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Lawton Speaks at Arts Day

Remarks of Barbara Lawton, Arts Board Chairperson

at Arts Day at the Capitol, March 3, 2011

 

Thank You!

 

We all feel so close in the midst of these disheartening times.  We have all been so focused on the important work that we do together in every part of the state.  And it is so important for the state that we love that we continue to do that with great strength and great resolve.

 

So, the fact that all of you traveled here today to Madison to be part of the traditional Arts Day in the Capitol couldn’t be more important than it is this year. We want to recognize those who would have been here, could they have been here. I’ve known Mayor –now Secretary— Jadin, for a long time (remember I’m from the Green Bay area). I was delighted to hear him acknowledge how important the arts and culture sector is to the vibrancy of a community and a region.   But we received an email this morning from our friends at the Weidner Center, which reminds us that even as we feel strength (and many organizations here represent the face of strength going forward), there is a lot of vulnerability in this sector.   The Weidner Center budget did not allow them to travel by car from Green Bay to Madison. This is the reality of a sector that is absolutely critical to Wisconsin’s economic outlook.

 

The work of the Arts Board has been so important to Wisconsin.  Before I go on, I see two Arts Board members who serve with me: Barb Munson, a woman of the Oneida Nation who serves from Mosinee; and one of our newest board members, Deb Janz, from Spencer.   And the two head-honchos at the Arts Board are here: George Tzourgros, the Executive Director, and the extraordinary deputy, Karen Goeschko. The other staff members are back working hard on behalf of all of us. I know all of you have had the privilege, as I have had, to work with them and discover the depth of expertise in that agency that has been developed over 35-36 years now.

 

That represents a real investment on the part of the state of Wisconsin, investing in the expertise that has been developed and those state employees that share it with us all around the state. I’m telling you this to help you connect this to the stories that you share with legislators today, because the conversations you have with them today are incredibly important; I will close with why. The Arts Board has been hard at work, and received national recognition for the work that we do. Deeply and diversely talented Arts Board members represent every corner of this state; they are influential thought-leaders, who design an agenda and marshal the expertise of the Arts Board staff and put it at your disposal to support the work that you do.

 

We have been building partnerships and communities… to build the development of children’s creative capacities. We engage all sectors in a vision for maximizing resources to strengthen the educational opportunities that both mine and define the talent of Wisconsin’s workforce. We’ve been working actively with community and regional economic development organizations to recognize, precisely as I said before, the deep public value of cultural infrastructure to the viability and sustainability and the prospects for growth in our economies.

 

We are the keepers of the state’s cultural heritage and we work with you all across the state to be sure that that important part of who we are, what defines us, but what also draws people to us, is maintained.

 

If you were to go into the new Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery Town Center on the UW-Madison campus, you would find the Percent for Art projects that bring that building to life. (I’ve long been frustrated that we called it the Percent for Art program, because it is just one tiny 100th of a percent of what really goes into the construction cost of a building that is attached to a work of public art.) We know how public art has a tremendous impact on the way we experience a place, on the face that it presents to the world about who we are, and reveals an aesthetic that defines us and changes the lives of the people who work in those buildings. The Arts Board thinks that it is incredibly important.

 

We provide the expertise to you in the field.  We have been a significant force in the development of creative industries across the state… those jobs that are not out-sourced.   We provide trend analysis to the public, private and non-profit sector. We have been leaders in policy development in the education area and in broad areas of economic development. We have created unprecedented partnerships across the state and we are supporting valued, long standing partnerships, like our partnership with Arts Wisconsin. The kind of resources and support that we have been able to provide as a state agency have been critical to their viability and continued and important, smart work.

 

We have, as I said, provided national leadership.   The taskforce that I led, which was a result of the work of our Arts Board and Arts Board members – the Taskforce on Arts and Creativity in Education— has received national recognition and become a national model.  It now animates nine communities across the state that are building models to really pull in the public and private and non-profit sector in order to maximize use of resources toward the ongoing development of creativity capacities of not just the children, but of the entire community. We are very excited about what we have wrought with this project, that is an ongoing project.

