Cara Scharf

Cara Scharf

The following is an interview with Americans for the Arts’ Senior Director of Arts Policy Marete Wester. Conducted by Cara Scharf, it was originally published in ArtsLine, the Drexel Arts Administration quarterly newsletter focusing on the program, the arts and culture sector, and the students’ perspective.

Marete Wester’s professional journey started in the mid-80s with a Masters in Arts Administration from Drexel University and landed her at national arts service organization Americans for the Arts in 2006. As Senior Director of Arts Policy, Wester brings the voice of the arts field to policy discussions nationwide. This means cultivating partnerships and convening meetings with a diverse group of organizations to show how the arts play a role in quality-of-life issues such as the environment and education. One recent example of her work is the National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military, which works to expand access to and research on the arts as effective tools in the care of service members. I spoke with Marete about her work and experience in Drexel’s program.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jeff Poulin

Jeff Poulin

Americans for the Arts has long been a national leader in the arts in America. For decades, the organization, too, has been involved in the advocacy of the inclusion of the arts as part of a quality education for all students in the United States.  Today, we work to ensure that all Americans have access to quality arts education in school, out of school, and throughout adulthood.

What makes this possible, you ask?

My answer: when people who care about arts education speak up and are heard.

The Arts Education Council of Americans for the Arts has crafted an event to help people like you from across the country build the skills necessary to speak up (advocate) and be heard (by elected officials, decision makers, the media or whoever you like!) Read the rest of this entry »

Coincidental Advocacy: When the Nation’s Mayors Come to Town

Posted by Jay Dick On March - 19 - 2014
Jay Dick and Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Jay Dick and Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Each January, The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) hosts its winter meeting in Washington, DC.  This meeting is attended by around 500 of the nation’s mayors who represent cities with a population of more than 30,000.  Americans for the Arts has partnered with the USCM for over 20 years and presents our Public Leadership in the Arts Awards at a breakfast plenary session. This year, we honored Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Akron, OH Mayor Don Plusquellic, and Dubuque, IA Mayor Roy Buol. Americans for the Arts also honors an artist who has promoted the arts and arts education through their body of work.  This year, we honored actress Fran Drescher for her work in promoting the arts over her career. If you would like to see past awardees, please check out our public leadership in the arts pages.

The USCM meeting always hosts a variety of high level elected and appointed officials.  This year, nine cabinet secretaries spoke at USCM meeting while President Obama hosted the mayors at the White House. I had the luck to end up sitting next to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the USCM Education Committee meeting.  I was able to thank him for his support of arts in education and his department’s model grant program. While Secretary Duncan is certainly familiar with Americans for the Arts, it is events like this, at the USCM where people like Secretary Duncan do not expect to see us, but when they do, our presence and words carry even more meaning and importance given the nature of the meeting and those who are attending.

So, whether you are in DC, or in your local supermarket, always be prepared with your elevator speech on why the arts and arts education must be supported as you never know when you might have the chance to educate one of your elected officials.

A New Era for Arts in New York City Schools?

Posted by Doug Israel On February - 26 - 2014
Doug Israel

Doug Israel

Over the course of the past several years, big cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle have been advancing ambitious plans to expand access to arts education and creative learning for public school students. Here in New York City – home of the nation’s largest school district – with a new mayor and schools chancellor, and a growing chorus of parents calling for the inclusion of arts in the school day, there is momentum gathering that could lead to a much-overdue expansion of arts and music in city schools.

This December, at the close of his 12 years in office, New York City’s former Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law a City Council bill that would require the Department of Education to provide annual data on arts instruction that advocates believe will help identify gaps in the delivery of arts education and drive improvements in what is being offered at schools across the city.

While strides were made in expanding access to arts instruction at many schools across the city over the past decade, large gaps persist in the provision of music, dance, theater and visual arts in the over 1,800 New York City public schools.

That is why on the heels of the successful effort to pass the arts reporting legislation, advocates and leaders from a diverse cross section of New York, released a statement calling on the city to ensure that every child, in every part of the city, receives arts instruction as part of their K-12 education.

The statement – entitled “Every Child in Every School: A Vision for Arts and Creativity in New York City Public Schools” –notes that New York City – with its rich and diverse array of arts and cultural experiences and organizations – is uniquely positioned to be the leader in arts and creative education. Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Research: Fuel for Policy and Advocacy?

