Where to start?
This month, with elections looming in the future and lots of important issues that affect individual artists in Atlanta, including a LOT of complicated issues with urban development, I’m fired up to give other artists the resources to get out and be of greater impact in your community.
If I’m perfectly honest, I would be remiss to have you believing that I’ve been the most active and vocal participant in my community. Before working for C4 Atlanta, there were many issues that I cared about, but time and a lack of knowledge of resources hindered my ability to get myself involved with the things I cared about. It’s only been over the last two or so years that I’ve become a more active part of my community. That’s why I’m excited about today’s blog post. Anyone with limited time and resources who wants to be a part of what’s going on with advocacy for artists can do at least one of these things.
So if you’d like to be more active in finding out what’s going on and helping to inform the decisions made in our community, here’s some simple tips to get involved:
1. Go to things
Seriously, get off your butt and go to stuff. The best ways to find out what’s going on is to be present when it’s going on. Social Media is a great resource for finding out what is going on and where things are happening. Go to your neighborhood association meetings, your NPU (neighborhood planning unit) meetings, Beltline planning meetings, county budget hearings, school board meetings, panels with city officials, and literally anything else that impacts your career and life as an artist in Atlanta that interests you. Angry about big box stores being built in your neighborhood or lack of affordable housing and studio spaces? Show up in the places where people decide these kinds of things. Your presence in the community is important, and elected and community officials take notice of who comes and who votes for them. Make it a point to go to things and be seen, and others will take notice of your efforts. Better yet, bring your artist friends, too. There is power in numbers. Not sure where to go or what to attend? Start with your local NPU or Neighborhood Association Meeting. A lot of local city planning and ordinances are discussed in these meetings, and it’s a great way to meet other folks who do important things within the community and find out about other goings on.
2. Speak Up
When you attend community functions and meetings, speak up. Say your name, where you live, and ask questions about things you want to know. Don’t feel intimidated to let your voice be heard and ask about things you don’t understand even if you know there are others in the room who may have a greater understanding of all the factors involved. Elected officials will also want to know whether or not you vote, so if you do, they are more likely to take greater notice of your participation. If you don’t voice your thoughts, no one else will. As both a member of an arts organization and an independent creative professional, I can tell you that organizations and artists have very different issues that they care about and very different power in the community. Advocating for the ARTS is not necessarily the same as advocating for ARTISTS and arts professionals. Issues like affordable housing, education and health care apply as much to individual artists as they do to everyone and can be even more important to the sustainability of our lifestyles and careers. The only way people will know what you care about is if you tell them.
3. Be A Joiner
If you really want to be of greater impact in your community, consider joining your neighborhood association, school group, or a nonprofit who’s mission lights a fire in your heart (C4 ATLANTA!). Facebook and Google can help you find groups to connect with if you aren’t sure where the causes you care about are located in the community. Connecting with other people who are united together for a cause has impact, and will also connect you to other resources so that you can become more involved and in the know. Again, individual artists and arts workers have different issues of interest than organizations. Even if the entity join is not arts related, your presence as an creative professional within their mission has weight and validity. You also don’t have to commit to being president of the committee in order to volunteer or join and organization. Every organization has different needs, and most have many different ways to get involved.
4. Read and Educate Yourself
A voice is only as powerful as the truth it speaks. Educate yourself on issues within your community, your industry, trends, economy, politics, etc. Know your worth as an artist in the community! Americans for the Arts has some great research regarding the economic impact of artists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides a wealth of wage data for every profession in the U.S. based on census data. If fair wage for artists is important to you, check out the organization W.A.G.E. which certifies producing/presenting arts organizations who pay artists a fair living wage for their work. They will soon have an individual certification available for artists who vow to only work for fair wage. With the plethora of presidential candidates in the mix at the moment, it can feel overwhelming to try educate your self on the platforms of different candidates. Arts Action Fund presents a snapshot of each current presidential candidate and their views on the arts. The information is easily digestible to anyone and provides key data about each candidate’s state artistic economy for comparison. The Arts Action Fund uses the #ArtVote2016 on social media to highlight key issues and questions during debates. They have also compiled reports regarding congressional voting records for arts related legislation and included a grading system for lawmakers. ArtsGeorgia is a local Georgia advocacy group that offers information and helps to promote issues related to arts and culture in the political sphere. There is a wealth of information related to the arts available on their website.
As much as you can talk and act and join and show up in your community, without actually voting for the people responsible for making larger decisions, you are heavily limiting the scope of your individual power to affect change. And if you don’t vote, elected officials are far less likely to take your presence seriously. Elected officials have to speak to you if you ask. It might not be timely, but they’ll do it. Because that’s their job. Having greater efficacy in your talk can depend on whether you are an active voter in their constituency. And if you don’t know who your elected officials are, especially those at the local level, go find out.
C4 Atlanta keeps our members and stakeholders abreast of interests and issues in arts advocacy and advocating for arts workers. If you’d like to learn more about these issues, join our monthly newsletter and indicate your interest in arts advocacy.