In a conversation with a respected colleague last week, she suggested I share our story of how our advocacy efforts over the past couple of years have essentially brought the UrbanArt Commission “back from the brink.”
I’d be interested to hear of other stories from public art groups whose programs faced serious funding and advocacy needs due to the economic crisis over the past few years, and the key strategies that worked in your particular situation (For the sake of this survey, I’m using the benchmark of when the big meltdown really began to cause serious stress here in Memphis in September 2008.)
In brief, we faced a situation where 9 of the 13 City Council representatives responsible for approving the funding of the Percent for Art program and its projects were newly-elected during the budget planning cycle in which I began in the position of Executive Director.
Faced with a series of highly volatile and politically high profile funding debates, these elected officials were largely unfamiliar with the city’s Percent for Art program, its projects, or its funding guidelines.
On my first day on the job I was called before the Capital Improvements Projects Committee and asked to validate the use of public funds to pay for art when they were faced with having to cut “jobs for working people” (aka city employees) and essential public services.
From that moment on I learned to quickly ‘build our boat while it’s in the water,” so to speak, and have now built strong relationships within that same political body, resulting in not only the saving of our program, but its expansion.
Currently, our active caseload includes 39 individual Percent for Art funded projects, 21 of these being approved since that initial “first day on the job” introduction in 2008.
Furthermore, we’ve gotten amendments to the Percent for Art ordinance approved that now provide greater funding for our project management expenses without adding any funds to the city’s overall balance sheet, as well as key programmatic changes to the Percent for Art guidelines overall that make our projects more visible within the community at large.
Are there others of you out there that have had similar experiences?
Please do let me know, as I believe we can learn from one another, and these challenges can be overcome.
Note: This post was excerpted from a recent posting to the Public Art Network listserv. Sharing our stories and the budget challenges facing arts programs nationally, the post is prelude to the PAN Preconference panel session: Funding Infrastructure: Roll Call Reveille. Join the online conversation, post the status of your budget situation, lessons learned, challenges hurdled. ~ Liesel