Politics Mondays: Arts in the Black - Toward a Resurrected Vision in Political Lobbying and Government Funding by: Nicole D. Shivers
Community- a unified body of individuals
Education- the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools.
Art- the conscious of skill and creative imagination in the production of aesthetic objects.
"Art is a means to make people more aware of their importance in the world."
The definitions of these words can be put to the test and are fair game for subjectivity. However, it would be hard to argue and ignore their significance and impact. Furthermore, the powerful trinity of community, education and art has assisted in the development of the under-served and its particular communities by way of art organizations and museums.
Through art the young and old can express themselves, contribute to their culture and society and in the process nurture their potential. History has shown that public funding initiatives were created in support of public arts and artists. It is important that we focus on the relationship between public funding of the arts and the developing and nurturing of Black artists and those that come from other minority groups in America.
Two cases to point out are the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and one of its offshoots the Museum Extension Project (MEP). The Works Progress Administration (later renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939) was a government agency established in 1935 by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The WPA was designed to increase the purchasing power of persons on relief by employing them on useful projects. One of these projects was the Federal Art Project (FAP). Out of this project close to 10,000 drawings, paintings, and sculptured works were produced through the WPA. At its pinnacle the WPA had approximately 3.5 million persons on its payroll. Altogether the WPA employed a total of 8.5 million people, and secured appropriations that approached the $11 billion mark.
The FAP had two purposes: 1) to provide artworks for non-federal public buildings and 2) to provide jobs for unemployed artists on relief rolls. The FAP existed in forty-eight states. Its strongest outreach program was in art education available for children and adults. Over 2 million students attended the WPA art classes in community centers. A part of art education outreach included the creation of community art centers. These Centers were in areas like New York, Chicago, Phoenix and Oxford, Mississippi. Some of the renowned Black artists that came out of the Harlem Community Art Center and The South Side Community Art Center in Chicago during the 1930s and 1940s were Margaret Burroughs, Eldzier Cortor, Hughie Lee-Smith and Archibald Motley. The South Side Community Center is a historical landmark and its legacy continues to have an impact. Today Black artist and fine art gallery owner Norman Parish remembers meeting famous photographer Gordon Parks who came through the Center in the 1970s. Furthermore, white artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and William deKooning were artists of the WPA Project who eventually achieved worldwide recognition. Unfortunately, the WPA was hindered with the onset of World War II and McCarythism. Funding now had to focus on feeding the War and depictions of patriotism became an encouraged art style for artists. Many artists of color left the country to pursue their art in a freer environment in countries such as Mexico.
The Museum Extension Project was conducted solely on the state level. It produced three-dimensional objects and printed materials that were used as visual aids in tax-supported schools, libraries and museums. It supported everyday activities of museums, and it operated children’s museums in schools. The MEP was most active in Pennsylvania, although other states such as New Jersey, New York and Kansas had notable projects. By the early 1940s the country had shifted its priorities to all war efforts. MEP’s were ordered to focus their efforts on producing military training materials and propaganda. An online exhibit and image database of educational visuals aids produced by the MEP can now be viewed at the Bienes Center for the Literary Arts a Broward County Library in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Moving forward to the late 1960s the Arts Movement swept through urban cities. Los Angeles (Studio Watts), Washington, DC (New Thing Art and Architecture Center) and New York (Harlem School of the Arts) were just some of the major metropolitans that became havens for minority artists. In addition, cultural centers were built offering community educational programs to schools and individuals. By participating in arts education minority students and diverse constituents began to conquer barriers and achieve a sense of discipline as well as acquire a structured involvement and confidence that became an applicable attribute to his or her life.
Over time museums took the lead in increasing their focus on community outreach and educational programs that serve diverse areas and schools. Currently museums such as the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore, Maryland have taken it further by working with State Departments of Education in developing specific education curriculums that will link with themes of its museum. With these progressive initiatives come the need for additional funding both discretionary and private.
A strong voice or one that is politically astute has become a valuable commodity for organizations and museums to represent their agenda to state and federal representatives for funding. The world of lobbying/ advocacy is a major factor in the world of art because it is key step in how the government allocates money. For instance, the Congressional Art Caucus is a bipartisan organization comprised of over 185 Members of the House of Representatives who support arts through federal initiatives. Every year, the Arts Caucus’s essential mission is to secure satisfactory funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS). The Caucus extends its supports of the arts by doing the following:
• Holding briefings and meetings for arts staff to provide updates and plan strategy.
• Participating in Arts Advocacy Day.
• Organizing meetings, events, and receptions with arts groups, artists, celebrities, business leaders, and other art supporters.
• Coordinating whipping efforts on behalf of legislation.
According to Americans for the Arts a leading nonprofit organization that advocates for the arts claims “the art industry has an expansive impact on the nation’s economy. Every year, the arts industry generates $134 billion annually in economic activity, provides 4.9 million full-time jobs, creates $89.4 billion in household income, and generates almost $14 million in state and local revenue and $10.5 billion in federal income tax revenue.” Americans for the Arts breaksdown FY 2005 funding for the arts as follows:
On Saturday, November 20, Congress finalized FY 2005 funding with the passage of a nine-bill “omnibus,” which rolled several spending bills into one large $388 billion package. Each of the final appropriations amounts were then administered an across-the-board .8 percent rescission. It passed the House by a vote of 344-51 and the Senate 65-30. The final bill was over 1,600 pages and weighed 14 pounds.