Posted by David Pankratz On September - 23 - 2013
David Pankratz

David Pankratz

What do musical chairs, speed dating, and crowd sourcing have to do with arts research? Well, on Day 2 of Americans for the Arts’ National Convention in June, co-hosted by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC), Randy Cohen, AFTA’s Vice-President for Research and Policy, and I, found out.

Context:  We knew that arts researchers and policy wonks from arts service organizations, academia, consultancies, and foundations would be among the 1,000 convention attendees coming to Pittsburgh. Randy and I also knew that opportunities for researchers and wonks (and geeks, too!) to gather in one place and explore issues connecting research, policy, and advocacy were, at best, rare. So we invited 40 such folks to do just that!

Format:  In the lobby of Bricolage, a small, progressive theater in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, four groups of 10 chairs each were divided by topic–Producing Arts Research, Evaluating Policies, Disseminating Research, and Leveraging Research for Advocacy. As participants arrived at 8:00 am, they scoured the room and chose, on a first-come, first-served basis, which group to sit in (the Musical Chairs portion of the program). Each participant then engaged in five animated, 5-minute conversations with others in their group (i.e., Speed Dating). According to Randy’s phone, the decibel level in the room rivaled that of a rowdy night club. Leaders of each group then shared highlights of those conversations with all the convening’s participants (Crowd Sourcing). Read the rest of this entry »

Erin Gough

Erin Gough

It has been an exciting few weeks for arts and arts education professionals and advocates in the nation’s capital.

After a week of activities hosted by the Arts Education Partnership, Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network, Emerging Arts Leaders at American University and Americans for the Arts’ State Arts Action Network, training for Arts Advocacy Day began on April 8 and we were off to the races to meet with our congressmen and women all day on April 9.

Quite honestly, by the time I headed home, I expected to be totally wiped out—overloaded with information and overwhelmed by the situation at hand. Instead, it felt like the more time I was able to spend with such passionate people, the more energized and inspired I became.

People do not work with students, schools, community organizations, or become advocates because they are passive. They do it because they see a need to ensure arts opportunities for all of America’s students, but they know that the annual Arts Advocacy Day activities are only a small part of the work that needs to be done.

Coming down to Washington to learn about and discuss federal issues is a change of pace for me, and for most of us who work at the state and local levels.

It is absolutely important to learn about, and try to influence, federal education issues that impact the arts such as the reauthorization status of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Delayed. Again. Still.), Race to the Top requirements (which require teacher effectiveness evaluations for all subjects, including the arts), and No Child Left Behind waivers (which allow for more flexibility at the state level to pursue changes in graduation requirements and assessments). Read the rest of this entry »

Harnessing the Spirit of a Cockroach

Posted by Chris Audain On April - 15 - 2013
Chris Audain

Chris Audain

The Chicago nonprofit arts and culture sector is a $2.2 billion industry. You’d be hard-pressed to go more than a couple of blocks without seeing a theater, dance company, museum, art gallery, or some other nonprofit arts organization, small or large.

And yet I still hear about new ones popping up quite frequently. Given that, the community of artists and arts administrators is extensive, and diverse—it’s a bona fide place of convergence for the creative types and transplants from across the country.

So why then, with such a vibrant arts community, is Illinois the 29th ranked state in per capita spending on the arts?

The answer is a problem that plagues not just Illinois, but permeates through the entire creative sector on a national level.

When I first moved to Chicago after graduating from college, I wanted to pursue an acting career. Even equipped with my political science degree, I had very little understanding about the relationship of public funding for the arts, and the importance of advocacy.

It took a graduate course at Goucher College, Principles of Arts Administration, for me to fully comprehend the power and necessity of arts advocacy. Therein lies the problem: an information gap for artists on the importance of advocacy. A possible solution? Giving artists a more easily accessible entry point to advocacy. Read the rest of this entry »

Share Your Arts Education Story at Arts Advocacy Day

Posted by Tim Mikulski On March - 11 - 2013

Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, DC is less than a month away and with the recent sequester cuts and still-looming budget battle to come, it is vitally important that members of Congress hear how important the arts are to you and your community in person.

