Building Broad Support with a National Arts Day

In late September – anticipating the beginning of Arts & Humanities Month 2011, Barry’s Blog posted a call for a National Arts Day modeled after the California Arts Day, now 10 years old. He makes the case that a national day will help to build awareness of the role of arts in community and lead to broader support for the arts. Barry published a response written by Senior Fellow Margy Waller and we cross-post her response here.

The goal of creating a greater sense of collective responsibility for the arts is one our sector has struggled with for many years. Barry’s suggestion to create a national arts day to draw attention to the value of the arts is worthy of serious consideration.

In Cincinnati, we have some relevant experience with arts days and an idea to share.

ArtsWave, the local united arts fund, produces an annual free arts festival. Each year, the thousands of people from all over the community come together to experience all kinds of art, dance, music, theatre. In recent years, the Arts Sampler Days included about 150 events in 75 or so venues across the region. In 2011, the festival expanded to six days over 12 weeks — five Saturdays and one Sunday.

The festival is very important to building awareness of ArtsWave (especially due to a recently changed mission and name) and of all the organizations funded by thousands of contributions to the annual community campaign for the arts.

The Arts Sampler Days has helped to change the way the media and local leadership present our value proposition to the public.

We’ve accomplished this by being very strategic about the way we present the event and its impact on our region. And sometimes that means adjusting the lens of others if we can.

Here are a couple of examples — and the results of our work in video format.

Just after a recent festival, our Mayor’s chief of staff asked us to quantify the return on investment in terms of economic impact for his State of the City speech. We demurred. Why?

ArtsWave commissioned research by Topos Partners to uncover what approach makes people more willing to take action on behalf of the arts: The Arts Ripple Effect: A Research Based Strategy to Build Shared Responsibility for the Arts . The final report shares an important finding — that the real value people find in the arts isn’t about dollars and cents ROI. In fact, talking about the dollars don’t help to build broad support.

So instead, we urged the Mayor to take a different approach, one that moves people to a new, more resonant way of thinking about the arts.

What is it? That the arts have benefits that ripple throughout our communities. Theaters and galleries mean vibrant, thriving neighborhoods where people want to live, work, and play. Music, museums, community arts centers and more mean people coming together to share, connect and understand each other in new ways. These benefits are both practical and intangible.

Based on this organizing idea identified by our research, the Mayor’s statement is exactly the kind of broadcast statement about the arts we want.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gc-q_HBtRBU&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Second, when a local TV station news producer called to ask about the economic impact of the arts sampler days, we urged him to SHOW the impact by taking a camera around town and watching people walk from a museum to a restaurant, from a theater to a shop, and so on. And he did! The news coverage that night showed the incredible quality of life we enjoy in Cincinnati because we embrace the arts. Even those who don’t go to the venues of the anchor arts organizations themselves readily recognize how our entire community benefits.

You can watch both the early and late news (yep — two stories!).