Next week, citizens from across South Carolina will swarm the capital to talk to their legislators about the arts. The annual Arts Advocacy Day, hosted by the S.C. Arts Alliance, allows people to express their concerns to legislators while witnessing the inner workings of our statehouse.
“Advocates enjoy getting the access to legislators from their district and talking about what the arts are doing for their community and schools,” says Betty Plumb, executive director of the S.C. Arts Alliance. “It humanizes their legislator, breaks down barriers so they can build a trusted relationship and a line of communication and support.”
Harriet Smartt, a local arts supporter with ties to the Gibbes, the Halsey, and the College of Charleston’s School of the Arts, has attended five Arts Advocacy Days and will be present at this year’s event. This year, she says, Gov. Nikki Haley’s proposed cuts to the S.C. Arts Commission is the most pressing concern.
“The emphasis is on the importance of retaining funding for the Arts Commission, which in turn awards grants to individuals and arts organizations,” Smartt says. By supporting cultural arts in the state, the Commission also affects education, jobs, and the economy as a whiole.
Events like Arts Advocacy Day might not even exist were it not for the Arts Commission; the Alliance is funded in part by the Commission. Cutting the funds that go toward the Commission would also make S.C. the only state without a publicly funded arts agency.
According to a release from the Arts Commission, the state invested just over $2.4 million in the arts in 2010, which then generated more than $91 million in local matching funds. While Haley suggested that the slack would be picked up by private organizations, most arts organizations are locally funded, meaning rural areas would suffer greatly if cuts were made. And although the Commission receives more than $900,000 in federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, that funding is contingent on a state match.
While anyone can attend Arts Advocacy Day, there are always measures that can be taken to ensure that your concerns are heard by policy-makers throughout the year.
“Silence is not an option,” says Jessica Bluestein, executive director of the Charleston Regional Alliance for the Arts. “We all must take an active role in speaking with our legislators and communicate far and wide concrete examples of how the arts impact our communities, socially and economically.”
Smartt adds, “Even beyond Arts Advocacy Day we try to stay in touch with local legislators here in Charleston ... If you learn to stay connected to your local legislators, you can be an influence on the quality of life wherever you live.”