Kristen Coury is the Founder and Producing Artistic Director at Gulfshore Playhouse
Many of you may be aware that I serve on the Board of the Theatre Communications Group, an organization whose mission is to strengthen, nurture, and promote the professional not-for-profit American theatre. I had the opportunity to go to Washington, DC for Arts Advocacy Day last week.
Convened by an incredible organization called Americans for the Arts, this two day affair consisted of three very interesting modules.
Module 1: Training. During this full-day conference, attendees were educated in all of the aspects of legislation that directly impact the arts. I learned quite a few things that are worth mentioning here. Many people don’t realize that:
- Professional Theatres are part of the 501(c)3 charitable organization system and therefore, are able to accept charitable contributions.
- The arts are responsible for $730B in the United States each year, which is 4.3% of the GDP, more than transportation or agriculture, creating 4.1M jobs each year.
- Theatres are one of the few industries that create event-related spending in their region. Thus, when we invest in the arts, we are investing in an industry.
- The National Endowment for the Arts receives less federal funding now than it did in the early 90’s. This is important because it provides much needed support to arts organizations and artists across the nation. 40% of NEA funding each year actually goes directly to the State Arts Councils, which are also vital to the survival of the arts in our community.
In short, the arts energize our economy, increase educational achievement rates, make people more employable and unify our communities.
Module 2: The Nancy Hanks Lecture at the Kennedy Center with keynote speaker Rita Moreno.
This was an unforgettable evening with memories that will last in my heart for the rest of my life. This woman was blazing a trail when there wasn’t a breadcrumb to be found. Her journey from a child with simple beginnings in Puerto Rico to show business icon spans more than seven decades. At age 86, she remains one of the entertainment industry’s busiest stars. Her work includes 40 films; several highly-rated television shows; landmark public television programs; critically acclaimed Broadway shows; concert and lecture appearances; and a best-selling memoir.
The Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy is a leading national forum for arts policy intended to stimulate dialogue on policy and social issues affecting the arts. The annual lecture is named for Nancy Hanks, former president of Americans for the Arts and chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who devoted 15 years of her professional life to bringing the arts to prominent national consciousness. And even better, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tony Award-winner and board member of Americans for the Arts, started us off with a short concert of uplifting songs. An inspirational evening that made me remember why I got into theatre in the first place!
And finally, module 3: Meeting with our Senators! We were a group of six people from a variety of States, so we spent the second day going to Senator’s offices from each of our home states, advocating for the arts. What an incredible experience, observing people from different fields and different areas of the country doing the same thing we were doing, each advocating for their corner of the world. It must be extremely challenging to be a Senator!!
I leave you with this – support the arts! If you don’t think they leave a lasting impact, I ask you this: what was your favorite memory of engaging with the performing or visual arts when you were a child??