A Renaissance in the Making: Arts Advocacy in a Reopened World

Ian Hawthorne, Arts Administration Intern

In the beginning of 2021 this nation ushered in a new administration, new hope for this pandemic, and began to see the light of a new dawn ahead. The Coronavirus has forced changes across the board, some here to stay and some we never thought we would hope to go away. Still, in the wake of this last year there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel, and this new future ahead brings with it both opportunity and accountability. In the words of poet laureate Amanda Gorman, “The new dawn blooms as we free it,” and with that bloom comes the burden of responsibility and action.

Randy Cohen has written that, like so many sectors of the economy, Covid-19 has been devastating to the arts industry. This raises the question not only of how we survive as arts organizations, but how we choose to thrive once a sense of normalcy returns. It is in this upcoming act of building back that we must remember the lessons learned from Covid: that the arts are what millions of people live for and that they must be cherished and championed always.

I became an arts administration intern at the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center in the middle of the pandemic. I have been fortunate enough to work with our executive director Barb Whitney on issues of cultural policy and advocacy and had the honor of representing the Gallery at the Cultural Advocacy Network of Michigan’s annual advocacy day. There I advocated with leaders of arts organizations across the state for cultural policy initiatives in the Michigan legislature. This experience has been an honor and a privilege as I have been able to learn that those in the arts must be constantly vigilant in lobbying for our survival in the political realm, and that collective action is one of the best ways to make our voices heard within government.

Championing the arts is an opportunity I cherish, but it cannot be done alone. I would encourage anyone who is passionate about the arts, whether you are part of a formal organization or not, to consider advocating for policies in favor of our survival and advancement. This may involve active engagement like calling or writing your local representative to express support for cultural policies or more passive support such as educating yourself about current issues in this space and expressing that support at the ballot box.

In this vein I encourage anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of cultural policy and advocacy to register for the National Arts Action Summit (NAAS) hosted by the Americans for the Arts. This is a weeklong summit providing seminars and training on a variety of current issues facing the arts and culture sector. Anyone can register and it will be held virtually from April 5th through the 9th.

Ultimately, these actions serve to remind ourselves that art is something that gives our lives joy and inspiration. Being forced into lockdowns and quarantines this past year has made that fact even more prevalent, as we all anxiously await the days where we can freely enjoy the humanities together again.

But with that excitement and anticipation should come a reminder of how much we need to actively promote and engage with the arts we so value. For these institutions to thrive we must always fight for them, prevent them from being ignored in state budgets, and actively work towards their expansion and enlivenment.

I am thrilled to be a part of the Lansing Art Gallery at this critical moment in time and am excited to see where this bright future takes us. This new dawn ahead is exciting and relieving, but we cannot forget that it is also filled with opportunities to reassess our priorities and to make sure that we value our passions accordingly. The arts are an expression of the same love and humanity that underpin contemporary messages of equity, mercy, and justice that we cannot take for granted and it is because of this that I wholeheartedly believe we are on the cusp of a new cultural renaissance come reopening when we are able to freely celebrate this human bond once again. It is because of this momentum that progress will be asking for the taking so long as we all choose to act.

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