NASAA Notes: August 2010


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Jonathan Katz

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August 4, 2010

The Arts Are Tools for Change

Last week, in Arizona, I keynoted the statewide Joint Arts Education Conference and made a presentation on “Strategic Advocacy” at the annual Southwest Arts Conference convened by the Arizona Commission on the Arts. I had the opportunity to hear Bob Booker, the commission’s executive director (and former president of NASAA) welcome attendees on July 29. Here are his words.


Bob Booker

Bob Booker: It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the 33rd annual Southwest Arts Conference. We have over 300 folks from across Arizona with us today to learn, engage, celebrate and I hope challenge each other a bit. We represent the Arizona Arts Industry and we are here to create a bright future for ourselves and the residents of our state.

I thank the:

  • hard-working dancers and choreographers who take us to new and imagined places of beauty;
  • writers whose poems, novels and short stories inform and enlighten us;
  • painters and sculptors who reveal our world in colors, shapes and design;
  • actors, directors, costumers, musicians and composers who create magic on our stages;
  • and those amazing teaching artists who work in our schools and change the lives of our children every single day.

The arts hold the ability to shed the “light of truth and understanding” across America in these challenging times. The arts have always taken the lead in facing the tough issues head on. From Picasso’s painting, Guernica, to the poems of Langston Hughes, the arts are not shy, quiet or reserved.

Mexican artists took on the atrocities of World War II through their work, way before artists from any other country stepped forward. We showed the effects of the great depression in our cities and rural America through our artistry and then went on to rebuild America as workers in the WPA [Works Progress Administration], the Federal Art Project and the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps]. We were part of the civil rights movement with our 8-millimeter cameras, our typewriters and our voices. We documented the farm works movement through photography and helped America understand the AIDS pandemic through stories, quilts, and images that spoke the truth.

Lately, we have worked with our veterans as they returned home, helping them write about their experiences and tell their stories through workshops and theatre and, yes, even provided free passes to museums for them and their families. The arts continue to play a role in helping these brave men and women come back to America.

America is a place founded on the principles “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” As artists, we understand those words and we can work together to ensure that they are made true in every corner of our state.

Yesterday, Senate Bill 1070 [regarding the enforcement of federal immigration law] went into effect. It is clear from the news, blogs and evening television that it caused a division among our residents. We know this legislation is having a dramatic effect on our arts industry, cultural tourism to Arizona, our economy and the lives of strangers, friends and neighbors.

I grew up in the segregated South. Children learned to be afraid of others at a very early age. I was taught to fear “the other” by television, my relatives and even my church. Right now, in our state, and across our country, our children are unfortunately learning the same lessons.

We hope that throughout the day today we take time to acknowledge that we as artists, arts workers, volunteers, educators and board members have the power and tools to change the discussion, change our future and change our state. We hope that during this conference you engage in some wonderful discussions and learning experiences, and challenge your own assumptions about how to move forward as a united and dedicated arts industry.

Let us use the arts to conquer racism, hate and fear.

Let us use the arts to rebuild our economy, and let us work to elect leaders who understand our industry and its contribution.

Let us use the arts to engage a new generation of young people as active civic leaders here in Arizona and indeed across our great country.

Today, let us learn the skills of change so our work, our organizations, our educational programs and our families will have a positive future in Arizona.