Early this week, I received an unexpected supplemental to the Vermont Arts Council’s weekly e-blast. (Always on the outlook for arts and civic engagement projects to add to Animating Democracy’s project profile database, I joined their e-news list a few years back to get regular updates on The Danville Project and The Palettes of Vermont project - and the regular news items have continued to be thought-provoking. Got others you subscribe to? I’d love to hear ‘em! Email me or post in the comments). Even more unexpected? The title of the supplemental: “On the Gay Marriage Issue”
Reproduced online on Alex Aldrich’s blog (Alex is executive dirctor at the Vermont Arts Council), the e-blast went on to explain that during the last week of March (mid-way through Arts Achievement Day), word had filtered through the Vermont State House that Governor Douglas would veto a gay marriage bill if it landed on his desk. Alex says, “Remembering back to the Civil Unions debates earlier this decade, I quickly realized that no amount of quality arts activity taking place in the State House would penetrate the wall of news that the Governor’s press conference would generate. Sure enough, in Thursday’s paper, I searched in vain for even one reference to the dozens of artists, students, advocates, and arts supporters who put on such a creative show at the State House a day earlier.”
Recognizing the inevitable — that 2009 wouldn’t be the year that Vermont raised its funding for the arts council or offered a transferrable tax credit to those making a film in Vermont and instead — that gay marriage (or civil marriage) would be “the” hot issue in Vermont, Alex implored undecided readers to get educated on gay marriage issues, to have an opinion, and to communicate to their legislators. Check out the link to his blog for the full story (above).
Alex’s blog post went up on Friday – and the e-blast was sent on Monday. Reading and seeing both has stayed with me all week – what I think is especially noteworthy from an arts and civic engagement standpoint is the idea of an arts council advocating — in a multipartial way — for civic action. There’s a clear link here in the story – about the impact of the unexpected news on Arts Achievement Day that makes it relevant to the arts council, but I’m especially impressed by the continued and unexpected initiative of the arts council to foster an environment where citizens are well-informed and are encouraged to be civically active, even on issues that may not be directly related to core-arts-advocacy but are (or certainly will be) central to what it means to be a Vermont-er in 2009.
Alex’s post represents an unexpected step for arts and civic engagement, I think. Most often, civic conversations on issues such as the environment, gentrification, race – and even gay marriage – are centered around a somewhat-complex planning and partnership process that injects art, dialogue, and engagement in equal (and sometimes not-so-equal) parts toward getting folks engaged. Projects often feature an open forum for discussion to exchange perspective and come to a common understanding – and arts activity (whether through performance or participation) is a central role toward getting there. Respecting the limitations of a 501 C (3) professional to not advocate for one position or another, Alex’s post takes a different route to step out in front of an opportunity and goes right for the “civic jugular”: get educated, get engaged. The role of the local arts agency is (and admittedly always has been) evolving to serve the needs of a the community. Can’t wait to see where-next.