Who's Got Your Back in Arizona? (Janet's Blog)

(5-26-10) Like so many of us, I’m concerned about what’s happening in Arizona. I’m concerned for a couple reasons. First, I believe the law they passed is unconstitutional and poor public policy. It is evidence of a state attempting to make national policy. There are already some pretty poor laws on state books as examples of this. State thinks its legal, the fed thinks its not. Makes great business for lawyers on both sides.

Secondly, I’m concerned because there are artists and arts organizations in Arizona and plenty of people who live in Arizona who don’t think it’s good legislation either. Bob Booker, executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts blogged about this recently. Although Bob is prohibited from speaking out or advocating one-way or the other (as a member of the Governor’s administration), it is obvious that he is concerned for his constituents.

What happens to our artists and groups grounded in a place that is subjected to boycotts and controversy not of their own making? What happens to social service and community arts groups attempting to get funding to help deal with the problem of illegal immigration or helping children of immigrants? What happens to organizations working to bring about social justice and assure human rights? Can they broaden their funding base due to the nation-wide attention or are they simply abandoned by everyone?

One of the justifications for public funding for the arts has always been that it is government having a positive proactive effect on the lives of constituents. Most of what local and state government does is utilitarian or punitive: transportation, criminal justice, industry regulations and so forth. The arts (and education) are opportunities for lawmakers to provide visionary positive leadership. And art, because it should be a nonpartisan issue can float above most of the normal actions of lawmakers. This situation, however, probably makes that impossible. We may see Arizona artists putting their reputations and their funding on the line as they use their artwork and venues to support their beliefs. They will run the risk of losing government support because some will undoubtedly offend lawmakers and their supporters. And they need to know that since the culture wars, almost every arts endeavor that stood up for its principles has come out of a controversy with more support. Americans like conviction and are drawn to leadership. Artists and arts organizations have both. These arts organizations and artists are on the front line of civic engagement in a controversial and emotionally volatile environment. We all need to watch out for them. They may need our support.