Even the staunchest supporters of a tight fiscal policy believe in the value of arts education. In this new video, Senior Director of Federal Affairs and Arts Education Narric Rome provides a quick snapshot of the importance of federal arts education advocacy:

Arts Advocacy Day will take place April 8—9 at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park and the Cannon House Office Building on Capital Hill.

In addition, the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy will be an inspiring speech and performance by Grammy Award®-winning musician Yo-Yo Ma at The Kennedy Center at 6:30 p.m. on April 8. Tickets are included for Arts Advocacy Day participants and are still available to the public.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to add your voice to the chorus of those asking Congress to support the arts and arts education!

Welcome to Youth Arts Month

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen On March - 1 - 2013
Kristen Engebretsen

Kristen Engebretsen

March 1 kicks off a month-long celebration of youth participation and learning in the arts. Many states, cities, and organizations have their own way of celebrating.

Here is just a random sampling of ideas I’ve seen from around the web:

1. National Young Audiences Arts for Learning Week, March 24–30

2. March is Music In Our Schools Month

3. Youth Art Month

4. March for the Arts in Education Month: Empowering Youth through the Arts

5. Theatre in Our Schools Month

At Americans for the Arts, we’ll be hosting a Blog Salon about early childhood education later this month (March 18–22), but for today’s kickoff of Youth Arts Month, we wanted to share something special.

Today we are releasing the first part of a new Arts Education Navigator series of e-books designed to help educators, students, and advocates navigate the complex field of arts education.

Part of our partnership with Vans Custom Culture, each e-book in the series will cover a specific topic, ensuring arts education supporters like you are equipped with the knowledge, statistics, and case-making techniques needed to effectively communicate with decision-makers.  Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Advocacy Day is Just a Beginning

Posted by Ron Jones On February - 25 - 2013
Ron Jones

Ron Jones

In a few weeks, many of us will descend upon Washington, D.C. as part of Arts Advocacy Day.

The agenda is simple and powerful; first, everyone learns the talking points, the compelling arguments, and statistics, and then practices on legislators and/or their staff. We return home knowing we’ve made a positive impression upon those who make decisions that can have significant and long-lasting impact upon the arts in America.

For some of us, that’s it! That’s our contribution to the future of the arts. We return home and pick up our work where we left off, seeing little connection to our day-to-day activities, managing our budgets, developing programs, expanding audiences, and raising money.

Realistically, I suspect most of us would say that we think of our national effort and our local effort as mutually exclusive events with the consequence of each seeing little, if any, relevance to the other.

The fact is that “advocacy” in its broadest sense, is the same as branding. Through whatever efforts and means we select, the goals are the same—to cause others to hold views and find values that are in line with our views and values.

Arts Advocacy Day is only one point along a continuum of efforts that will culminate in moving others toward our view of the world, and the strategies recommended should serve as a blueprint for what we do locally. Read the rest of this entry »

What Are “The Arts” Anyway?

Posted by Howard Sherman On February - 22 - 2013
Howard Sherman

Howard Sherman

Art. The arts. Fine arts. Performing arts. Visual arts. The lively arts. Arts & entertainment. Arts & culture. Culture. High culture. Pop culture.

The preceding phrases are all, on a very macro basis, variations on a theme. However, were you in a research study, and I showed you each of them, one at a time, I daresay they would provoke very distinct associations, very clear delineations of what each encompasses in your mind. Those responses would also likely change depending upon the order in which I showed these to you.

I could also take any two and combine them in a Venn diagram and the overlapping segment would be quite clear. But incorporate a third or fourth and you might find one of these categories the odd man out.

Why do I bring this up?

Because as the “arts community” fights its valiant, essential, and never-ending battle to convince the public at large of the value of “the arts,” I cannot help but wonder whether those on the receiving end of such messaging each hear very different things when these words are presented to them.

I’m prompted to these thoughts by a variety of “real world” examples and experiences, some quite personal. I’m hoping that perhaps someone will want to test my assumptions.

