Starting an Arts Caucus Doesn’t Happen Overnight…
South Carolina Arts Alliance’s Betty Plumb, always an inspiration to me, had spoken for years about the Arts Caucus in South Carolina’s legislature. It was large and seemed very responsive to Betty and her arts advocates. To be honest, I was slightly jealous. But after speaking for some length with Betty about the caucus, I was determined to start one in Pennsylvania. I mean, how hard could it be, with the largest full-time legislature in the nation?
I first knew we—the Pennsylvania Citizens for the Arts Board of Directors at and I—had to identify the initial contact in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Our likely candidate was Senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny). He had served on the Council of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) and was on the board of directors at several Pittsburgh area arts and culture organizations. My board chair, Mitch Swain, approached Sen. Costa about this idea to start a bi-cameral, bi-partisan Arts Caucus. We were positive the only way the caucus would work is for both Houses and political caucus to work together. To our delight, Sen. Costa thought the idea was great, agreed to act as a co-chair, and took on the task of identifying the other three Arts Caucus leaders.
He found leaders of similar collaborative spirit in Senator Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Representative Stan Saylor (R-York), and Representative Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery), pictured from left to right. These individuals were charged with the responsibility of recruiting members and Citizens for the Arts agreed to provide the Caucus with administrative support.
The Caucus Co-chairs circulated a recruiting memo that outlined the purpose of the Caucus:
Provide research, education, policy development, and other support to the Caucus Members;
Support Caucus Members in their efforts to draft and pass legislation that advances arts and culture in the Commonwealth;
Provide research and analysis on pending legislation;
Provide Caucus Members and their staffs with periodic briefings on pertinent issues confronting and relating to the Commonwealth’s arts and culture infrastructure;
Develop issue specific talking points and press materials for Caucus Members to use in public and with the media.
Before we knew it, the Caucus membership reached 43, then 60, then 78, then 91 (with the last legislative election, we lost some members to elections and retirements). What! We had 1/3 of the General Assembly as members of the Arts Caucus. Citizens for the Arts held a kick-off breakfast for the Arts Caucus and 63 Caucus members attended. Americans for the Arts President and CEO Bob Lynch addressed the group and shared information about the economic impact of the nonprofit arts industry in Pennsylvania--$2.5 billion impact, 81,000 full-time equivalent jobs, and contributes $360 million to state and local coffers. We made an initial positive impression.
Quarterly meetings were planned starting in February of the following year. Citizens for the Arts arranged to have guest speakers at each meeting. The first topic included the tax credit programs in Pennsylvania that impact out arts and culture organizations. Other meeting topics have included creative aging, economic impact of large arts productions, museum outreach, and a nationally recognized library program from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. Future meeting topics include a presentation about a new program from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, implementation of ESSA in Pennsylvania, Governor’s School for the Arts, the Arts & Veterans, to name a few.
We branded the Arts Caucus with a logo and then used the logo as the masthead for the Arts Caucus quarterly newsletter for which Citizens for the Arts acts as editor. We have encouraged Caucus members to contribute articles, and we regularly solicit articles from other arts and culture organizations from across the Commonwealth. Additionally, we were able to launch a website for the Caucus with Citizens for the Arts acting as its content manager.
I won’t lie to you. This has been hard work for Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania, especially since we only have a staff of one, but it has been well worth it. Line items in our state budget—including the one that was 10 months late to be fully approved—have included increases for our cultural agencies each year that the Arts & Culture Caucus has been in existence, and I don’t think that’s a fluke. The Pennsylvania Legislative Arts & Culture Caucus is a great thing to come out of the PA General Assembly.
If you are interested in starting an Arts Caucus in your legislature, I’d be more than happy to talk with you and help you through the process. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 717-234-0959.
Jenny is a member of Americans for the Arts. Learn more about membership.