We hold our breath as decisions are made in the federal Congress, in the courts and in our State legislature.  It appears that cultural and class wars are being fought right now on our national and local political stages.  There are plenty of spectacles to engage us as we try to sort through it all and decide what matters, and where to put our own personal efforts.

Here in Wisconsin our State appears polarized along partisan lines and we daily experience rhetoric designed to divide rather than bring us together.  There seem to be huge philosophical shifts underway manifested by many of those currently in positions of leadership, and they are playing out in our state budget process.

None-the-less I still hold out hope for a good argument based on what we are supposed to agree on (more jobs and a strong economy are a good thing for Wisconsin) will make a difference.

I am one of the citizen representatives to Wisconsin’s state arts agency, the Wisconsin Arts Board.  As an artist and educator and one of the business owners, employers, and employees in the non-profit and public sectors that make up the 15 members of the Wisconsin Arts Board, I understand that difficult decisions and big cuts to state spending are necessary to balance the upcoming biennial budget.  I and the other board members also know that our communities continue to reel from the economic crisis, and that job creation must be a top priority.

I have written about this recently but its vital enough to revisit. In the budget proposed by Governor Walker the one agency that focuses on building the arts economy in our State, the Wisconsin Arts Board, is slated to disappear as a free-standing agency and become a subset of the Department of Tourism, rather than receive the proposed 10% cut most other state agencies will receive.

It is the collective position of the members of the Wisconsin Arts Board, made up of arts professionals, business people, employers and employees, that the current budget proposal to dissolve the Arts Board and cut the state’s investment in its arts and culture sector by 73% would be a mistake if we are serious about economic recovery and new job creation.  The following is an excerpt from the letter we sent to the joint finance committee advocating for the continued funding and existence of the Wisconsin Arts Board:

Funding to the Arts Board currently represents no more than .013% of the budget (13 thousandths of 1 percent) but that small investment pays huge dividends in the resiliency of regional economies in every part of the state.  Grants and more than 10,000 hours per year of expert consulting to non-profit organizations and artists protect and maintain the cultural infrastructure of the state. A vibrant cultural scene contributed to drawing the promise of 200 new high-paying jobs to Eau Claire in 2009, the lowest ebb of the crisis.  That cultural infrastructure convinces companies looking to locate in Wisconsin that they can grow in a dynamic setting in every corner of the state. That infrastructure has become as essential as roads and bridges to development, recruitment and retention of a competitive workforce and the businesses that follow.

The Arts Board is the only state agency providing leadership and support to develop the state’s creative economy.  This dynamic sector enjoys a 14% annual growth rate in the world economy; in Wisconsin, it boasts 3.6% of total employment.  The Arts Board put our state at the helm of the National Creativity Network, and helps local and regional economic development organizations develop their creative industries.

We lead education innovation to develop all our state’s children’s creative capacities.  We’ve been developing rural and urban models for partnerships that ensure vibrant, creative communities become the breeding ground for entrepreneurs and new jobs.  We sponsored research that demonstrates our partners’ out-sized direct economic impact on local economies.  The Wisconsin Arts Board is recognized nationally as a leader in supporting community development and creativity in education; it leverages impressive private philanthropy with the influential imprimatur of state grants, and provides a point of investment for national interests.

Even though the Arts Board has not seen an increase in state funding since 1992, we are willing and prepared to take a 10% cut to do our part to help address the deficit. This cut, proportionate to cuts other state agencies have been asked to take, will still allow us to provide high-quality services, smart development of our cultural infrastructure and workforce, and to help Wisconsin’s communities attract new jobs.

Elimination of this citizen-led agency would cripple the jobs agenda and be a false economy by many measures.  Knowledge and expertise would be lost, organizations and businesses rendered more vulnerable, and jobs lost instead of created.  We respectfully request that you restore the agency status to the Arts Board in your budget proposal so that our state maintains a bright jobs future.

If you are a citizen of the state of Wisconsin and believe that we will not be a better place without a State art agency devoted to development of our arts and culture; if you believe the Wisconsin Arts Board contributes vital positive support to the arts, our culture and the economy of our state there are a couple of things that you could do:

  • Contact the your legislators NOW, particularly members of the Joint Finance Committee while the budget hearings are going on and explain why you support the continued existence of the Wisconsin Arts Board remaining an agency rather than a subset of the Department of Tourism is important.
  • Check out the top 16 actions you can take now (listed at the end of this blog entry). Read the list, take action, and let Arts Wisconsin know what you did.
  • Join Wisconsin’s arts service, advocacy, and development membership organization Arts Wisconsin to stay connected and informed on how to speak up for the arts in Wisconsin”
  • Check out the Arts Wisconsin Art Action Tool Kit on the Budget Process 2011 and their regular updates.  This also contains examples of press this issue is getting around the State.
  • Get creative.  Think about what it means to you to live in a Wisconsin that believe the Arts Are Part of the Solution, and make visible how arts contribute to the culture and economy in your community to our public leaders.  Let me know about it!

