September 11, 2018
Alabama, Delaware, Montana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island: Arts Shine at Governors' Inaugurations
Governors’ inaugurations are not only celebrations of the democratic process and affirmations of policy visions, but also opportunities for states to showcase their greatest assets, such as prominent artists and cultural traditions. State arts agencies are poised to contribute to inauguration ceremonies and festivities in ways that harness the arts in honor of public service, heighten the visibility of cultural ecosystems, instill home-state pride in citizens and, ultimately, encourage increased public support for the arts. How state arts agencies come to participate in and assist inauguration activities varies, but the underlying goal of demonstrating the value of the arts does not. This edition of State to State highlights several examples of state arts agencies that have supported governors’ inauguration activities.
At the request of Gov. Robert Bentley’s (R) inaugural committee, the Alabama State Council on the Arts (ASCA) coordinated and presented an Alabama arts showcase for his second inauguration in 2015. The Thank You Alabama celebration—which immediately followed his inaugural address and was free and open to the public, thanks to private contributions from individuals and businesses that entirely underwrote the event—featured performances by musicians and other artists as well as display booths for visual artists and statewide arts service organizations such as the Alabama Writers Forum, Alabama Folklife Association, Alabama Alliance for Arts Education, Design Alabama, Alabama Dance Council and Alabama Shakespeare Festival. The governor, who attended the event, praised ASCA for organizing it, as did the First Lady, legislators, various other elected officials and the press.
The Delaware Division of the Arts (DDA) has supported two inaugurations. In honor of the first term of Gov. Jack Markell (D), DDA helped design and produce the 2009 Celebration of the Arts, which featured a Chinese lion dance, a children’s chorus and a reading by the state poet laureate, among other things. DDA Director Paul Weagraff served on the event’s planning committee along with the then-chair of the Delaware State Arts Council, and he also emceed the event with the director of the Wilmington Office of Cultural Affairs. In 2017, DDA helped organize another Celebration for the Arts for the first inauguration of Gov. John Carney (D). The event was split between two communities, which each hosted cultural activities for a day the weekend prior to the governor’s swearing-in ceremony. The celebration featured live demonstrations by visual artists, visual art and music performances by high school students, a reading by Delaware’s Poetry Out Load champion, and traditional Lenape drumming, dancing and singing. Attendees were encouraged to make contributions in support of efforts fostering food security and literacy in the state. Refreshments were donated.
Council members, who in 40 states are appointed by the governor, can be valuable assets to state arts agency efforts to support inaugurations. In 2013, a council member of the Montana Arts Council (MAC) brainstormed and produced a video that was presented during the inaugural ball of Gov. Steve Bullock (D). As a film industry lighting and audio professional working on the ball, the council member was able to seek and receive approval from the governor-elect for the video—which highlights the many reasons why Montana is “the land of creativity”—and its inclusion in the festivities. The council member donated his production services, which, with MAC funding, were augmented by several filmmakers.
The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) has a history of supporting several governors’ inaugurations. In 2015, PCA had a leadership role, with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and The State Museum of Pennsylvania, in creating the Inaugural Art Exhibition in honor of Gov. Tom Wolf (D). The event was unprecedented in its scope and diversity, thanks in part to the contributions of incoming First Lady Frances Wolf, a painter in her own right. In only five weeks, PCA was able to arrange for the loan of nearly 50 artworks by Pennsylvanian artists from more than 40 museums and visual arts institutions around the state—including The Barnes Collection, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Carnegie Museum of Art, and regional museums and arts alliances. The exhibition featured pieces from Thomas Eakins, Andrew Wyeth and Andy Warhol as well as a diverse group of contemporary artists ranging in age from 28 to 84. It had nearly 2,700 visitors over its three-week run, thanks to both the caliber of the work on display and the social media promotion for it, which, through more than 40 posts, reached more than 24,000 people and had nearly 1,200 engagements.
As a matter of practice, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) offers its assistance to every gubernatorial inauguration celebration, and has worked on several. For each inauguration it has supported, RISCA has arranged for the state poet laureate to write and read a poem at the event and has provided related logistical support. RISCA also has coordinated state based musicians to perform at the ceremony, but has found that budgetary constraints generally result in the inaugural committee opting instead to tap a military ensemble from the Rhode Island National Guard to perform.
Tips & Practices
For state arts agencies considering inaugural opportunities:
- Learn how past inaugural celebrations in your state have been planned and financed. Each state has a different system for supporting the activities, so it may be useful to know the norms. However…
- Be prepared to customize arts offerings to individual governors and their administrations. Find out whether there are art forms or themes that would be especially meaningful to your new governor, and be informed about the policy platform undergirding the governor-elect’s campaign.
- Engage the governor-elect’s family. First spouses and children can be especially effective contacts, and they can become good ambassadors for the arts and culture in your state.
- Think beyond inauguration day itself. Related events often extend over multiple days, so there may be more than one opportunity to showcase the arts.
- Start early! After the November election, planning will take place at a fast and furious pace. So make contact with the inaugural committee and other key organizers as soon as possible.
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