Arizona ArtBeat: Arizona Arts Congress

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The Arizona Arts Congress will be held Wednesday, February 5. Hundreds of arts advocates from around the state will converge on the Arizona State Capitol to learn about legislative issues and meet with elected officials to let them know about the impact arts have on our state. Rusty Foley, executive director, Arizona Citizens for the Arts, and Steve Martin, managing director of Childsplay, will discuss the Arts Congress.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of the Arizona art beat looks at an effort by the arts community to educate lawmakers on the importance of the arts in public policy. The Arizona Arts Congress was held yesterday with hundreds of advocates from around the state converging on the capitol. Joining us now is rusty Foley executive director of Arizona Citizens for the Arts. And Steve Martin, managing director of Childsplay, a theater for kids and families in Phoenix. Good to have you both here.

Rusty Foley: Thank you.

Steve Martin: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Arts Congress, describe that for us.

Rusty Foley: Arts Congress one opportunity that art supporters have every year to come together at the state capitol to meet with their legislators from their home districts to talk about the impact and the importance of arts in their home local communities. We gather, we have some arts activities going on in the mall, but the most important part is the one on one meetings that our supporters have with their legislators.

Ted Simons: Were you able to meet with every, at least every district was represented --

Rusty Foley: Every district was represented. And we met with just about every legislator. And if we didn't, we at least dropped by the office and said hello.

Ted Simons: What kind of issues were discussed?

Rusty Foley: Really the issues that we're focusing on these days with respect to the arts is the remarkable impact that arts have on local economies, on local community life. Arts are in excess of a half billion dollar industry in Arizona. And that impact extends to every community in Arizona. The primary means of affecting arts in the local communities by the state is really through the Arizona Commission on the Arts. And one of our purposes at arts Congress is to speak for the Arizona Commission on the Arts and for financial support for the Arizona commission.

Ted Simons: When you speak to lawmakers, when you address these issues, what kind of response?

Steve Martin: Yesterday the response was terrific. At least with the legislators that I spoke to in my district. And in the Chandler, Tempe area. One of the things that they're interested in knowing was the impact of the funding dollars received by the organizations. That was extremely important to them. For my organization specifically, we got a fairly sizable increase in our grant support last year and we were able to parlay that into an extra staff person. So we actually added to the work force in our area. We were also able to increase our work in schools.

Ted Simons: The questions about the schools, I guess, were paramount as well. What did you hear from the lawmakers?

Steve Martin: They want to know -- they want to understand the value to speak to them in their terms of value. And so, when we do that, we talk about work force development. We talk about being able to attract businesses to the area that is going to increase employment numbers in the area. We also talk about making sure that we're educating our young people in a way that makes them want to stay here and work, innovative education reform projects as well in the school. The other thing that we like to talk about with legislators is how that money, like rusty said, goes back to the local economy. We are attracting 150,000 young people and families to the Tempe Center for the Arts in Tempe. And so those legislators really like to hear that, you know, those kinds of numbers are coming in. And then subsequently supporting other local businesses in the area, restaurants, etc.

Ted Simons: Is it a different approach when you are speaking with lawmakers than it might be if you were speaking with city leaders, with business leaders?

Rusty Foley: You know, I'm not so sure that it is. Really, I think what all of the groups share is an interest in growing the Arizona economy, helping our economy come out of this recession. Attracting new business. Creating attractive, livable communities and the arts play a role in all of that. And, as Steve said, contributing to the improvement in our schools and excellence in education. The arts have a critical role to play in all of that.

Ted Simons: Is that message getting across?

Rusty Foley: I think it is starting to get across. I think we have changed the way we talk about ourselves a little bit. We realized that we have a certain kind of contribution to make to communities that maybe we haven't been as clear as we should be about. And it is, indeed, that we -- there is a very tangible commitment to -- and impact on local business, tourism, schools.

Steve Martin: And everybody is measuring that impact. And it is important for the arts to continue to do that, to show what they do. We've gotten a couple of sizable national grants for our education programs. We go into the schools and work with them. We don't do it anymore unless we have an assessment metric set up and that we're working with qualified researchers that will track the progress of the programs on not only the teachers that we work with, but the students that we work with. Very fascinating one of our programs showed that student -- teachers who used our tools, our arts drama tools in their classrooms, their students showed a 20% increase in the writing test scores versus the students who were in the control group. We have actual numbers that actually show this, the improvement and use of the arts in the classroom and how important it can be.

