NASAA Notes: November 2021


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Pam Breaux

November issue
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November 1, 2021

President's 2021 State of the States Address

I delivered these remarks to NASAA members at our 2021 Business Bash Celebration in late October. There are so many amazing, innovative examples of state arts agencies’ courage and commitment during the past year, I wish I could have named them all!


The year 2020 gave us COVID-19 and COVID shutdowns, unimaginable deaths, culture and race wars, and heightened polarization; and, as we all responded rigorously, in some ways we also held our collective breath to get to the end of 2020. And when 2021 came around, it felt much like the year before.

To a person, the workload at state arts agencies (SAAs) has since been acutely taxing. You have managed two rounds of federal recovery grant making, additional state recovery grant programs, and a host of new and reconceived programs and services. Constituent needs have been intense, and SAA staffs are working around the clock, often with too few staff members, to address the needs of the day. Managing full programmatic portfolios, managing change, advancing equity, and meeting diverse and sometimes divergent constituent needs is a monumental hill our members climb each day.

Our very wise NASAA board chair, Suzanne Wise of the Nebraska Arts Council, recently shared a reflection with me: “The path of righteousness will always be an uphill struggle, but the closer we come to the summit, our exaltation in how far we’ve come increases with each step.” During this particularly tough year, let’s take a moment to pause and observe how far we’ve come on our way to the summit.

Job number one for NASAA members has been advancing the recovery of our sector. To date, SAAs have invested nearly $1.3 billion in arts-sector relief. Yes, that’s $1.3 billion with a B. This figure includes all of the relief funds you have administered, also the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Security) Act and ARP (American Rescue Plan) funding you administered with National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) money, and it includes the programmatic budgets you redeployed for relief funding. This SAA infusion of $1.3 billion is providing critical aid to the field—and the advocacy for additional relief is ongoing, so this story isn’t over.

Your work didn’t stop there. Here are some examples:

  • The Kentucky Arts Council and its partners produced Native Reflections, a traveling exhibit of artworks by Native American artists living in Kentucky. This exhibit importantly confronts the common misconception that Native American culture is reflective only of past history. It demonstrates the traditional roots and the diverse contemporary creative work of Indigenous artists in the state. This agency is promoting the multifaceted creative work of native artists, and it’s so important to demonstrate the truth about the breadth of its work.
  • Creativity also abounds when SAAs develop new ways to fund the arts, like Pennsylvania Council on the Arts‘s Creative Business Loan Fund. It’s a unique public-private partnership that makes funding available to support creative enterprises. It provides loans with competitive rates and flexible financing, and is an important new strategy for supporting creative ventures in the Keystone state.

At this time in our history, SAAs are also necessarily engaged in strengthening community resilience through the arts:

  • The Tennessee Arts Commission launched its COVID-19 Arts Resilience Grant to strengthen communities by sustaining resiliency, creating a sense of belonging and place, advancing public health efforts, and promoting community dialogue. This addresses critical needs of communities.

Members are preserving local communities:

SAAs are centering young voices in new ways:

  • The Arizona Commission on the Arts and Mass Cultural Council have established statewide youth arts councils. The councils provide space for young creatives to work with SAAs, build their skills and advocate for youth. Our member agencies benefit because these young councils meaningfully inform their policies and programs; this is a feedback loop that inspires today’s work and builds for tomorrow.

Agencies are advancing work on behalf of the country’s older populations through creative aging initiatives:

Advancing equitable funding is also front and center for our members:

Here’s an example of an SAA advancing advocacy in all of its communications strategies:

  • The Indiana Arts Commission has adopted NASAA’s new message framework, Arts and Creativity Strengthen Our Nation: A Narrative and Message Guide, designed to communicate persuasively across the political spectrum. Its team is incorporating the message framework across its communications with elected officials, appointed officials, the media and constituents, and the strategy is already garnering results. Engagement from elected officials is up, and the Indiana team is doing phenomenal work to continue leveraging the message frames to advance relationships and opportunities.

I mentioned earlier the toll these two years have taken on the people at state arts agencies; now more than ever, the well-being of our teams and our field are a part of the equation, and the Oklahoma Arts Council addresses this need:

I do realize the exhaustion felt across our field is as real as the tenacity you’re demonstrating to push impactful work forward. As the exhaustion is real, I encourage you to respond to it, get some rest, take the vacation or the staycation. I also encourage you to take a moment and look back at what you have accomplished and what we’ve accomplished together these last months. The work is making a critical difference for the arts community. Let those reflections fortify you and nourish your spirit for the work ahead.

Before I conclude, I want to send a little love to the incomparable Andi Mathis of the NEA. You may be well aware that Andi announced her retirement recently. Over the years Andi has been seminal to building the state, jurisdictional and regional arts agency field. Andi, you’re a builder of our field, and we couldn’t be more grateful to be working with you. Please note, I used the present tense because we’re not letting go just yet. There are 64 more days until the end of this year, and we will use every one of them to send light, love and gratitude your way. In fact, folks, please feel free to use the chat to get the Andi Mathis love train rolling. Get on board!

And finally, I’m pleased to pass the baton to our friends from Mid-America. I’m so excited that our first conference postpandemic will take us to beautiful Kansas City, Missouri, in September for NASAA Assembly 2022. The entire mid-America region is partnering to host us there.

In this Issue

From the President and CEO

State to State

Legislative Update

The Research Digest

Announcements and Resources

More Notes from NASAA




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