artsWork

Remarks to Chatham County Board of Commissioners

My name is Gina Harrison and I currently serve as President of the Board for the Chatham Arts Council. As you consider priorities for the upcoming budget year, I want to thank you for your efforts to fully restore County support for the arts, to share a bit about the work of the Chatham Arts Council specifically, and to provide some information about why I believe it is a worthwhile investment. According the US Conference of Mayors (2008), “Governments which support the arts on average see a return on investment of more than $7 in taxes for every $1 that the government appropriates.”1

The New Chatham Arts Council

CAC-logo-stackSM_GRNAfter celebrating our 30th Anniversary, we took a year to reflect and reassess our mission, goals, and future direction. We spoke to a broad spectrum of the community. With a talented, dedicated executive director, and board representation that now includes local government, the creative community, business leaders, higher education, and Chatham County Schools, we rolled out our new identify and work scope this past November.

We nurture creative thinkers
We invest in artists | We educate kids through the arts.2

We invest in artists:

  • Administering the NC Grassroots Arts Grants (as the designated county partner to the NC Arts Council) that support performing arts organizations and nonprofits that use the arts to achieve their goals. Annually the Grassroots program invests between $15,000 and $20,000 in Chatham county.
  • Sponsoring Emerging Artist Grants.
  • Promoting Chatham arts and artists through our redesigned website featuring an updated Artist Directory and Arts Calendar, Spotlight articles, social media, weekly newsletter, and press releases. (Weflytrap’re reaching more than 1700 people online every day and we have more than 1200 e-news subscribers. Our January featured artist received more than 1,000 visits to her Facebook page and hundreds of new hits on her website at Flytrap Clothing when her feature was published.)

We educate kids through the arts:

  • Producing ClydeFEST—our annual kids’ folk art festival.
  • Piloting a new Arts-in-Education Residency Program in 2015–2016.

FestMail Vidabeth

As noted in the council’s vision for long-term impacts of this work for the future of Chatham County:

  • Solvency for artists makes it likely that artists will continue to live here. Creative communities have a higher quality of life, and communities with a higher quality of life have stronger economies. Greater awareness of the arts can keep more residents in town on the weekends—and draw visitors here, too.
  • Educating kids through the arts grows creative thinkers, and creative thinkers make strong employees, employers, and entrepreneurs for
    Chatham County.

Highlighting and promoting the work of our creative community attracts tourists and encourages our citizens to spend leisure time and dollars here as well. A vibrant creative community is part of the package that makes Chatham attractive to prospective businesses.

We know that participation in strong arts education programs is associated with increased cognitive development, reduced school dropout rates, increased test scores, higher education attainment, and greater civic participation.3


Two More Points from Americans for the Arts 

  • When we reduce their support for the arts, we are not cutting frills. Rather, we’re undercutting an industry that is a cornerstone of tourism, economic development, and the revitalization of many downtowns. When we increase support for the arts, we are generating tax revenues, jobs, and a creativity-based economy.
  • The typical attendee to a nonprofit arts event spends $27.79 per person, per event (excluding admission) on transportation, lodging, and other event-related costs. Nonlocal attendees spend twice as much as their local counterparts ($40.19 vs. $19.53). Thirty-nine percent of attendees are nonlocal. Few industries can boast this kind of event-related spending.4

Chatham—The Creative Community in the Creative State

Our updated Artist Directory includes Chatham professionals working in more than 30 creative disciplines—Authors, Photographers, Actors, Jewelers, Painters, Musicians, Folk Artists, Directors, Designers, Choreographers, Teaching Artists, Woodworkers, Producers, Poets, Screenwriters, Voiceover Artists, Fabric Artists, Editors, Stained Glass Artisans, Printers, Illustrators, Potters, Glass Blowers, Storytellers, Graphic Designers, Book Designers, Sculptors, Songwriters, Choral Conductors, Paper Makers, Web Designers, and Composers!

They are self-employed small business owners. They work in all levels of education. They exhibit, perform, and teach across the country. Some are recipients of emerging artist grants. Others are master craftsmen and performers at the zenith of distinguished careers. Galleries, restaurants, clubs, bookshops, and schools/camps/studios directly benefit from their presence.

Many Chatham students—graduating from the oldest comprehensive arts education public school program in NC are also pursing arts careers—studying dance in Seattle,WA; theatre in MN, at East Carolina, and at UNCG; graphic design in New York; opera at Appalachian; instrumental music at the UNC School of the Arts; and pursuing doctoral studies in Jazz as a Mancini Scholar in Miami.

Some artists preserve our heritage—they are our lifeline to skills, processes, music and stories of a time long past. Newcomers add the flair, creativity, and traditions of different cultures to the mix. Others are incorporating technology and striking out in exciting new directions. They are all our most valuable natural resource.

Education. Promotion. Celebration. Commemoration. 

We look forward to opportuities to work with the Board on Commissioners on future initiatives to enhance and celebrate the place that we love. Your support to increase our capacity is vital to this important work and greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

Notes
1Retrieved February 27 from Americans for the Arts website: http://www.americansforthearts.org/by-program/reports-and-data/toolkits/local-arts-rapid-response-kit/local-arts-rapid-response-kit-key-industry-stakeholders

2 Chatham Arts Council http://www.ChathamArtsCouncil.org

3 The Arts Education Navigator: Facts and Figures. http://issuu.com/americans4arts/docs/afta_navigator_facts-and-figures/19?e=2915314/1587929

4Americans for the Arts: http://www.americansforthearts.org/by-program/reports-and-data/toolkits/local-arts-rapid-response-kit/local-arts-rapid-response-kit-talking-points

Chatham Conversations

Even before I heard Barbara Shepherd of the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education speak last March at North Carolina’s  NC: The State of the Arts Conference, I’ve been eager for our community to undertake their Community Audit for Arts Education. [I know, you’ve heard me saying this for two years!] It’s a great assessment tool to examine strengths and needs. Most importantly, it incorporates information not only from a school system, but from all those that have a stake in, or provide, arts education activities—arts organizations, community arts leaders, local artists, families, afterschool programs, summer camps, child care providers, recreation departments, civic and business community members, etc. One of the comments Ms. Shepherd made in Raleigh was that, even in bad economic climates, it can be possible for people to come together for discussions. Civic and business members may not have money to contribute, but they can contribute time.

NAHM_2007_logoEvery October Americans for the Arts celebrates National Arts and Humanities Month. One of the activities they promote is called Creative Conversations. Here’s how their website describes them:  “Creative Conversations are local gatherings of emerging leaders in communities across the country and are part of a grassroots movement to elevate the profile of arts in America during National Arts & Humanities Month every October. Started in 2004, some of these local convenings have grown into cohesive, organized emerging leader networks. This local tool empowers emerging leaders to take a leadership role in their own community by both designing programming and galvanizing their peers to connect professionally.”

Doesn’t that sound like the perfect opportunity for us in Chatham County?  Our school system covers such a large geographic area that many involved in arts education rarely see each other and may never have met. When resources are limited, collaboration can be a valuable strategy to make real progress, plan for the future, and provide the best arts education opportunities for our students.

Take a look at the Community Audit along with feedback from other communities that have used this tool.

What do you think?  Are you interested? Who would you invite?

Let’s have a conversation!

[To join another conversation of sorts, check out next week’s Americans for the  Arts ArtsBlog which will be devoted to Arts Education with two dozen national arts education experts contributing.]