As most people who know me are aware, I’m a product of the arts. Theatre is what kept me in school and the arts have provided me with a career ever since.
Over the years as I moved from acting, to directing, to nonprofit management, and now arts advocacy, I have often asked (and been asked) why the arts are so underfunded in Arizona and other places.
Some of this is cultural and inherited. For example, for some people the historical term “arts & leisure” is still part of the conversation wherein arts & culture (arts) are seen as something nice to have around. But I think there is a bigger, deeper, and more heavily nuanced problem, which almost approaches a chaos theory: the arts are everywhere and in everything. Because art is so ubiquitous it becomes near impossible to define and measure, which makes our job of articulating it exponentially difficult.
Here are some questions that highlight this problem:
Who is an artist? Is it only a professional who practices full time; is it a part time professional who supplements their career with a side hustle; is it someone with a regular (non-arts) day job who only makes art on the weekends, or at night taking classes; is it your child or young relative who made a drawing or performance at school?
What is art? Similar to the above: is it only professionally made art that you purchase; can it be art if it’s free, as in a gift from your friend or the same child as above? Are these sectors part of the arts scene: architecture, fashion, design, culinary? Are they always part of arts, or sometimes, or never?
Where is art? Is it only the professional art that you purchase in galleries or tickets to attend; is it public art, like the murals or sculptures you drive by on your way to work; is it the paint choices in your bedroom; is it the color and design of your clothes that you put on in the morning?
Who gets to decide? Is it the curators and artistic directors of art spaces who decide; is it the DJs on the radio or app who put together playlists; is the producers of your favorite video game or a content creator on YouTube; is it only you who decides what art is, because if that’s the case then we have 7,530,981,243 art critics currently on the planet (and counting).
Why is art? What is the purpose of it? Is it for entertainment; is it political; is it meant to be healing for the veterans and others in need; is is meant to be an economic engine; is it to improve our general quality of life and maintain human connection?
I could go on. Herein-lies part of our challenge in figuring out how to value and advocate for the arts. I have my own responses to all of these and I hope that you are thinking about these too. But I do have one ask: if you’re reading this, you likely live in Arizona, so do this: call or email the three legislators in your district (one Senator and two Representatives) and set a meeting with them to ask them a couple of these questions and share your perspective.
Because, in all of these there is one simple answer: if you (and I) are not making this a priority with our policy-makers they will not make it a priority. So however the arts impact your life, even if it’s just your favorite radio station or local mural, tell your story to the people running this state.
This is a picture of me, my brother, and my niece before we attended a VW bus campout – VW bus owners, who restore and/or change their buses, are all artists to me!