At the AFTA conference this past weekend, understandably a lot of talk revolved around money. Specifically the lack of money, and then solutions to solving the problem of the lack of money. Sources of funding for the arts are rapidly declining–this is no secret. The economic downturn has affected everyone, and the cultural sector was not spared. While most cultural nonprofits have robust programming and services that earn income, contributed income is still a big piece of the pie (it varies from organization to organization exactly how big the slice is). Sponsorship from corporations has fallen, foundations were hit hard and their giving has decreased, individual giving has dropped, and most notably, public support has diminished.
In Maryland, we are lucky to have a governor who is so supportive of the arts. This year, O’Malley level funded the Maryland State Arts Council budget, which, with considerable effort from Maryland Citizens for the Arts and its supporters, and several champions in the state legislature, squeaked through the budget unscathed this year. Locally we did not fare so well. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake when faced with a $121 million budget shortfall decimated the Creative Baltimore Fund, which had been giving significant operating grants to local cultural organizations for years.
The challenge is on-going and yearly. As arts supporters, voters, and taxpayers, it’s our duty to play our part in the political process to see our cause–the arts, culture, and humanities–be well supported with public funds. Every dollar invested in the arts has a significant return, arts spending supports real jobs, and enhances the quality of life of those who touch it. If you’re interested in going down the rabbit hole of the recent economic impact of the arts, I’ll direct you to someone much more savvy on the topic than I, Ian David Moss (whose blog Createquity always leaves me feeling smarter, if slightly more inadequate).
The problem is that we need more public funding for the arts. The solution to get more public funding for the arts, we need more arts advocates on the ground helping make it happen. The tools for our advocates are better numbers and economic impact figures to make our case, and great stories of how the arts impact and change people’s lives.
Hence the title of this post. Tell the story. Robert Redford, in his address to the arts leaders gathered here last weekend, talked about the importance of stories. You can see here on the Baltimore Sun. I must have heard it 15 times at the conference–collect and tell great stories–let the stories tell the story–etc. I’m interested in collecting some great stories from throughout the Greater Baltimore region, so that we at GBCA are better armed to convey the value of the arts–and can better arm all of the arts advocates out there. I’m looking for stories of when the arts changed your life, or had a deep impact on someone you were working with–transformative experiences. Please send them to me via email or post them in the comments section below. Tell your friends to do the same! It’s one small thing you can do to strengthen the arts today.