Arizona ArtBeat: Arizona Town Hall: Capitalizing on Arts and Culture

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Participants in the 98th Arizona Town Hall, that took place in Tucson May 1-4, discuss Town Hall’s recommendations for capitalizing on Arizona’s arts and culture.

Ted Simons: ""Capitalizing on Arizona's arts and culture" was the title of the 98th Arizona town hall that took place earlier this month in Tucson. It was the first time in its 49-year existence that the town hall focused on the arts. Over 100 leaders from the public and private sectors discussed and debated how Arizona's arts and culture can invigorate the state's economy. After three days of deliberations, a consensus was reached on a series of recommendations. In tonight's edition of "Arizona art beat," we talk about those recommendations and the state-of-the-arts in Arizona. Joining us is Cathy Weiss, executive director of the del Webb center for the performing arts in Wickenburg and a town hall board member. Gail Bradley, vice president of the wealth strategies group for northern trust in Phoenix. And Robert Benson, director of arts education for the Peoria unified school district. Good to have you here.

Cathy Weiss: Thank you.

Robert Benson: Thanks.

Ted Simons: Cathy, we'll start with you we'll start with a town hall, what is a town hall?

Kathy Weiss: An Arizona town hall is a convening of leaders across the state focused on one topic. The topics are selected in advance and the convening takes place once in the spring usually in the Tucson area and once again in the fall, at the Grand Canyon of course. The topic is selected and the university is selected to write the backup report or the actual study to have the conversation over. This capitalizing on Arizona arts and culture was assigned to Arizona State University professor Betsy Fallman didn't just do the research herself, but found 28 authors and experts in arts and culture across the state and put this book together and then we come together -- about 150 people come together for three days and five different panels and all with the same questions and try to answer them.

Ted Simons: It sounds like a lot of those folks are involved in the arts in some way, shape or form, but a lot of business people were involved as well. Why was business involved?

Gail Bradley: Well, I was there to learn and I did -- excuse me -- I learned a lot about the subject matter I didn't know before. For one thing, I garnered a -- an understanding of the larger impact of the arts. I guess I was thinking of the traditional arts. The art galleries, the symphony halls but I came to understand the acts and culture community is much larger than that and has a very large impact on our -- really for everyone in the community, on our -- on our -- on the way we live and our quality of life.

Ted Simons: The idea of business people learning about this, business people being involved in something like this, has there been a lack of collaboration between education, business, arts and culture; has that been a problem?

Robert Benson: Well, I -- I think we're all kind of -- I think in any organization we believe arts and culture, when we look at all of those things, we start to silo ourselves. It's a protective mode I thank and that's common. However, I, too, learned from this -- from this process. That there could be more collaboration amongst, for instance, arts and culture organizations and education and certainly business. And I think just thinking of those three things right now, I just think of the synergy that could happen from my perspective in education. Of course, everything has a perspective, too.

Ted Simons: From what you know, Cathy, is Arizona different from other states in the way we look at the arts and the way we incorporate the arts into the social fabric, if you will?

Kathy Weiss: I think we lack in Arizona, in many large communities, a center of community. Place-making is important with the arts. It's a place to come together, a place to be a community. Places like Minneapolis, you know exactly where you'd go as a community member. Here, because of our sprawl and our gated communities, that might make us different. Of course, funding for the arts in Arizona is very different. Arizona commission on the arts, one of the findings from the report was restore the funding to the Arizona commission on the arts. Currently, it's ranked 50th in the nation on arts funding. Raw numbers, 87-cents per capita is the average. We're at 10-cents and dropping.

Ted Simons: When business people hear those numbers what can the business community do to not only incorporate itself into that social fabric, but help bump those funding numbers up?

Gail Bradley: Well, I think the business community does support the arts and culture in its community. It's in its best interest to do so. You know, if we want to bring new businesses here, we have to have a vibrant, interesting, stimulating community because high-knowledge workers, the people with higher educations and highly skilled workers, they don't want to live in a community that isn't an interesting stimulating place to be and they don't want to raise their children in a community that's not a vibrant place to live. So if business wants to grow, the best way to grow is to bring more people, other businesses, create a larger community, and -- and the bottom line, we have -- we have a lot at stake.

Kathy Weiss: And a lot -- many of the findings, a strong voice in the final report, was that the arts and culture community needs a place in economic development and at the table when we talk about it. One of the very strong findings in the report is we think there should be a seat for arts and culture leaders on the Arizona -- what is it called? The commerce authority.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Kathy Weiss: That's a bold move for a town hall to make but there are 50,000 people in the state that work in the arts. We have large budgets and we're an economic driver. Tourism is big here. Our arts and culture and heritage is crucial to tourism. We should have a seat at the table and the town hall report, the convening stood behind that 100%.

Ted Simons: I want to get back to market forces and private enterprise in the arts in a second. But as far as education is concerned, I know some of the recommendations were to get parents more involved and raise awareness with parents and educators. How do you do that?

Robert Benson: Well I think parental involvement in education it's a priority. We're striving for more parental involvement in our schools. The arts is a phenomenal way do that. It's a two-bird stone idea. How can you bring the parents to your schools and how do you engage them in learning what happens in schools. Arts is a great place to start with that. I think there are so many things the arts in education offer -- arts and education offer our parents to understand learning and how we learn in our schools and what they can do to help change it.

