Celebrating National Arts and Humanities Month with an Eye to a New Cast of Characters
October means something very important to the arts world and to communities throughout the United States—National Arts and Humanities Month, a month to reflect on the many ways the arts and humanities contribute to our society. This year there is a sense of urgency. We are at the edge of a changing political tide, whereby elected leaders and administrations will change and support mechanisms for the arts will necessarily evolve. We have one last shot in 2016 to show our future elected leaders the importance of the arts in America.
The coast-to-coast celebration was born of a joint effort by Americans for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) thirty years ago, in honor of the NEA’s twentieth anniversary. President Reagan proclaimed National Arts Week and urged Americans to observe it with programs, ceremonies, and activities. Then, it focused public attention on arts in the community.
In 1993 the celebration expanded to a month-long celebration that included the humanities with the arts and has been so ever since, but President Reagan’s words at the inaugural celebration still echo today. We have come to expect a presidential proclamation every year with a show of support and encouragement to unleash creativity and reach for new heights, and this year is no different. We can only hope that our next president values the arts in the same way—and it’s up to us to remind elected officials, during this month dedicated to showcasing the value of the arts.
With 78 percent of Americans having a social media profile, showcasing the value of the arts is easier than ever. This year, our #ShowYourArt social media campaign is featuring a unique theme every day in October, and individuals and organizations are encouraged to share their images and personal stories on Instagram. You can get involved and share the art you love from the comfort of your own home or office.
Our National Creative Conversation—open to the public and held on Facebook on October 25—will bring together arts advocates and community leaders from across the country to discuss challenges and issues the arts face in their communities. Furthermore, our own Best Businesses Partnering with the Arts in America gala and our National Arts Awards happen annually during National Arts and Humanities Month.
We are working to do our part—and so are many others. Encompassing a broad spectrum of America are shining examples of organizations and artists which put their own creative twist on the occasion.
The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival showcases artistic achievements of Veterans from across the country in a grand finale stage and art show—the culmination of talent competitions in categories of art, music, dance, drama, and creative writing—for Veterans treated in the Department of Veterans Affairs national health care system.
Metro Nashville Arts Commission and NowPlayingNashville.com host Artober Nashville, one of the South’s single-largest cultural celebrations, which engages an estimated 400,000 Nashvillians with events in visual and performing arts, music, craft, film, and more. The event elevates the awareness of the city’s diverse cultural landscape and emphasizes how the entire community can enjoy the arts, from world-class galleries to street corners.
YMCA is getting involved too. In an effort to help more people realize the positive benefits that the arts have on youth and adults, more than 300 YMCAs nationwide annually hold Arts Week in conjunction with National Arts and Humanities Month. Budding artists have an opportunity to explore art expression and showcase their own creative works through a variety of programs and presentations by local artists.
These and myriad activities nationwide are helped tremendously by support from elected officials, and their support of local, state, and federal funders like the NEA is a critical piece, too. Over its 50 years of promoting cultural heritage and vitality throughout the United States, the NEA has helped to build a cultural infrastructure of arts agencies in every state, including more than 95,000 nonprofit arts organizations, and 4,500 local arts agencies in cities throughout the country. Thanks to the NEA, arts activity has grown in areas of the nation that were previously underserved or not served at all, especially in rural and inner-city communities.
The next president will be presenting a budget proposal to Congress in February, and it remains to be seen what level of support the NEA and all the other federal cultural agencies and programs will get. Future funding decisions will be greatly impacted by whom is elected to office—from president, to Congress, to governors and county boards.
The arts tell our collective story and connect us into one vibrant community. We want this month to celebrate the breadth and impact of the arts, and the more participation from all levels, the more attention and awareness the arts community will get. Between now and November 8, we need to make our voices heard. Let’s show our future elected officials the value of the arts, and collectively stand up for the arts in America!
This blog also appeared on The Huffington Post.