Wednesday, 12 April 2017 12:00

Ripple Effects and Advocating for the Arts


Capitol building at nightThe Trump administration’s “skinny” budget calls for elimination of federal funding for the arts, humanities, and public broadcasting. What does this proposed blow mean for our region and what can we do about it?
In response, on March 20 - 21, 2017, twenty arts advocates from Southwestern Pennsylvania led by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council joined 700 peers from across the country in Washington, DC for Americans for the Arts’ 30th annual Arts Advocacy Day.  The gathering aimed to collectively advocate for strong public policies and continued public funding for the arts, humanities, and public broadcasting at the federal level.   
Our delegation met individual staff members in the offices of Senators Casey and Toomey and Representatives Barletta, Cartwright, Dent, Doyle, Kelly, Murphy, Rothfus, Shuster, and Thompson and asked for: 

  • A slight increase in National Endowment for the Arts annual funding to $155M
  • $30M for U.S. Department of Education K-12 arts education programs
  • Level funding of $445 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Preservation/expansion of incentives for tax-deductible contributions to the arts
  • Training, mini-loans, and tax fairness for artists and creative entrepreneurs
  • Strengthening cultural exchanges through the U.S. State Department 

Yes, we supported our case with hard figures about how these funds and policies:

  • have received strong bipartisan support for decades
  • ensure access to the arts in all Congressional districts in PA and nationwide 
  • create capacities and needed by K-12 students for the jobs of the future
  • stimulate individual giving, and contribute to a 9 to 1 return on investment 
  • improve the health and well-being of military veterans and older Americans 

And we also shared stories of how Pittsburgh-area arts organizations and residents in the area benefitted from NEA funds, for example:

  • Society for Contemporary Craft’s “Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art” exhibit featured works by artists living with mental illness, and helped the public learn about the role of the arts in healing via partnerships with health  providers
  • The Office of Public Art (OPA) is serving immigrant communities with 2-year artist residencies that increase the capacities of immigrant populations to participate in future community development initiatives
  • The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Accessibility Initiative helps area arts and culture organizations welcome and accommodate people with disabilities as patrons, artists, employees, and volunteers 

What can Pittsburgh-area arts advocates do now?

Refining our messages will be key.  Whether shared with members of the public via social media and GPAC’s website, with elected officials in follow-up meetings, or with arts and culture leaders at Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council's May 2nd Annual Convening, Future Tense, our messages will be based, in part, on the approach of the national communications firm Topos Partnership as expressed in their recent “How to Talk About Saving the NEA” and the classic “The Arts Ripple Effect.”     

Their approach emphasizes one key organizing idea: A thriving arts sector creates ripple effects of benefits throughout our community, even for those who don’t attend.  Topos Partnership research shows that the following are broad-based benefits that people already believe are real—and that they value vibrant, thriving places where people want to live, visit, and work, and lively neighborhoods where diverse groups share common experiences, hear new perspectives, and understand each other better. The arts are a catalyst for these kinds of places.

In turn, the “ripple effects” idea can shape subsequent conversations in important ways.  It moves people away from thinking about private concerns and personal interests (me) and toward thinking about public concerns and communal benefits (we). Importantly, people who hear this message often shift from thinking of themselves as passive recipients of consumer goods, and begin to see their role as active citizens interested in addressing the public good.  The arts’ value to the public is a critical part of building support for the NEA, activating citizens as advocates, and offering decision-makers a rationale that resonates with their constituents.  

There is no shortage of federally-funded projects and initiatives in Greater Pittsburgh, including those cited above, that illustrate the many ripple effects of public benefits to our community. The arts benefit all citizens, including under-served groups and even those who do not directly participate in the arts - the NEA, for example, funds projects in each Congressional District. It's a measured fact that the arts increase vibrancy, interconnectedness, and vitality of communities across the United States. These critical public benefits don't just happen by accident, but require public investment - policy and funding that makes a difference, for all of us.

Thsi blog post is part of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council's Art Speaks Advocacy Campaign. To learn more, visit here.
David B. Pankratz is the Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and is an adjunct instructor in the Master of Arts Management Program in the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University.



Published in The Arts Blog