Arts Ed Now: I Support the Arts and I Vote!

September 12, 2016

Hannah, Alex and Ben Carr, whose mom is Stephanie Carr, ArtPride Program Manager, help register voters at Camden Jam on Saturday, Sept. 10.
Hannah, Alex and Ben Carr, whose mom is Stephanie Carr, ArtPride Program Manager, help register voters at Camden Jam on Saturday, Sept. 10.

What’s your issue in the upcoming election? From gun control to immigration, there are a host of public policy issues that provoke emotional and sometimes heated debate.

Government support for the arts has taken a back seat since the culture wars of the 1990’s, but you’ll often hear the “should government support the arts?” question raised any time budget cuts are front and center from the big federal stage  to Trenton to local town halls across the nation. And proof of that is the slow incremental progress of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts as it annually crawls back to 2010 levels of support (from $146 million currently to $178 million in 2010).

ArtPride encourages participation in arts activities throughout New Jersey and its mission also revolves around civic engagement — that includes assuring voters who support the arts are both informed and encouraged to participate in our democracy. Most recently ArtPride staff hosted voter registration (find ArtPride staff at Trenton’s Windows of Soul next Saturday) and encourages nonprofit organizations to follow that example, an activity that is well within the regulations protecting their nonprofit status as long as the information provided is not partisan.

Voter registration for the upcoming election closes on October 18 in New Jersey, so there’s still time to be part of the process. If you or your organization is interested, please contact the ArtPride NJ office for how-to advice. After speaking with clerks at several county boards of election, ArtPride also plans to test a pilot program with arts organizations serving as election polling places in 2017 (imagine voting somewhere where you might actually linger post vote).

Here is some recently released polling data that reveals how Americans perceive public funding for the arts, and something for you to consider when you vote on November 8.

According to Americans for the Arts national public opinion survey (conducted in December 2015 by Ipsos Public Affairs online of over 3,000 people), Americans approve of both their local and state governments funding grants to artists and arts organizations (58 percent and 57 percent, respectively). In fact, 43 percent believe that current government funding of the arts is not enough, while 26 percent believe it is just right. Respondents who approve federal government increasing spending from 45 cents to $1 per person on grants to arts organizations greatly outweighs those who disagree (55 percent vs. 19 percent).

All else being equal, the public opinion poll also found that Americans who are likely to vote in the 2016 presidential election are twice as likely to vote in favor (40 percent) than to vote against (18 percent) a candidate who wanted to increase federal spending on the arts to $1 per capital.  Millennials are especially likely to vote in favor of this increase—48 percent vs. 13 percent who oppose it.

All of this means we, as arts supporters, have our work cut out for us. If polling like this is a political reality, it’s important to make sure that our citizen/patrons vote (did you know that according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that only 47.3 percent of women in New Jersey voted in 2015, ranking 40th in the nation?). On top of that it’s equally important for voters to be aware of how candidates feel about public support for the arts. Sources for this information include ArtsVote2016 that contains statements about federal arts funding by the presidential candidates, the Congressional Arts Report Card that holds voting information on arts related federal spending by congressional incumbents up for re-election, and ArtPride’s Congressional Arts Survey that contains responses from incumbents and challengers regarding public arts support.

Finally, with this week designated as National Arts Education Week and the launch of the ArtsEdNow campaign, keep an eye open in early October for the NJ Arts Education Partnership’s survey of school board candidates up for election, because you may be faced with that decision as well in the voting booth this November.

It’s important to know how school board candidates feel about the value of arts education and adequate funding for arts ed in local school districts throughout New Jersey. After all, students are our future voters and we’ll need them to rock the vote for the arts in years to come. There is no better way to build future arts supporters than to assure that students have the ability to be inspired by and participate in the arts at school.

Ann Marie Miller
Ann Marie Miller

Ann Marie Miller is the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at ArtPride New Jersey and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. Email her at Click here to visit ArtPride’s website.