What would make where I live a better place?
I want Broome Country, upstate New York to value its own commitment to the local arts. Own it! That is, I don’t want to have to have to feel the need to convince my graduate students and other community members—friends and colleagues—that the arts in Broome County, are diverse, vibrant and, yes, cutting edge.
The evidence is out there. In practice, the community—my students included—of Broome County supports and attends arts and cultural experiences and events, but I am finding we don’t always value this commitment we have for the local arts. Let me explain.
I first started noticing this with my students. I teach a nonprofit administration graduate class in a Masters in Public Administration program. In the class we emphasize capacity for community-based practice and discuss various policy areas such as social services, work development and yes, the arts. When I asked my students who had recently (in the last two weeks) attended an arts and cultural event, all—every single one of my students—confirmed they had. Activities and events shouted out were attending a local history museum, participating in the city’s monthly Art Walk, going to a local theatre production, screening an independent film at a local nonprofit organization.
While certainly not a representative, scientific sample, it surprised me. It surprised me because I consistently feel I need to convince my students of the cultural aliveness of our community. As I am trying to convince my students, they brush me off as being just easily excitable. Meanwhile they are actively participating in this cultural aliveness and don’t even realize. They don’t value the arts community that they are creating. Essentially they don’t value what they value.
And the students in my class are not the only ones attending and supporting local arts. As a recent transplant to Broome County, I am finding that the community is deeply invested in local arts.
Case in point—on March 13, 2013 the Broome County Arts Council’s (BCAC) United Cultural Fund (UCF) awarded $228,000 to organizations and individuals working in the arts in Broome County. The UCF, in existence since 1987, is supported by all local donations coming from foundations, county government, business, corporations and individuals. I had the opportunity to be on the allocations panel and through the experience I realized the enormous enthusiasm of the local arts.
We know that at the local level, local arts agencies are a primary channel of arts funding (Toepler & Wyszomirski, 2012), therefore, the BCAC’s model is a familiar one for those of us engaged in local arts. It provides, like many local agencies, critical support in the form of general operating support grants to major nonprofit arts organizations and project grants to community nonprofit organizations and individual artists.
However, still, the UCF is one of only seven such programs in all of New York state, one of only two in upstate, and the only one in south central New York. The existence and sustained support of such a funding campaign indicates that the arts are important to the community, indeed.
We have a clear buy-in from the community to support the arts, but as a new Broome Country resident, I see the struggle for community members (my students included!) to own this. Why don’t we value what we value? Why don’t we value our commitment to the arts?
While we of course always want more people enjoying local arts in Broome County always, I am finding availability, access, investment, and support of the arts is here. The challenge I think we are facing is that we are not fully owning this, rather there seems to be a reluctance to blatantly valuing this about our community.
Still, the students will continue to attend their preferred events, I am sure of, and the UCF will launch another year’s campaign, raise local funds and hopefully more than the previous year. This is because Broome County values its local arts. I just want community members to shout this out, loudly and proudly. This would make where I live a better place.
Toepler, S. & Wyszomirski, M. J. (2012). Arts and culture. In L.M. Salamon (Ed.), The state of nonprofit America (229-265). Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.