultural equity quite diligently.
TAP “is focused on building the field of those working in and through the arts in African American and distressed neighborhoods.” An advisory board has been assembled to bring this mission to life. The makeup of the advisory board alone sets this work apart from so many initiatives I’ve been a part of. Nearly everyone on the board works or lives in the communities TAP is hoping to impact, more than 80% of the board members are people of color, some identify as queer, and a third of the group is currently in high school. This works.
Individuals are not being asked to represent the entirety of marginalized experiences. This is key to developing culturally equitable communities and authentic arts programming. The communities at large must be at the table, and not as tokenized representatives from specific communities. No accident that during AFTA, TAP’s work in Pittsburgh caught the attention of leaders from across the country. I hope leaders in Pittsburgh also take notice.
Attending the American for the Arts Conference was an incredible opportunity. Being surrounded by national leaders was inspiring, motivating, and rejuvenating. It also fueled my commitment for the work happening here in Pittsburgh. I am grateful to have moment to reflect and celebrate, and now am ready to get back to work.