Part 1 of this series focused on the structural reorganization of the Wisconsin Arts Board and potential macro-level decreases in funding. Part 2 showed the dollars and cents impact the Wisconsin Arts Board has in central Wisconsin. This final installment will discuss our community’s options to insure the future of our local arts programs.
Your Personal Politics Don’t Matter
There certainly is a debate that could be had over the “appropriate” source of funding for the arts. “State funded artists are beholden to the government.” “Funding the arts isn’t an appropriate role for government.” “Patron funded artists are beholden to their patron.” “Self funded artists are beholden to commercial viability.” “Commercial art isn’t real art.” “The only artist truly free to express as they will is the starving artist.”
Blah, blah, blah.
How, or whether, to fund art is a debate that started forty-five minutes after the first time society had both art and money. While one would think we’d have it figured out by now, we don’t. The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that unrestricted donations, money that funds art with no strings attached, no expectation of a return, is currently the best funding source for the purest artistic endeavors.
The simple fact is that if you’re a fan of theater, and you’re not currently contributing time, money, or both to a theater organization, now is the time to start. While most organizations have no shortage of aspiring actors, you can nevertheless find opportunities to contribute time on stage on the Auditions page.
For most, however, behind the scenes volunteers are in much higher demand. Folks who can work at fund raising events, work on set construction, help distribute posters for shows or events. These are the volunteer hours that really help keep the lights on. Check the Off-Stage Volunteer Opportunities page for information on donating time off-stage.
Frankly, though, in the current climate, most theater organizations need your money more than they need your time. They won’t say it, because honestly it’s a little crass, but it’s never the less true. So please consider a donation, of any size at all, to the organization of your choice. Donations will need to be coordinated through each organization directly. You can find the necessary contact information using the Theater Group Links to the right of this article.
Fighting the Uphill Battle
Personal politics, on the other hand, may be a factor for you. There are certainly a number of people who would like for the Wisconsin Arts Board to retain it’s structural autonomy and/or it’s current budget levels. It is the view of TheTheaterCommunity.com that the current administration in Madison has not demonstrated any willingness to change course once their course has been decided upon. With that in mind, TheTheaterCommunity.com does not want to discourage anyone who wants to take action to try to change the outcome of the current budgeting process with respect to the Arts Board.
In response to Governor Walker’s proposals, the Wisconsin Arts Board issued a statement discussing both it’s opposition to the proposals and their reasons for opposing them. The WAB statement on the budget says, in short, that while the Board has always worked closely with the Department of Tourism, it has the entirely non-tourism related primary mission of encouraging the arts throughout the state and that this primary mission deserves to be housed in an autonomous state agency.
For the benefit of anyone interested in contacting legislators on behalf of the WAB, they also included a list of talking points regarding the Arts Board’s work that you can download.
In addition to the points put forward by the WAB, according to the National Endowment for the Arts 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, people with higher education levels and higher incomes attend live performances of every variety in higher percentages than those with less education or less income. If Wisconsin is trying to attract businesses, and, consequently, business leaders to our state, luring them with a vibrant arts community is one strategy that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Please don’t get lost in the politics of all of this, though. Whether you are a participant, a supporter, or an administrator of an arts group, it is a near certainty that new, more innovative sources of funding or cutting expenses will become necessary in the coming years. Don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in the short term state budget battle only to lose sight of your organization’s long term needs.