Help our local leaders gain a clearer understanding that the arts are essential to the health and vitality of our communities. The arts enhance community and neighborhood development; attract new businesses and young professionals; draw tourism dollars; and create an environment that attract skilled, educated workers and builds a robust 21st-century workforce. It is fiscally sound policy to invest in the State, regional and national arts infrastructure. Artists are small business people.  Nonprofit arts organizations are proud members of the business community.  They are employing people locally, purchasing goods and services within the community, and deeply involved in the marketing and promotion of their communities and cities. The numbers are significant: nationally nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences generate $166.2 billion in economic activity, 5.7 million jobs, and nearly $30 billion in government revenue every year.  In Wisconsin the nonprofit Arts Industry generated 15,103 full time jobs and $61, 840, 400 in State and local government revenue and generated $418,055, 786 in economic activity in 2005 according to a comprehensive economic impact study commissioned by the Wisconsin Arts Board.

As the owner of one of Wisconsin’s smallest businesses (Helen Klebesadel, Watercolors, Prints, and Fabrics), I know its an ongoing struggle to build a sustainable enterprise.  I have personally benefited from the business trainings and workshops for artists that the amazing members of the professional Wisconsin Arts Board staff have created or facilitated.  The Portal Wisconsin website they cosponsor with other Wisconsin cultural agencies puts the arts in the state at our fingertips, and it gallery of Wisconsin artists has been the first web presence for many of our states creatives, including myself.

As a member of the board I have been privy to the considerable resources, technical assistance, and guidance  the board’s staff have provided for non-profit organizations all over the state. Small grants have helped our State’s art non-profits define themselves and grow their audiences.

Since 1980 the Percent for Art Program has used the .o2% designated for the arts in all State building contracts for the purpose of placing artwork in public settings, helping to beautify our public buildings and urban environments, and draw attention to the wealth of artistic expertise within our region.  Who will care for our state public art collection?  Its ours to care for and appreciate.

The Folk Arts and education Programs have made visible Wisconsin Folk artists who highlight their cultures and traditions in their art, be they Native American, African, Latino, Asian, or European traditions.

The WAB has worked hard to advocate for arts education in our schools in a time when such programs are increasingly threatened.  The Wisconsin Task Force on the Arts in Education provides valuable tools and processes for local teams – comprised of representatives from area businesses, schools, community groups, and cultural arts organizations – to improve arts and creativity in education in their communities.  I have been particularly proud of the national leadership they have provided in a number of venues, including the National Creativity Network Our children need the arts in their schools now more than ever.

These just touch the surface of how well the Wisconsin Arts Board has served its mission.  I find it hard to believe that I and other artists, arts professionals, arts lovers, arts educators, children who need the arts, and non-profit arts organizations,  will find it easier to survive and prosper in a Wisconsin without the Wisconsin Arts Board.  I believe it will be easier to save the Wisconsin Arts Boards now than get it back once its has been dissolved, so lets advocate to save the agency now so we have something to rebuild when our economy improves.  Lets not regret in the future what we can work to save today.



Top 16 Actions You and Your Organization Can Take NOW

16.  Set up an information table in your lobby/at your events – have the Arts Board’s talking points and Arts Wisconsin’s website address there

15. Gather the email addresses of those in your audience who want to support public funding for the arts, and send them to Arts Wisconsin at [email protected]

14. For the rest of your performances this season, use one of the pre-designed program inserts – available at both Arts Wisconsin’s and the Wisconsin Arts Board’s (WAB) websites – or design your own.

13.  Make a curtain speech before a show or during intermission that includes encouragement to audience to go to Artswisconsin.org for specific next steps http://www.artswisconsin.org/getinvolved/toolkit2011.cfm

12. Make a statement during an opening reception that includes encouragement to audience to learn about specific next steps to take at http://www.artswisconsin.org/getinvolved/toolkit2011.cfm

11. Write an Op-Ed piece (go to the Wisconsin Arts Board’s website for a template)

10. Write a Letter to the Editor (go to the Wisconsin Arts Board’s website for a template)

9. Post copies of your curtain speech/statement/Op-Ed piece or email on your website

8. Post copies of your curtain speech/statement/Op-Ed piece or email on your Facebook page

7. Encourage your audiences/visitors/members/board to post your curtain speech/statement/Op-Ed piece or email to their Facebook pages

6. Include copies of your curtain speech/statement/Op-Ed piece or email in your (e)newsletter

5. Send a hand-written letter (with printed out talking points or other materials attached) to the members of the Joint Committee on Finance (through April) and to your Senator and Assemblyperson

4. Request that a reporter from WPR and/or WPTV come and do a story on your current work and connect the dots between that work and support that you have received from the WAB, and then share the WAB’s talking points with that reporter

3. Request an in-district meeting with your Senator, Assemblyperson and/or their Aids to talk about the talking points

2. Have your board members send an email to members of the Joint Committee on Finance and to their Senator and Assemblyperson with their request in the subject line; and/or send a typed letter to the members of the Joint Committee on Finance and to their Senator and Assemblyperson; and/or send a hand-written letter (with printed out talking points or other materials attached) to the members of the Joint Committee on Finance and to their Senator and Assemblyperson… and go with you to an in-district meeting with your Senator, Assemblyperson and/or their Aids to talk about the talking points

1. Encourage your audience members send an email to the members of the Joint Committee on Finance and to their Senator and Assemblyperson with their request in the subject line; and/or send a typed letter to the members of the Joint Committee on Finance and to their Senator and Assemblyperson; and/or send a hand-written letter (with printed out talking points or other materials attached) to the members of the Joint Committee on Finance and their Senator and Assemblyperson.

For more information, please go to:

Wisconsin Arts Board

Arts Wisconsin