 

As we talk about creativity and the development of creativity, and the importance of the creative sector in terms of our continued sustainable economy in the state of Wisconsin, and developing the innovative and entrepreneurial capacity that we have as a state, I want to be sure you know that our Arts Board Executive Director (not by chance, but because of all that has been done here in Wisconsin) has been named the director of the National Creativity Network.  He led a group of business people and people from economic development and from education and from our Arts Board to Oklahoma for the big World Creativity Forum where he presented.

 

We hope to continue to draw from those connections and that global achievement and inform it with the good work coming out of Wisconsin that is from all of you. The Arts Board works in an interdisciplinary way, then, and we connect with every state agency in different ways. We are citizens, fifteen of us, from every corner of the state, that work with and connect to this brain-trust which is the Arts Board staff.  And we truly present a prestigious face for this state to the nation, and to the world, through the innovative work we do in public policy and in the creative way that we maximize the state’s resources toward creating jobs, toward building businesses that contribute to the wealth and that draw people into the mainstream of our economy.

 

So as we look at the budget that is proposed by Governor Walker, and as you speak to legislators, you must be aware that the Percent for the Arts program is zeroed out in that budget, and that the Arts Board’s budget is cut by nearly seventy percent. We will lose six of the ten staff members. The Arts Board will become a program within the Department of Tourism instead of an independent agency.  I know of no other programs there that provide the kind of broad economic development direction for cultural and arts infrastructure that this state-wide Arts Board has for 36 years. We have enjoyed a very close connection with the Department of Tourism, and cultural tourism is very important to this state, but that is not all they do and that is not all we do.  And so “merger,” I hate to say, is not a precise word for something that would be swallowed whole to become a program.

 

What is very important as you speak with the legislators is to understand that the Arts Board and other state agencies –and all of us who have invested as taxpayers and through our own personal work in it—understand the magnitude of the challenge that this state faces in our fiscal situation.   We have seen it coming and we have been part of economies to try and minimize and mitigate it.   And we have been absolutely willing to share in the sacrifices, but we are burdened by what we know. We know how critical the cultural infrastructure in the arts in the state of Wisconsin is to the viability of the state of Wisconsin and to its economic outlook and to even creating jobs right now, in the short-term.

 

When we were doing an editorial board interview with an editor of the Wausau paper, he acknowledged that his wife works in the medical field there, which is a big and important sector in central Wisconsin.  He told us that when they try to draw the talent that will help them build strength and develop that sector there, they show them the Arts Block.   And they talk to them about the vibrant, lively life that they can experience there because of the strong cultural infrastructure.

 

We know too much, so to wipe out something that has only been growing in its impact on the economy of Wisconsin, and shows ever greater promise to help in the short and the long-term, to me makes no sense. These are false economies.   We need to leave the bones in place for the Arts Board and not remove it as a freestanding agency, but recognize its value and what it does and how it works and how it will continue to work well.

 

If cuts must be made right now, they indeed will be felt all across the state: the Arts Board doesn’t swallow funds in overhead costs, you can be sure. We move funds via grants through our evaluation system and out the door to partners in the field. If cuts must be made, we accept that, but we need to talk about and analyze the impact of those cuts so that communities are not left without cultural infrastructure. We would not go through and tear-up the roads and back out of town saying, “Good luck. Hope you go far.”

 

This is what I hope that you talk with your legislators about. There are other ways to meet the demands of this fiscal crisis. They must be smart ways. Then we must remember that, in all of this, access to and the possibility of participating in a cultural life of a community is essential to a democracy. That connects to the very important notion that politics is about the dignity of daily life. In everything that we see going on around us in Madison over the last two weeks, is our insistence that all people have the right to the possibility of dignity in their daily life. As we consider the challenges that lie ahead, then we must also remember that the arts are not “part of the solution” as the button reads; the arts ignite the solution.