Advocate For The Real Artistic You

Many people I follow on Twitter made note of the flashmob activity that happened on Capitol Hill as part of Arts Advocacy Day. I clicked the link to see what interesting thing the arts people converging on the Capitol to talk to their representatives had done.

I have to say, I was pretty disappointed. I am generally not very critical here and rarely directly critical of a specific effort so I think this is saying something.

The whole idea, the thing that is exciting, about arts flash mobs is that they occur in places you don’t expect them providing an arts experience out of the context of the space. Singing a patriotic song like “America, The Beautiful” on Capitol Hill doesn’t really push that boundary and give the thrill of experience that makes you think about the value and place of the arts in your lives the way the Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture program does.

It might not be entirely appropriate, but the first song that entered my mind as an alternative was Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” The title has the sense of converging on Capitol Hill and the lyrics talk about a man and woman switching places to gain an empathy for the other. That sort of understanding being a desired outcome for the day’s efforts.

Yeah, it is easy for me to criticize sitting at my computer 5,000 miles away rather than participating in the advocacy efforts. I just think something so safe does a disservice to all those artists who are walking into the offices of representatives who are hostile or indifferent to their cause. A flash mob of arts people should make a statement about all those things we say the arts do–bring change, push boundaries, make people think, excite, etc. At the very least, it should be a statement that the arts people are in Washington and be a source of morale and courage for those who have the face the steely gazes, dismissive smiles and condescending tones of various politicians.

It should be be manifestation of Amy Scheidegger’s Artistic Rebuttal Book which made the trip to D.C. There are a lot of disruptive pokes and prods in that book. But an artist walking into a representative’s office is a more disruptive presence than this flash mob was.

Perhaps the decision to do a flash mob thing was an actual flash effort organized at the last minute and wasn’t really thought out or organized. And granted, you can’t make a lot of sudden unexpected moves in the Capitol without making security very nervous. In the future maybe something more engaging can be planned and executed in another forum. To me it just kinda came off as an attempt to assure legislators that arts people are good patriotic Americans rather than subversive socialists as is widely believed and that they won’t do anything upsetting during their visits.

Arts people shouldn’t have to make any statements about their loyalty. While a legislative office visit isn’t the time to exhibit your “Musings on an Abattoir,” there is nothing to be lost by making people nervous that the work might appear. That is just an illustration of the power of the artist in society.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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