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Bob Lynch: It’s a big deal, in my opinion, to have every citizen in America represented by an arts entity that’s working on their behalf to put arts in their lives, their children’s lives, the community’s life.
Anita Walker: Hello. I’m Anita Walker at the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. We are so honored today to be joined by Bob Lynch, who is the President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, which is our national advocacy organization think-tank and source of information. Whenever we can’t figure out what we need to know, we could call Americans for the Arts and get an answer. Welcome to the program, Bob.
Bob Lynch: Great to be here. Wonderful.
Anita Walker: First of all, talk a little bit about Americans for the Arts for those who may not be familiar with the organization.
Bob Lynch: So Americans for the Arts is actually this year celebrating our 55th anniversary. And we were founded 55 years ago by the existing 100 local arts agencies, arts councils, arts commissions in the United States, and the four existing state arts councils. That’s all there were back then. And the idea behind the organization was to advance support for the arts in every American community at the local and state level. So we had three goals back then. The first was more local arts agencies. And there’s 5,000 of them today across the country. And the second was a national arts council. So we led the effort to advocate for the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts, which is just celebrating its 50th anniversary. And that’s $5 billion of funding over the last 50 years. And we got a little plank in there 55 years ago that said any state that had a state arts agency could get matching money. So in ’64 there were 4 and in ’66 there were 50. But that’s been a lot of money for the arts. Federal money, state money, local, government money. Collectively it’s about $6 billion a year. So what Americans for the Arts does is on several fronts work with several different audiences that advances the arts in America. So the first one is that all of the local arts agencies, 3,000 of them now, and all the state arts agencies, are members. And we try to provide research and information and professional development and training, including bringing our annual conference to Boston next June. And we do that. But at the same time we work with individual leaders, grass top leaders, to put a mass of people together, famous artists, corporate CEOs and so on, who we can call upon to jump in and help advance the cause of the arts as an individual when the professionals need that help. And then the third thing is that Americans for the Arts about six years ago launched a second wing, a political wing, called the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, which is a 501c4 political organization. And we have 300,000 citizen members of that who are networked to all of the state arts advocacy organizations. And through that mechanism we’re able to put calls and letters and e-mails onto the desk of any decision maker in any zip code area on the day of an issue and help get legislation passed. At the federal, state and even now the local level. So that’s a snapshot of Americans for the Arts.
Anita Walker: And to make the connection back here to Massachusetts, you mentioned local arts agencies. We have 329 local cultural councils here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I think that’s more than any other state.
Bob Lynch: That’s way more than any other state. Yeah.
Anita Walker: <laughs>
Bob Lynch: That’s almost every township here, right?
Anita Walker: Yeah. There’s not a square inch of Massachusetts that is not covered by a local cultural council. And why is that a big deal and important?
Bob Lynch: Well, it’s a big deal, in my opinion, to have every citizen, not necessarily every town, but every citizen in America, represented by an arts entity that’s working on their behalf to put arts in their lives, their children’s lives, the community’s life. Art’s important. We all believe that. But it’s important for everyone. Every, you know, every citizen, young and old, rich and poor, rural and urban and so on. And so to have an arts council, an arts organization of some kind, located in a community and fighting for money for the arts, fighting for programming for the arts, distributing grants, distributing services, that’s a real benefit that is not in other states necessarily available to everybody, particularly in rural areas. So I think it’s a big deal to have that structure set up. And now maybe the idea might be how do you leverage that to make it even bigger and better and stronger? How do you go beyond just the money that you’re distributing but get, you know, use it as a way to leverage other people’s money? And that is, that’s the promise of the future, I think, of that mechanism.
Anita Walker: And another thing that I know you like to talk about and that AFTA has really given such tremendous resources and advice for is advocacy. And we in Massachusetts have a separate advocacy organization called MASSCreative. Talk a little about that.
Bob Lynch: Well, I think that MASSCreative is a great example of a state level organization in partnership with the national organization. So there are 85 of them across the country that are either arts education advocacy organizations, state level, or state advocacy organizations. Not all of them effective. But all of them working towards being effective. Because most of them don’t have very many staff. And so where we come into that is that Americans for the Arts provides some resources to each of those organizations to provide some free trainings, sometimes convening, bring them to National Arts Advocacy Day. Because their budgets are small, that’s one thing we do. Probably the most important thing that we do is that we pay for a national networking system that allows each state to get something that would normally be very expensive to them, to get it very inexpensively, which allows them to put everybody in their database into an action-oriented database system. What that means is that if an issue comes up in the state of Massachusetts, the state advocacy organization or the national organization can e-mail everybody in the state overnight with a document about the issue. And something already preset that the advocate, the citizen, can push a button and it goes to their senator immediately, it goes to their congressperson immediately, it goes to their state representative immediately. And that has allowed us to cross the country, harness the energy of people who want to advocate, they’re going to advocate, but they don’t have the time to advocate, to do this in two minutes and all of a sudden turn out big numbers when an issue like the override of a governor’s veto comes up. And I think it’s the most exciting work we do.
