Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Arts Lobby - Let's Get Sleazy.

We all have a perception of lobbyists as, more or less, big spending smooth talking salesmen for oil, farms, cars, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, etc.  Arts organizations, on the other hand are supposed to be "of the people," morally above the corrupt fray embodied by large multinational organizations, and serving the community, not "the man."  After all, the arts exist in spite of the establishment, not as a slave to it - right?  

While dirty lobbyists have fancy lunches with congressmen and throw lavish parties to woo policymakers to their side of an issue, arts organizations...plan fancy lunches and throw lavish parties to woo policymakers (I'm going to one this weekend, and several more this year).  

The problem with the way many arts organizations "lobby" is that they don't like to admit it - it's considered a dirty trade by some people.  We're halfway there by making connections, throwing galas, and getting people in the room when we can.  But I say let's get in the mud and get dirty!  Lobbying works.  And I'm not talking about inviting a congressman to a concert of 7th graders singing their hearts out (though that's a step).  I'm talking about lunches, dinners, paying for studies, and paying people real money to walk onto Capitol Hill every day of the year to meet with lawmakers, bang on their doors, play a harmonica outside of their offices, and do whatever it takes to increase congressional spending on the arts. 

Here's a staggering fact:  If every arts org in the country spend 1/2 of 1% of their income on arts lobbying, then we would spend a collective $150 million per year advocating directly to congress the importance of the arts. Were this to happen, the conversation would change from how do we pay for the arts to how do we implement.

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