I’m writing this post as President of Arts North Dakota and as Executive Director of The Arts Partnership, but mostly I’m writing this post as a citizen of the great state of North Dakota. We have the privilege and the duty of knowing our elected officials–they truly are our neighbors, our fellow church-goers, our children’s coaches, our relatives, our employers and employees and more–and when we reach out to them, they have the duty to listen because, at the end of the day, they represent us.
Arts North Dakota has created a fabulous program called Adopt a Legislator where you, as arts leaders, artists and arts enthusiasts, can adopt one of your elected leaders. We are asking you to invite this person for a cup of coffee so that you can get to know her or him and so that you can talk about why the arts matter to you, to your community and to the state as a whole.
Scared to be an advocate? Afraid this person will shut you up or ignore you? Don’t think you are “smart enough” to do this work?
Let me encourage you to be brave and overcome your doubts. This isn’t advocacy in the sense of lobbying; this is advocacy in the sense of having a conversation about why the arts matter. Do you make your living from the arts? Then they matter. Do you have a child who overcame shyness because of being in a choir, a play or other artistic outlet? Then the arts matter. Do you regularly take guests to the local museum, a concert, or an independent restaurant when they visit? Then the arts matter. See where I am going here?
AND has created a whole system to help you successfully have a cup of coffee and talk about why the arts matter to you, to your community and to the state. We’ll be there every step of the way so that you can successfully talk to your legislator about not just why the arts matter to you personally but how they are supporting and growing the economy and adding to the quality of life in your community.
The state’s goals include advancing education and work-force attraction and retention, improving mental and physical health care, preserving our cultural heritage and increasing economic systems. Guess what? The arts work in all these areas. Regardless of her or his personal investment in the arts, no elected official can ignore the fact that it’s often arts and culture that drive these kinds of issues. At the end of the day, money talks, and the arts are big money, but if legislators don’t know that you, one of their constituents, are directly benefitting from the arts, it can be easy to dismiss.
Here’s my promise to any Fargo and West Fargo resident who will adopt a legislator: I will go with you to have your first cup of coffee with your legislator. It can be scary to meet with an elected person, particularly if she or he has a history of not being supportive of the arts. I want this to be successful because how the legislature funds the North Dakota Council on the Arts directly affects the work I do on behalf of all the arts organizations and artists at The Arts Partnership and across the state. But I also want it to be successful because I love this state, and I want to see more art be funded, celebrated, attended and valued.
Please do you part–adopt one of your legislators today. This will be fun if we all do it together, and I know that it will make a difference. I know it will.