|Arts Boards and Public Funding|
|Robert Booker, Arizona Commission on the Arts|
NASAA CEO Jonathan Katz often makes the point that a state arts agency and its constituents must work together to sustain the enthusiasm of the body politic to invest in the public benefits the arts provide. In this candid message, Arizona Commission on the Arts Executive Director Bob Booker speaks directly to the board members of arts organizations in his state.
A Call to Action: How Board Members Can Help Secure Public Funds for Nonprofit Arts Organizations
Since childhood, we have heard the story of "The Little Red Hen"—the industrious and community-minded farm bird whose repeated petitions to her fellow animals for assistance in making bread are met with general apathy. Undeterred by the lack of support, the Little Red Hen farms the grain and makes the bread all by herself. When the time comes to finally eat the bread the others are suddenly quite eager to volunteer their services, but the Little Red Hen is not so eager to share the fruits of her solitary effort. The story teaches a simple but universal lesson about the folly of expecting a share of the rewards without participating in the efforts that earned them.
Often, when I meet with the board of directors of an Arizona arts organization or institution, I am asked to provide more money to the organization. When I remind the board members that their legislators have voted against public funding, many of them seem not to have previously considered the connection between legislative action and available public funding for the arts. Moreover, board members frequently seem entirely oblivious to their own role in determining the amount of funding that is available to the arts in general and to their organization in particular.
Many of our nonprofit arts organizations are fortunate enough to have boards brimming with men and women who are business, civic, and social leaders, prominent members of the community with a significant capacity to influence legislation. They are major donors to political campaigns, CEOs of important companies, and local leaders, prized for their contributions to the community. The most fortunate arts organizations have board members who are also active and vocal arts advocates. I am concerned, however, that these are the exception, not the rule. I fear that many board members, whose organizations benefit greatly from public grants, are not stepping forward and using their powerful voices to further the cause of public funding for the arts. They expect their organization to be well-fed, but are unwilling to participate in the making of the bread.
I would like to propose the following challenge to board members statewide:
If your organization enjoys the benefits of public funding for the arts, will you raise your voice in support of legislation that increases the allocation of public dollars at the federal, state, and local levels?
You have cultivated relationships with elected officials across the state that allow you to voice your opinions and have them heard. You are the big cigars, in communities both large and small; you are the ones who have the power to make a phone call and connect with your legislators to collaborate on a shared interest. I would like to remind you that your responsibility to your arts organization is a responsibility to the arts in general.
You know how essential these funds are to your organization and you know the great benefits your organization delivers to your community. What would your community look like without your organization? What would your organization look like without public funding? Would it survive? For how long? How much does this support mean to your organization? Is this funding worth pursuing, worth fighting for? Is it worth asking for? Is it worth demanding?
Let your voice join the thousands of artists, administrators, and educators that constitute the chorus of arts advocacy in our state. Consider writing a personalized letter or making a strategic phone call to a legislator. Express your support for public funding and inform your legislators of the real and tangible benefits this funding provides to your organization and, by extension, to your community. You may also consider hosting a fundraiser or offering an invitation to attend an event that showcases the good work your organization does with public funds. Not sure just what to say or how best to say it? Ask the executive director of your organization. I'm sure they'll have some ideas.
The funding initiatives that benefit your organization do not happen in a vacuum nor do they happen by chance; your actions are important in these efforts. Securing funding and support for the arts is difficult, but it is especially so when influential business and civic leaders remain silent. You have the duty and the privilege to support public funding for the arts. You have the power to improve not only the lot of the organization you represent, but the whole of Arizona's arts sector. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us. Let's make sure that, unlike the Little Red Hen's neighbors, we all help to grow the wheat. And when the time comes to reap what we have sown, let us all enjoy the bounty.
Arizona Commission on the Arts
February 24, 2014