My life in the Arts began more than 25 years ago. As a shy and awkward teenager, new to America after living a childhood abroad, I found the backstage world of the theatre as a home and refuge. 25 years as stagehand, lighting designer, production assistant, staff member, board member, chief development officer, and now, consultant. All in the Arts.
I vote every year without fail, for whatever that is worth. But my work is in the Arts, and my true impact as a citizen, is in the Arts. So what now? Now, my friends and colleagues in the Arts, we can work, harder than ever. Because now we are needed more than ever.
What We Can Do Now:
We can embrace our singular opportunity to bring people together for greater understanding. The world needs more singing, more jazz, more creativity. People who listen to other’s stories gain understanding and empathy. Kids who sing together become friends. We can set the priority that Arts Education is critical to creativity, empathy, and future citizenship for every single one of our children. We can reach new populations in our cities, and serve those who we meet. We can see what a Hispanic audience looks like for Opera.
We can serve a wider community. Communities without Art look to Pawn Stars and Duck Dynasty as culture. Let’s no longer kid ourselves about this reality. Rural and Suburban communities bask in the banal, the simpleminded, and the shabby. We can take our programs farther out, casting a wider net, encouraging and challenging audiences with our work. We can challenge patriarchy, misogyny, xenophobia, and fear with our stories. We can show America what it is, and what it can become.
We can be catalysts for economic equity. I am done listening to non-profit leaders whine incessantly about paying overtime to lowly paid staff members, due to a change in a law designed to bring more Americans into the middle class. I’ve had quite enough of watching talented women (and men) burn out completely in our sector, with the appalling lack of flexibility for work/home balance and childcare responsibilities. We can do better than this with our precious human resources. And we can prioritize paying our Artists a living wage. Too often our Artists are the last to be compensated, and the first to be asked to accept less, and work more.
We can demand respect for all. In our incessant demands for philanthropic revenue, we too often overlook a lack of civility and mutual respect from donors, whose belief systems are sometimes deplorable and outdated. Ask any fundraiser working today how often they’ve had to sit patiently listening to the racist or bigoted rant from a donor, and you will be astonished. Ask 100% of experienced female major gift staffers about the times they’ve been hit on, diminished or treated inappropriately by men, often in terrifying ways, and you will be ashamed. Enough of this. We can walk away from those donors who do not reflect our values. And so be it.
We can give back. Those of us in the Arts need to think more about our fellow colleagues, working in smaller organizations or struggling to find audiences. We can seek out the young and marginalized artists of every background in our community, and support those efforts. We can encourage more diversity in our organizations, and we can encourage our grant making organizations and funders to partner with us for true social change. We can teach others to write grants and market programming. We can share our stages and our gallery walls with emerging Artists. We can support our most vulnerable communities in this time of fear.
It is easy, as a well-educated, well compensated, and fully enfranchised white man to say that America will be okay, but I truly believe it, Friend. I travel the country seeing our cities develop, our citizens get more engaged in the world around them, and our worldview expanding as a country. Artists and Arts organizations lead that generational progression, and that work continues. Bless all of you, and all of us, staying in the Fight.
Jeremy, why did you have to pick on “Pawn Stars”? I love that show. But, fear not, I also love and support the true arts. Your post is spot on. Bravo! In particular, thank you for raising the issue of fair compensation. Not long ago, I asked my graduate arts management students whether they should receive less compensation than if they worked in the for-profit sector. Almost unanimously, my students said they should be paid less. Well, I was not having any of that. Instead, I launched an unplanned 15 minute lecture about why they were wrong and why fair compensation would not only benefit them but also the organizations that employ them. I encourage you to explore this important issue more deeply in a future post.
Thanks so much for this post. I am on the donor side and find that so many of these issues get ignored and pushed under the rug. Awesome!
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