Visit the websites of a few newspapers. The New York Times “Arts” section is a big tent, where theatre, dance, and opera fit in alongside movies, TV, books, and pop music; only on Fridays in the New York edition do they distinguish between performing arts and fine arts, by dividing them into two printed sections.  Read the rest of this entry »

Kerry Washington Receives President’s Award at 44th NAACP Image Awards

Posted by Tim Mikulski On February - 20 - 2013

As stated in the introductory remarks, “philanthropist, activist, and style maven” Kerry Washington is the first African-American woman to serve in a leading role on a network t.v. drama in more than 35 years; however, it’s her tireless advocacy work that garnered our respect and admiration.

An Americans for the Arts Artists Committee member, Washington has been a vocal supporter of the arts and arts education. She has testified before Congress, was presented with our 2009 Leadership in the Arts Award for Artist-Citizen, served as co-chair of Arts Advocacy Day in 2011, and even helped us sell cupcakes in partnership with Sprinkles. But, that’s not all. She has also worked closely with V-Day to prevent violence against women and girls in addition to several other causes.

As she stated while accepting the award, “I consider it an honor to be an advocate for the arts and to serve on President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities because just as we must ensure that ‘we the people’ includes all Americans regardless of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, we must also work to insure that the stories we tell, the movies we make, the television we produce, the theater we stage, the novels we publish…are inclusive in all those same ways.” Read the rest of this entry »

John Legend speaks while receiving a Citizen Artist Award from The United States Conference of Mayors and Americans for the Arts. Also picture are Philadelphia Mayor Micheal Nutter (left), New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

John Legend received a Citizen Artist Award from The United States Conference of Mayors and Americans for the Arts. Also pictured are Philadelphia Mayor Micheal Nutter (left), New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. (Photo via USCM)

Each year, Americans for the Arts presents a series of Public Leadership in the Arts Awards to elected officials at all levels of government and artists who speak out in favor of the arts and arts education.

We just recently presented the first of the 2013 awards at The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) Winter Meeting in Washington, DC. The USCM is Americans for the Arts’ oldest public partnership going back more than two decades.

Each year, we also sponsor the “Mayor’s Arts Breakfast” were we present awards to two mayors, a governor, and one or more nationally-acclaimed artists. This event is very important as more than 350 of the country’s most powerful mayors gather to hear about how the arts are important to their cities.

I am happy to report that over the years, our nation’s mayors have become vocal advocates for arts funding as we provide them with a front row seat to learn the importance of arts and culture and the economic value the sector provides.

At this year’s breakfast, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Santa Fe Mayor David Coss were recognized for their support of the arts and culture in their cities. Both of these mayors, one from a fairly large city and the other of a fairly modest size, understand the importance and value of supporting their local nonprofit arts community and how that support generates substantial economic impact. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting to Know Our Staff: Kristen Engebretsen

Posted by Tim Mikulski On January - 29 - 2013

In December 2012, Kristen Engebretsen, arts education program manager at Americans for the Arts, spoke with “V for Vitality” host Susan Brender for a podcast on WomensRadio.com.

Brender, a former producer for MSNBC talk programs and CNBC’s The Charles Grodin Show, asked Kristen about how she ended up working at our organization, what it’s like to be a dancer, the importance of federal funding for the arts and arts education, and how the arts help communities both economically and through the intrinsic value of the arts.

You can listen to Kristen’s full interview below via SoundCloud.

Immigration Reform and the Arts

Posted by Nina Ozlu Tunceli On January - 15 - 2013

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks at The National Press Club.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was the keynote speaker yesterday at the National Press Club here in Washington, DC.

As he completes his final term as mayor this year, and as the immediate past president of The United States Conference of Mayors, Mayor Villaraigosa delivered his vision on the main issue that he plans to continue working on going forward—urging Congress to pass immigration reform and create pathways to citizenship, leaving immigration enforcement agents to focus on violent criminals and give those who have not been through the criminal justice system an opportunity to become citizens.

While a direct connection to the arts isn’t obvious, immigration reform is an issue that also impacts artists and nonprofit arts and cultural organizations. For instance, foreign guest artists continue to have problems entering the United States in order to attend their exhibitions and performing events.

Americans for the Arts has been working to amend immigration reform legislation to include streamlining this provision for several years. Here is part of our “Statement of Concern” utilized as part of our Arts Advocacy Day efforts last year: Read the rest of this entry »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Teaching Artists

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Charting the Future of the Arts

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices

Evaluation

Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.