Ted Simons: I want to see if the message is getting across. Do you think the message is getting across more now that the great recession is somewhat in the rearview mirror, although it is still showing up in certain spots.

Steve Martin: I don't know that the recession played a role in that. I think that there has been confusion in education for a long time. And what tools were necessary and what assessment tools were necessary. I think that all of that is finally starting to settle down and we're starting to see an integration of art into the education process. And it is an integration, as opposed to additional program, that this is really -- needs to go hand in hand with teaching math, science, reading, writing. It isn't oh, and then let's do flute class.

Ted Simons: Is that the best way to discuss the importance of the arts in general?

Rusty Foley: Well, I think that all of us are looking for solutions to the economy and the challenges in the economy in Arizona. So that's what we're talking about. We're talking about solutions. We know -- we have -- in recent years, we have developed more economic research around the impact of the arts and we know that for every dollar that is invested into the arts in Arizona, we return $1.50 back into the economy. That is a good return on investment. That is economic growth. That's job, as Steve says, it is support for other services. It's more tax revenue. And that's what people want to talk about today in Arizona. How do we continue to pull ourselves out of this recession? And the arts have an answer to that.

Ted Simons: How did the arts handle the recession? How did you handle the recession?

Steve Martin: It's been a very difficult challenge for us because for my organization, we work a lot with the schools. And so because school budgets were so up in the air every year, it was very difficult for us to count on the revenue that we were getting for school fees and attendance at our performances. And we saw dramatic drops particularly in corporate giving. The past 18 months, we've seen that maybe it has hit bottom. It has risen for us. Corporate giving will be up this year. Our foundation giving will be up this year and individual giving is going to be up. Ticket revenue is still kind of flat. I think that families are still unsure about what is going on in the economy these days. But we're feeling a much more optimistic about what is going on. I think that other arts organizations are feeling that way as well, but we think that that -- that getting out of that hole is going to be a long process.

Ted Simons: The idea of -- and not just the arts, but in other aspects of society, things were forged by the fire of the recession. You had to do what you did with and maybe you can get out of this thing maybe better than you came in with it. Any indication of that with the arts?

Rusty Foley: Absolutely. Absolutely. Organizations like Steve's and organizations, arts organizations all over Arizona in these last several years, they haven't simply been waiting around for the economy to turn. They have re-engineered themselves, adjusted their business models. They have worked very hard to demonstrate their relevance to the community. One of the reasons we felt it was so important this year to have conversations with the legislators about the Arizona Commission on the Arts is because the Commission on the Arts itself has been an instrument of change in this and they are granting guidelines. They are emphasizing fiduciary responsibility, emphasizing how arts organizations can demonstrate their connection to the community. They're emphasizing all of those things that really demonstrate the value of arts --

Steve Martin: Innovative delivery approach, where are we delivering our art and how are we? How do we increase access?

Ted Simons: That brings up a question. Maybe a little far afield but not too much, I hope. The impact of technology on the arts. I mean, you can walk -- it is like everyone has a TV now in their back pocket. I mean, how does that impact what you do as a live theater experience?

Steve Martin: Well, for theater, technology has always had an impact. When movies came out, they said that is the end of theater. Television came out, oops, that's the end of movies and theater. That hasn't been the case. People like the social atmosphere that exists when you attend a live performance. And you're all experiencing the same emotions and the same impact together in that -- in that one place. And it is that one moment in time. So, I think that -- and music is the same way, and dance. And I do think that it will -- it will transcend technology. The communication -- technology is becoming a new communication vehicle for us about how we talk to people and get them to our venues. You know, I love the Arizona Republic, but 35-year-old moms do not read the newspaper, unfortunately.

Ted Simons: Well, we certainly hope they're watching "Arizona Horizon" and we hope they enjoyed having both of you on. Good to have you both here. Thank you for joining us.

Steve Martin: Thank you.

Rusty Foley:Executive Director, Arizona Citizens for the Arts; Steve Martin:Managing Director:Childsplay;

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