by Kristopher Monroe
Arts advocacy isn’t always as sexy and fun as organizing a splashy music festival, a lively theater production, or a compelling visual art opening. But advocacy is an indispensable element of the undergirding infrastructure that supports the arts, particularly at the local level.
The advocacy ArtsGeorgia is doing on a regional scale is fundamental to the health of Georgia’s arts ecosystem, and the recent series of roundtable discussions they hosted is a testament to the commitment of various community arts organizations around the state.
Last month, a Roundtable discussion was held in Savannah, GA, co-hosted by the Arts and Culture Alliance of Chatham County, with representatives from the Cultural Affairs Commission, Savannah Ballet Theatre, Savannah Black Heritage Festival, Savannah Book Festival, Savannah Children’s Choir, Savannah Music Festival, Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra, Savannah Repertory Theatre, and the Tourism Leadership Council all in attendance.
Some of the highlights of the discussion included a brief history of arts advocacy in Georgia by Bill Gignilliat, talk of various arts funding and advocacy resources, and pending legislation like the Georgia Ticket Tax and potential arts-related funding if casinos are approved by the state legislature. There was also dialog around the upcoming Arts Day at the State Capitol on January 21, 2020 and a planned Georgia Arts Advocacy Summit in February 2020. The National Arts Action Summit hosted by Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C. which will take place in late March 2020 was also part of the conversation.
On a municipal level, some Savannah-specific efforts were discussed, including an Arts and Culture Questionnaire organized by Bigger Pie Arts Advocacy Organization. The Arts and Culture Questionnaire was compiled by surveying a broad cross-section of Savannah’s creative sector, asking individuals and organizations what areas of the arts they would most like to see future elected leaders address. The responses were collated into a short list of questions that were then sent out to all the candidates running for office in the upcoming local election this November. The results will be published online and in various local media ahead of the election to help inform voters and help remind candidates that they are on the record in relation to their stance on the arts.
The Savannah community successfully reversed an effort to cut cultural arts and social service funding in 2016 and no one in the local arts world wants a repeat of that episode. The Arts and Culture Questionnaire is one effort in that direction, but it’s by no means the only one. Savannah has staked much of its reputation on being an arts friendly city, but as so many in the Savannah arts community know, actions speak louder than words. Organizations like Bigger Pie and the Arts and Culture Alliance of Chatham County understand that the only way to generate concrete action is through proactive arts advocacy. You can’t simply be reactive and wait until they’re about to take something away to do something.
As most everyone knows, Georgia routinely lands at the bottom of almost every list when it comes to areas like arts funding, and as one participant at the Savannah roundtable pointed out, there are many elected leaders in the state legislature that think that’s just fine. Efforts like Savannah’s Arts and Culture Questionnaire have the goal of changing that mentality by showing there is in fact wide popular support for arts funding and the like.
Advocating for the arts is incredibly important for the creative sector to thrive in our state. We all have to help build a support system for the arts community because if we don’t, who will? And just like voting in local or national elections, you can’t really complain unless you actively participate.
Author Kristopher Monroe is an arts writer and advocate. He’s a member of the Savannah Cultural Affairs Commission and vice-chair of the Savannah-Chatham Historic Site & Monument Commission.