My Experience at the 2016 Political Conventions
This July, I was excited to help deliver the Arts Action Fund’s message to both Republican and Democratic audiences through ARTSSPEAK, the public policy forum series that is a core part of our ArtsVote2016 campaign. ARTSSPEAK is specifically a national nonpartisan policy forum held at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions to discuss the transformative power of the arts to impact 21st century learning, the economy, and healing, especially for wounded military service members and veterans and their families.
- For a wrap-up with photos and video of our events at the DNC, click here.
- For a wrap-up with photos and video of our events at the RNC, click here.
Speakers included elected officials, policymakers, private sector leaders, and Americans for the Arts Artists Committee members Ben Folds and Ben Vereen. The forums were presented in partnership with The United States Conference of Mayors, The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), Americans for the Arts, and our local partner the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. Our complex but singular message is that the arts are important to America in all those ways, and for themselves—for their beauty and for the ways they bring joy and other pathways of understanding and insight to the American life.
Designed to raise public dialogue about the arts throughout this campaign cycle, ARTSSPEAK discussions were centered around the transformative power of the arts on people’s lives, schools, and communities, with the ultimate goal of electing candidates that support doubling arts funding to $1 per capita for the arts. The Arts Action Fund distributed commemorative memorabilia that promoted new study findings, including that Americans are more than twice as likely to vote in favor of a candidate who increases arts spending from 45 cents to $1 per capita, than to vote against them (Americans Speak Out About The Arts, Americans for the Arts, 2016). It is also important that the U.S. join the majority of the rest of the developed world by creating a Cabinet-level Advisor position of Arts and Culture to the President.
We were able to secure exceptional arts venues to hold both our panels. ARTSSPEAK@DNC was held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the galleries nearing a century old were open to all of our guests. It was great to see the different art functions going on in our local host cities surrounding the Conventions. For instance, our event in Philadelphia coincided with the Truth to Power civil rights and social justice art show, featuring works by Americans for the Arts Artist Committee members Shepard Fairey and Hill Harper.
ARTSSPEAK@RNC was held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which doubled as the headquarters of the Republican National Committee. This was also featured in the official 2016 RNC logo by incorporating an image of a guitar. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one of Cleveland’s most important cultural attractions, opened its doors to the public for free during the RNC.
At our ARTSSPEAK@RNC event, it was inspiring to hear Governor Mike Huckabee call voters to action, stating, “Keep pushing politicians until the arts become on the front of their agenda.” This was especially powerful coming from a former Governor and presidential candidate, and a conservative one at that. Huckabee moderated our ArtsSpeak@RNC panel composed of Oklahoma City Mayor and U.S. Conference of Mayors President Mick Cornett, New Mexico Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez, the CEO and Executive Director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture Karen Gahl-Mills, artist Ben Folds, and arts advocates from the medical community Cleveland Clinic’s Arts & Medicine Institute Director Maria Jukic and Dr. Akram Boutros, the CEO of Cleveland MetroHealth.
At the Democratic National Convention, Jeffrey Rosen, the President and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, led a discussion about the role of arts in democracy and why this election is critical to the existence of the arts in our country. Speakers included Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado, U.S. Representative and Chair of the Congressional STEAM caucus, Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, MusiCorps Founder and Director Arthur Bloom, and artists Ben Folds and Ben Vereen.
In both cities, I had the opportunity to bring together not only key arts leaders as panelists, but also elected officials who were in town for the Conventions at a series of VIP Arts Dinners. At the RNC Dinner, we connected with several notable Republicans, including Congressman Ken Calvert, Chair of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee in charge of NEA and NEH funding. At the DNC Dinner, I was joined by New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus, and Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, to name a few. We were even able to celebrate the award winner of our County Arts Leadership Award, Dow Constantine, who happened to be at the Democratic Convention!
Against the backdrop of the Convention, an infusion of musical performances by artists Ben Vereen and Ben Folds, in combination with the Let Freedom Sing! National GirlChoir, were a powerful and lively way to draw delegates to our events and communicate our message to voters. Some political leaders even got in on the act. Right after Governor Hickenlooper stated that investing in and supporting the arts through his six-county sales tax (that funds only scientific and cultural institutions) helped Denver become the top destination for millennials in the country, Hickenlooper showed off his own musicals talents on the piano!
Full videos of the panels and clips of the performances are available on the Arts Action Fund’s YouTube site.
You can now listen to two episodes of the NAMM Foundation podcast “Talking Up Music Education” that we recorded at the conventions. In Episode 12, “Be Bold! Music & Arts Advocacy at the RNC,” recorded live from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during the RNC, host Mary Luehrsen talks Bold Advocacy with me, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and NAMM president and CEO Joe Lamond. In Episode 13, “Music Making is a Right: Music and Arts Advocacy at the DNC,” recorded live from the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the DNC, Lamond hosted a conversation with the truly engaging and entertaining artist advocates Ben Folds and Ben Vereen.
A version of this post first appeared on the Arts Action Fund website.