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Speaking with One Voice

Paul Miller

Per Helena Fruscio’s post from earlier this week (The Creative Economy: Not-Sole-For-Profits-Proprietors) in which she says, “Our power is in numbers and in speaking with one voice” – I wholeheartedly agree!

In 2008, I was in Washington, DC, on a team that consisted of a dancer, a lawyer, a museum executive director (and myself as clown/circus producer) representing the state of Illinois for Arts Advocacy Day. After a day of lobbyist training, I had the chance to sit with three Republican congressmen. Congressman (now Senator) Kirk started the conversation like this – “There are 300 million people in the United States and 110 million taxpayers but we have 8 million still unemployed (as of 3/2008).” 

“Well Congressman Kirk,” I said, “did you know we in the arts are in the business of creating tax-paying citizens? And artists pay their taxes. Did you know there are over 8,000 creative jobs/tax payers in your district? AND, these jobs cannot be exported. NAFTA has not affected artists’ jobs like it has other industries. AND we do not take five years to build a road or a bridge. For every $1 spent on the arts, $7 is generated in related spending. Think about when you go out for dinner and attend an event – you park your car or you tip the valet, you pay for your meal, go to the event where you most probably buy a drink, maybe a program and a souvenir, and go out afterward for coffee or dessert. Think of all the people you helped monetarily.”

The clock on the wall buzzed and our discussion was all but over. The aide came in just after the buzzing to announce ten minutes until the vote.

Congressman Kirk was really listening. I had a great time poking even further saying, “I work with young people who have siblings or parents in jail. Did you know it would be cheaper to pay for an all-inclusive vacation in the Dominican Republic or in Cancun than to lock these people behind bars? Why not export our criminals?”

With this point the Congressman scratched his head (Sidenote: I am thinking of pitching that idea to Senator Rand Paul since I live in KY.)

But that may not work with the recent privatization of the prison industry. I replied, “Congressman, I’m in the business of creating tax payers via CIRCUS performers. I have a former student earning $2,000/week performing professionally and I have countless former student with full college scholarships and staff members employed creating programs, events, etc.”

Then there was another buzz from the clock on the wall and a knock. “Vote in five minutes, sir.”

I asked permission to balance Congressman Kirk ‘s chair on my chin and proceeded to do so. Then he did a classic double take. The vote came and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) got the additional funding and our team had a great time performing/lobbying for our dollars.

I believe sticking together and proving that WE PRODUCE is and as Helena writes, “speaking with one voice” is key to progress.

I had never felt more patriotic! Have you made the argument to your politicians in support of creative jobs in the arts? Have you attended a local, state, or national Arts Advocacy Day?

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