Learn how to help activate state arts funding

All area artists — and those who support the arts in our community — are encouraged to attend an hour-long presentation and workshop lead by North Carolina’s statewide arts advocacy organization, ARTS North Carolina. At the workshop, Executive Director Karen Wells will discuss the role of ARTS N.C. (and how the organization supports arts programs throughout Buncombe County), while talking about the ways in which individuals in the community can stand up for the arts by getting in touch with legislators and state representatives.

Why should you go? “Art affects everyone in some way or another, and art is a fundamental need of all human communities,” says Charlie Flynn-McIver of N.C. Stage. “It’s not a frill, and it’s not elitist—we all need experiences that help us make sense of the world we live in. The basis of art is an attempt to tell a story and when we find a piece of art that ‘speaks’ to us, it is hitting a universal truth of the human condition. And we need more of that, not less. Unfortunately, art isn’t free, but it also can’t be part of a commercial model. It’s like clean air or water—everybody has to have it, but the cost to keep it available is higher than any one person can pay. One way that activity is supported in a place like Asheville is through state grants from the N.C. Arts Council. Learning to advocate for that support is incumbent on anyone who values the unique and vibrant culture of this community.”

ARTS N.C. basically lobbies for funding that will enrich arts programs and arts education throughout the state, and is dedicated to developing strategies to “mobilize arts advocates in support of a statewide legislative arts agenda,” as stated on artsnc.org.

ARTS N.C. works in conjunction with, and advocates for, the North Carolina Arts Council. As Flynn-McIver, the artistic director of N.C. Stage Company, explains “the North Carolina Arts Council is an organization within the Cultural Resource Department of North Carolina, [whose] staff distributes grant money to organizations and communities across the state.” Locally, the Asheville Area Arts Council receives that funding, and distributes it through grassroots grants.

Grassroots grants are then allocated to regional arts organizations. N.C. Stage Company, for example, benefited from a grassroots grant when launching the Catalyst Series, an outreach program that provides facilities (a stage, lighting and ticket sales) that enables local artists and performance collectives to showcase their work in downtown Asheville. ARTS North Carolina, essentially, advocates for the North Carolina Arts Council through the state legislator. As Flynn-McIver describes, “[ARTS N.C], for example, says to the Governor, ‘Please maintain grassroots funding at this level.’ Or, if there has to be a cut [in funding, then it] should be equitable.’”

ARTS N.C. also works to create a comprehensive arts education plan for public schools, supporting the Senate Bill 66 that requires students to take one unit of drama, dance, theatre and music, while advocating for after-school, early-learning and community-based art programs. The organization’s list of accomplishments is quite impressive: Between 2002 and 2008, advocates “secured an 81 percent increase in recurring state funding for the North Carolina Arts Council grant programs and sustained funding in the worst economic climate in recent memory,” as stated on artsnc.org.

At the upcoming workshop, Wells will also discuss how participants can get in touch with legislators to encourage them to maintain funding for the arts. “The largest hurdle that the arts has to overcome,” continues Flynn-McIver, “is [the perception] that [the arts are] elitist. Asheville alone, according to Americans for the Arts, found that arts activity generated 65 million dollars in economic impact [for downtown Asheville]. That’s about 15 million spent by the arts organizations [on operating costs]. The remaining 50 million dollars [was] spent by patrons on parking, on hotels, on babysitters [and] on food. For every dollar an arts organization spends in Asheville, they generate 3.17 dollars of spending at local businesses. [These] are the social, intrinsic reasons [why] the arts are important. This is what we have to [tell our] legislators.”

The arts advocacy workshop will be held at N.C. Stage Co., 15 Stage Lane, in downtown Asheville, on Monday, Jan. 24, from noon to 1 p.m. N.C. Stage Co.: http://www.ncstage.org or 239-0263.


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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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