Last week, I attended the candidates forum, held at the Ventura Museum of History and Art. It was the seventh annual such pre-election forum, which gives candidates the opportunity to answer directly to representatives of our local arts community. I volunteered to moderate at one of the 11 tables that the candidates circulated through for a seven-minute question-and-answer period from the eight to 10 folks sitting at the tables.
We never hear candidates claim that they are anti-arts programs, or that they and their families do not attend or engage with some sort of art experience. No one will pronounce the arts, as such, are not relevant in society, or should be cut from public education curriculum, or that artists should just get jobs and donate their art for free.
However, in the course of questioning at my table, which typically led off with inquiring how the candidate would argue for continuing municipal investment in the arts, we heard the litany of “economic reality,” i.e., no money left after public safety and infrastructure needs, attracting companies, vague talk about creating partnerships, working with nonprofits, and promoting tourism. With all due respect, these are valid points. However, not a single candidate could definitely declare that preserving an economy that allows artists to thrive is an investment in infrastructure, if Ventura’s economic future depends, in part, on promoting tourism. We did not hear the candidates refer to youth arts programs (putting our qualified artists to work in classrooms, studios and recreation centers), mentoring and training youth in creative activities, as a vital component of public safety. We artists who work with institutions and businesses, in design and public art know the value of partnership and collaboration in creating attractive and inviting business and work spaces. Though we are not expecting a government jobs program for artists, (such as the WPA, during the Depression, though that would be great), cannot our municipal government promote and implement the practice of local artist involvement with any company or business that seeks to locate in our county? Artists are, for the most part, small business owners, or people who work, or who have retired, and create art however and whenever they can. We are well aware of how budgets work. Most of us realize that funding is not going to come in one lump sum, as in the past. We don’t need this obvious information repeated to us as a justification for not looking for new ways to keep the arts and artists alive. Most of us simply cannot do our art and create public policy. We need advocates in government.
Similarly, many of us have gotten artwork made, displayed and integrated into the very fabric of people’s everyday lives through coordinating partnerships of private individuals, nonprofits, government cooperation and grants. It is a new time, calling for leaders who are looking for new solutions as far as keeping the arts alive and available for the community — arts organizations and the artists themselves.
The solutions are here; they are inherent in the solutions that will solve these other pressing concerns, creating community, public safety, attracting commerce, improving infrastructure, promoting urban attractiveness and protecting our beautiful natural environment. Studios, theaters and galleries are not grocery stores or police stations, but certainly they are no less important, less critical to development of human creativity, appreciation of life, expressing ideas, and expanding tolerance and understanding. Creative thinking is actually the antidote to the “challenge” of how we preserve the influences, people and institutions that embody and advocate Creativity.
Mb Hanrahan is a renowned artist living in Ventura.