Ted Simons: What about the arts curriculum in schools now and what needs to change?

Robert Benson: I think arts curriculum, what we know from the -- our arts curriculum, we have just a very -- it's really diverse. We have arts education funded well and -- it's diverse, we have arts education funded well and supported at high levels places it's not consistent and we don't see the consistency that I believe is important for these conversations we're having to look at the economic development and how the arts - to look at how we start that in our schools and how does that spread out to the well-being of the community.

Ted Simons: Back to the idea of collaboration and working together. Are arts groups working closely enough with schools right now?

Kathy Weiss: Are they working closely enough with schools?

Ted Simons: With education groups.

Kathy Weiss: Again, it's the exact same thing. Some are doing brilliant work in their schools and others now are seeing the need. The town calls for us to get more -- more active in our schools and communities. Arts are a core curriculum. If parents knew that, they could go to their school board and administrators and say my child is entitled to an arts education and I'd like to see that happen in my school. And then the key word around core is we talk about NCLB. Art and music, art and music are part of that core, it's outlined with the no child left behind act. We do, I think the parents need to speak out and say this is a vital part of my child's education. It's not a thrill. Not an enhancement. It's a core piece of learning.

Ted Simons: Is that the kind of method business wants to hear. It's a great thing to raise awareness but how do you do it? Education campaigns, everyone wants to raise awareness for a variety of things, how do you get it done?

Gail Bradley: I do think it begins with arts and cultural organizations being willing to coordinate and collaborate themselves to substantiate the hard data that's available but find a way to put it together and convey it to the business community, to the parents of children and the general population so that they really understand the value of arts and culture in our everyday lives. This is not well understood.

Ted Simons: Is the research there? Is the data there? It's not been collated? What's going on here?

Gail Bradley: It's a diverse -- the arts and cultural community is so very diverse.

Kathy Weiss: But there is actually, even in the town hall document there's a chapter on arts and education and the Arizona commission on the arts finished a study on the arts education in Arizona and its great statistical facts. On what share and how many schools and what children do have access to an arts education.

Ted Simons: The idea of raising awareness and getting things done, Robert, a quality of life ballot initiative was among the recommendations? Talk to us about that.

Gail Bradley: What does that mean?

Ted Simons: Explain and discuss.

Robert Benson: I think that initiative as it came out was something that I think -- the impact was the organization that looked at that. But I think it did look at a wide variety of things. Specifically at the arts and cultural organizations as a nexus of that.

Kathy Weiss: And it was supported by the business community. There was almost $3 million raised by the business community to support this statewide initiative.

Ted Simons: There's the idea. A political action committee to find a dedicated funding source for an arts and culture -- it's what we're talking about here, aren't we?

Gail Bradley: Well, yes, in part. I don't think we can rely just on government, because these are difficult economic times. That's the hard reality and I think the business community can be supportive there. It's not that we have a lot of extra money but we can be strategic how we spend our money, our markets dollars, for example. Just being more aware of the impact of having a vibrant community on our own businesses. It's in our own self-interest.

Ted Simons: We talked about raising awareness of parents and different groups and such and raising awareness of businesses. Do they need a little bit of information here as well?

Gail Bradley: I think that's true. Although in my industry, which is the finance industry and some other larger industries, they're very good about supporting the arts and culture community. But they can support not only in large ways but even small ways and while I know we'd like to have a large impact, the smaller impact can be terrific. I can give you a example. Yesterday I happened to be at a luncheon for I think it was the association of CPAs and at the end of the annual meeting, the president commented to all the CPAs there to remind them that this is part of their professional commitment to support the community. And I think more businesses can keep that in mind. I know my business certainly does.

Kathy Weiss: One thing that came out of the town hall for the business community, there's so much retail space that's vacant in all cities. Urban, and rural communities. Artists -- make those empty spaces available to artists for them to work and perhaps display their art and get feet on the street. Maintain that building. Create some action. That's a wonderful use of retail space right now. And kick us out when it's rented.

Ted Simons: We actually did a story on pop-up galleries.

Kathy Weiss: Right.

Ted Simons: We have a minute left here. A unified voice for the arts. Is that a biggy out of this?

Robert Benson: I think it's big. I believe that education was a part of this and I was grateful that education was part of this town hall because I think that -- that's the nexus of -- children are the nexus of our arts and culture community and business community and I believe that getting together, getting out of the silos is certainly something we should all be doing. We should be looking at how we can better operate together.

Ted Simons: Kathy, quickly -- optimistic something will come of this? Or people will go, let's wait for the economy to recover.

Kathy Weiss: We're engaged. Another finding, we need to be better advocates for the arts with our leaders and business community. We're going to advocate for the arts now.

Ted Simons: Alright, stop it right there. Great discussion. Thank you for joining us.

Kathy Weiss: Thank you very much.

Ted Simons: Coming up on "Horizon" -- The governor goes directly to the Supreme Court to lift a stay on parts of S.B. 1070. And the Fiesta Bowl gets a reprieve of sorts from the BCS of those stories and more, Friday, on "Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening

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