The Future We Want: Advocacy

The world is in the midst of a historic moment with our changing our practices in order to function during the coronavirus pandemic and to embrace the movement for racial justice. Six months into this pandemic, we are beginning to see evidence of how the grantmaking field is responding. In my prior blog post, I reflected on the important of capitalization and financing. I’m taking this opportunity to reflect on the importance of advocacy and engagement with the public sector.

Prior to the pandemic, we’d seen the arts and culture field recovering from the Great Recession in a manner that was uneven, with a smaller number of wealthy supporters giving larger and larger gifts to a small number of organizations. A smaller number of donors creates a vulnerable cultural ecosystem. Therefore, GIA advocates for charitable giving reform that rewards giving by households that are not wealthy.

Our advocacy is not limited to charitable giving policy. With tax revenues declining during shelter-in-place mandates, we must advocate for our public arts agencies. Further, arts and culture are part of all things and must be supported as such. GIA is grateful to have integrated support for arts experiences in the Older Americans Act. But there is much more to do.

A recent study by Exponent Philanthropy and PEAK Grantmaking revealed that among the changes in funder practice that were unlikely to last beyond this year, none was less likely to continue than increased advocacy and support for advocacy (only 13%). As I’ve articulated before, we can all advocate and support advocacy. Many of us can support lobbying.

Advocacy for and engagement with public sector programs is essential for future employment of artists. This pandemic has led to our federal government recognizing that gig workers are so essential to our economy that unemployment insurance must be temporarily extended to them. GIA advocates for unemployment insurance covering gig workers – including artists – to be made permanent.

GIA is actively advocating for the public sector to explicitly encourage public agencies to use artists to facilitate culturally-informed community engagement in public processes. For instance, GIA is encouraging designating as part of recovery artist-led and culture-led planning grants within state and regional Economic Development Agencies.

GIA is proud to be part of a group of organizations and public agencies – including Arts Alliance Illinois; City of Santa Monica; National Accelerator for Cultural Innovation at Arizona State University, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts; National Alliance for Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA); rootoftwo; Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, Springboard for the Arts; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and others – that are strategizing a coordinated approach to an open call to apply to the VISTA program. We are strategizing to coordinate applications from different sites across the nation to apply for VISTA Fellowships for BIPOC creative workers in low- and moderate-income communities that are disproportionately affected by pandemic-related unemployment and underlying structural inequities. This effort would support immediate employment and creative workers’ roles in the re-imagining of community development and other community supports and services, an approach that and that Erik Takeshita and Laura Zabel brilliantly articulate in this recent GIA Reader article. These projects could have short-term employment and community support impact; longer-term impact that stems from the different sites’ coordinated efforts, learning, documentation and sharing; and longer-term impact as VISTA fellows are often subsequently hired in other federal programs where they may bring these innovative ideas and experiences with them.

Private funding is necessary to supplement the artists’ living stipend to be a living wage, allowing for BIPOC artists to be treated equitably; supplementing the professional development to both serve the BIPOC artists and to support coordination between these sites that create learning to be documented and shared nationally. This coordination will build broad knowledge for the arts and other fields about community supports as well as about professional development for artists and other fields of public service, a need Bill Cleveland articulates brilliantly in this GIA Reader article. GIA is honored to participate in this process and looks forward to sharing updates and opportunities for engagement and support.

The health benefits of arts engagement are well-documented and the attendant expenses should be eligible for reimbursement through Medicare and Medicaid. GIA is also advocating for the public sector to embed artists/art therapy and other proven methods in new requests for proposals with Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care for those experiencing housing instability, and other federal agencies supporting community-based health interventions.

GIA’s recognition of the public sector as essential to the arts and to artists is part of why the theme of Art at the Intersection is so strongly featured in our conferences and in our upcoming virtual convening, Power, Practice, Resilience | Remix’d.

This is a time of great opportunity, as long as we recognize and embrace it. As we look around us, we see the elements of the future we want. We see the importance of support for the arts and artists in all public systems. These need not be beautiful exceptions. These efforts can be our collective future.