Anita Walker: There was an override of a governor’s veto right here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And as a matter of fact, 198 out of 200 legislators voted for the override, which restored a much more robust budget to the Mass Cultural Council. And this is a perfect example of that at work.
Bob Lynch: Yeah. It’s a perfect example of that work and it’s– also it’s not just doing it, it’s the speed that is a big deal. A lot of these happen today and there’s no time to do anything about it unless you have a quick action mechanism. So what I like with what the Americans for the Arts system is is that a few years back when the Jobs bill was up at the federal level and President Obama wanted to have jobs created, we wanted them to include the arts. And nobody thought that that could happen. So our local arts agency and state arts agency members helped us pop into the legislation a $50 million plank. Took a long time to do it, but we got it in there at the beginning of a 30-month debate. Then the second strategy kicked in and the citizen advocates e-mailed 85,000 e-mails and letters to Congress, and it kept it in there through the month. In the middle of the month, there was a hearing, and we brought to the hearing our third grass tops leadership strategy, the head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the head of the conference board, the national corporate organization, and some wonderfully famous artists like Robert Redford. And then we get to the night of the vote. And on the night of the vote, because of political connectivity and just politics in general, we were traded out. We were traded out of it at 5:00 P.M. However, we called in the fourth strategy. We got Redford and Wynton Marsalis and a few other artists, and our Business Community for the Arts board to make about 20 calls to key leaders like Nancy Pelosi. And in the morning, the 50 million was there.
Anita Walker: Ahh.
Bob Lynch: The key thing about the story is it could only happen with each of the four strategies. No single one could’ve worked. And that’s what I think the power is, whether it’s at the federal level or the state level, to use the full range of tools that we have to get what we all want, which is cultural policy, resources, good decisions made.
Anita Walker: I don’t think anyone has a better sense of the pulse of the arts landscape in America than you do. You see the whole country, you travel all around. Give us some insight into what you’re seeing. What are some of the challenges and opportunities facing the world of the arts in America?
Bob Lynch: Well, I think that there’s always an evolving set of themes that are happening. Right now there are some challenges to the arts, whether it’s some tea party challenges about valuing art period, or whether it is economic challenges. And there’s actually some real basic knowledge challenges. A couple of prominent foundational leaders, for example, have talked about maybe the arts being sort of a second-class nonprofit type of organization because there are more needy areas like poverty or hunger or so on. And so what we’re trying to do at Americans for the Arts and what I see a lot of organizations across the country doing right now, is making the case for not just the decorative power of the arts or the beauty of the arts, but the transformative power of the arts. And that, in fact, the arts can be a partner in creating more creative youth or a partner in dealing with arts and healing, healing issues for the, you know, hospitals or the military. Or you fill in the blank. Of dozens of different community issues. Economic impact, jobs. The data’s out there. Fifty percent of American hospitals, for example, use the arts today. Not to decorate but to help their patients heal faster. And so that’s an economic benefit and a human benefit, as well as an arts benefit. So one issue that I see is making the case for broadening what the arts are actually seen as. A second thing I think that is really important right now is more and more talk of diversity and equity as something that every arts organization needs to really think about, more fully incorporate, into their work. And we see that because of the changing landscape of the population of America. We also see it as a benefit with this rich tapestry of different and newcomer types of input of art and savvy communities and savvy arts organizations are really taking advantage of it. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s actually good for the arts, good for business, good for community. So that’s the second big thing that I see happening. On a third front is, on the arts education front, some very, very big changes have just happened with the No Child Left Behind law being switched to, or changed legislatively, to open up new opportunities, I think, for the arts. Partially because it’s got less of an emphasis on testing and also because, frankly, in the legislative process, we were able to make sure that every time the arts were taken out, and they were taken out several times, we were able to pull a coalition of people together to get them back in. So I think that we will see arts education, creative youth development, these kinds of things, as a bigger component of the national conversation.
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Anita Walker: Bob Lynch, thank you very, very much for joining us today. Bob Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, another Creative Mind Out Loud.
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