Arizona ArtBeat: Arizona Commission on the Arts

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The State Legislature has reauthorized the Arizona Commission on the Arts for another ten years. The commission’s executive director Robert Booker discusses the commission’s vital role in economic development and public education.

Ted Simons: The Arizona commission on the arts will be around for at least another ten years, this after state lawmakers authorized the agency's continuation. I spoke with the executive director, Bob Booker, about the agency's role in state government. Thank you for joining us on "Arizona Horizon."

Bob Booker: always great to be with you guys.

Ted Simons: The commission reauthorized for ten years. Your reaction.

Bob Booker: we're very excited about it. We started out in and out knowing if we would get a year or two or six. We ended up with ten. All three of our committees of reference, the large committee, Senate, house committee, all unanimous for ten years. We had a great vote in the house, a great vote in the Senate. We made a lot of friends this year at the legislature. Really talked about the public value, the public good that the arts industry brings to Arizona in a time of economic crisis. So our message about economics and about public good was received well.

Ted Simons: What was your message? I think it was like one negative vote in the house, maybe 10 in the Senate. That's a pretty overwhelming yes for a ten-year reauthorization for the arts in troubled economic times. That must have been quite a message.

Bob Booker: we talk about Arizona values. We talk about the values that Arizonans share with the arts. Hard work, Arizona's recognized that hard work, miners, ranchers, farmers are similar to the hard work that artists have. Arizona is like the handmade object. The great traditions of leather work, Silver and rug making. They relate to those issues and to those values. The valves independence, that independent nature, independent thinker truly represents the arts, creative economy, pulling yourself up. That's what our artists are doing daily. So we talked about these shared values and we were able to find friends on both sides of the aisle. The arts are not a bipartisan -- not a partisan issue. They are bipartisan. We have gained a lot of new friends this year, talking about how we can help Arizona face a new future with both our kids and our communities.

Ted Simons: the commissions we authorize now for ten years, what does reauthorization mean?

Bob Booker: That means that we are up and running legally for the next ten years. Every state agency goes through reauthorization, a sunset as they call it, so that means we have a future of ten years. Our board and commission, our staff members are ready to face that challenge and serve Arizona in the best ways that we can.

Ted Simons: What does the commission do? What kind of moneys are involved?

Bob Booker: Not as many monies as we thought we would like to have to be honest. The commission has taken some hits. One of our major funding streams has been the state of Arizona. Because of the economic crisis we have seen some drastic reductions to that. We also have seen modest reductions on the federal level, but we have cobbled together those two sources and some independent source through corporations and private fund-raising that allows to us really work in schools across Arizona. We provide arts education experiences for young people. We just finished poetry out loud, a statewide competition that sends a finalist to the finals in Washington D.C. 13,000 kids were involved in poetry out loud this year in Arizona. Our finalists, a young man from Tucson represent Arizona at the finals in D.C. this next month.

Ted Simons: You basically help schools with learning the arts experience.

Bob Booker: We are really committed to making sure that kids all across Arizona are getting arts activities in their classrooms. We have great partnerships in our nonprofit arts organizations that are providing great direct services to our schools. We also work with schools to place teaching artists in those classrooms to work with the kids, to learn about the visual arts, about music, dance, theater. We just did a survey and we found out that 150,000 Arizona kids don't have any arts programming in their classrooms whatsoever. That's a big number. That's 150 kids that are not learning the skills to be a 24th century work force. We are committed to working with the Department of Education, with parents, to let principals and school boards know that the arts are integral to a child's education.

Ted Simons: you mentioned skills for a 21st century work force and someone hears arts, going, really, skills, arts?

Bob Booker: Creativity, problem solving, teamwork, all the things any business leader is going to ask, what makes a perfect employer? Someone that is creative, someone that can look at something and turn it upside down and look at it again. Those are all skills that the arts teach our kids.

Ted Simons: interesting. I know you also try to promote public access to the arts what does that mean?

Bob Booker: That means, that really ties into why we support nonprofit arts organizations. These are organizations that make up half their budget through ticket sales or admission or program costs. The other half is contributed. These are organizations that we contribute to to serve the public good in Arizona. These are groups that open their doors for young people. These are groups that have special rates for people that can't afford the full ticket price. These are arts organizations that go into schools and teach our young people. So the public good of what the arts industry brings not only in regards to economic impact or arts in education but from a civic engagement point of view. These are Small businesses across Arizona making an impact whether large in a big community like Phoenix, or Small in a Small community like Yuma.

Ted Simons: You help individual artists as well?

Bob Booker: We work with individual artists. We really consider them Small business entrepreneurs. We have a very Small program that supports their work as they sort of take that leap from a mid level artist to a higher professional level. We support one of their major projects a year so that they can use that money for basically research and development. To sort of move a product further, move an investigation further. What we found is that little bit of support helps jump that into a national scene, jump them into an international scene. We have this year a group from Arizona going to the Sydney biennial, which is an amazing thing for Arizona artists to participate internationally on that scene. So we work to help these artists as Small business people craft their work and fine tune their art form.

Ted Simons: how do you avoid, though, controversy in that you're supporting X, and Y is going, what about me?

Bob Booker: Controversy is always going to be part of our lives and has been part of the the arts since the beginning of time. Surely we run a transparent program so that all of our panels are open. People can watch how we make our decisions. Our decisions go to our board for the final action for our grant making aspect. What we do is we try to also work with artists across the state, arts organizations in helping them build their own skills. Workshops on marketing, we do workshops on cultural tourism, on how to expand the resources that you have, especially in these challenging times to really serve your residents, to serve Arizona, to bring tourists to our state.

Ted Simons: last question. Where does the commission go from here? Talk to us about your new campaign.

Bob Booker: it's all about kids making choices which we know they do and we believe that kids that are involved in the arts make better choices. The campaign is aggressive, not smiling children, it has to do with you can make a good choice or a bad choice. We know that arts help those kids make the right choice. Kids stay in school when they are involved in the arts. Kids learn better in other classes, and kids make better citizens.

Ted Simons: All right.

Bob Booker: It's a great campaign.

Ted Simons: sounds good. it's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Bob Booker: Always happy to be with you. Thank you, sir.

Robert Booker:Executive Director, Arizona Commission on the Arts;

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