The final bill was only one percent larger than last year’s appropriations measure. Congress essentially froze all non-defense spending, allowing small increases in certain programs, and reducing or eliminating funding for numerous programs.
Fortunately, cultural funding was one of the few domestic spending areas that will realize some small increases. A comparison of federal funding (post-rescission) between last year and this year follows:
• National Endowment for the Arts:
FY 2004: $120.97 million
FY 2005: $121.99 million
The NEA increase will incorporate approximately $2 million for the new American Masterpieces program, which will sponsor presentations of the great American works across all art forms, and will reach large and small communities in all 50 states. The popular Challenge America program will be funded at approximately $21.5 million.
• National Endowment for the Humanities:
FY 2004: $135.30 million
FY 2005: $138.88 million
Approximately $16 million of the NEH funding is for matching grants. The final bill specifically noted a decrease of $2 million for the “We the People” initiative.
Arts in Education programs through the U.S. Department of Education:
FY 2004: $35.1 million
FY 2005: $35.6 million
• Arts in Education funding is broken down specifically as follows:
$7.4 million for Very Special Arts; $6.36 million for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; $7.9 million for model professional development grants for music, drama, dance and visual arts educators, and; $500,000 for evaluation activities. The remaining $13.4 million is for the expansion of model arts programs, including a new grant competition.
• Office of Museum Services:
FY 2004: $31.4 million
FY 2005: $34.8 million
Funding for OMS is broken down approximately as follows:
$17.85 million for Museums for America; $446,000 for museum assessment; $3.6 million for the Museum Conservation Program; $7.54 million for the Museum National Leadership Project; and $843,000 for Native American Museum services.
In addition to the funding detailed above, cultural agencies nationwide also secured dozens of earmarks -- local projects identified by name with specific funding allocations in the omnibus bill. It appears that at least $50 million will be administered to specific cultural organizations to fund museum initiatives, arts education programs and many other projects.
Is the $50 million an after-thought that will target “other” institutions most likely minority and less known? Will these projects replicate characteristics of the WPA?
Overall the figures show money primarily going to bigger and well-known institutions. These institutions in turn are being trusted with the responsibility of being intermediary resources at community-centered entities. How much of this money will truly trickle down to the lay cultural center and smaller multi-cultural oriented museum? Because lobbying has become a major factor in obtaining arts funding through a public private money chain, do smaller art organizations have the money to pay effective lobbyists that have the network to secure funding? Yes because there are very knowledgeable public interest or charity lobbyists who are not hung-up on getting paid but are in fact interested in protecting the arts. In an article written by lobbyist John Sparks entitled "Why I Lobby in the Public Interest," Mr. Sparks describes his interest in the field and why he has lobbied for the arts:
"Being a charity lobbyist has been good work for me. Professionals in this field do not get rich, but we do not necessarily starve...having work I really care about is crucial to personal sanity...Public Interest lobbyists are needed not only to fight for a good cause such as the arts, but also to fight to make the process of democracy work...But I have found great passion for this task, for two reasons. First is the importance of the arts to human creativity, which strongly relates to survival. The arts deal with one of our four most basic, powerful needs: to express ourselves and find a common language."
One does not have to be an inside lobbyist to have the same convictions. Can the work of the FAP and MEP be revitalized to incorporate today’s art needs? I believe it can with the energy and knowledge being fed to the art champion. It would be refreshing if Black and Latino members of the Caucus were lobbied to assist in planning and developing similar programs for arts education. We can get the money and the political backing like such institutions as the Smithsonian or the National Museum for Women in the Arts Women (who has just received $1million earmark). History has shown that government funding for the arts is successful. More so is the fact that arts education is vital in serving the community. I propose the following actions be taken in pursuing fixed funding for community arts education:
• Advocate for the creation and sustenance of similar programs like the FAP and MEP.
• Lobby Congress for the pursuit of increased arts funding.
• Full community support of local artists, organizations and museums.
• Increase use of Public Interest Lobbyist by local organizations and museums
• Community art patrons must become aware of the opportunities that are available to educate themselves in lobbying/advocacy. (The Charity Lobbying in the Public Interest) organization offers lobbying/advocacy classes and additional information in the field.)
• Community art patrons must take initiative in producing their own art education services as well as taking advantage of opportunities available through art organizations and museums.
Is it idealistic to ask for a resurrection of the WPA? The WPA created jobs for office workers, teachers, artists, performers and musicians. These types of workers still struggle to make a living today. I believe the unbalance in today’s economy could use a stimulant like the FAP and MEP projects. As unemployment continues to be at high levels similar programs could initiate stable employment for those thousands in the artistic community who are unemployed and underpaid.
A united front for the arts provides a rich educational opportunity for young and old budding artists and as a result benefits their respective communities. Today’s arts communities are evolving into their own modern day Arts Movement that continues to enrich the lives of everyday people. A variety of voices stand to be heard and recognized along with profound art creations that become part of an undeniable history for generations to enjoy and learn.
Nicole Shivers is a Community Art Program Professional. She can be reached at email@example.com. To view her latest work please visit www.ArtontheBlock.net
Monday, January 24, 2005