Austin Arts Advocacy Day

This week a bunch of Texas art people descended on Austin to exhort our Legislature to cough up some money for the arts in Texas. It was basically a 6th grade civics trip, only with a happy hour at the end.

The advocacy group Texans for the Arts had organized participants into teams and scheduled appointments with legislators (or their aides). Before unleashing us on the capitol building, they hunkered us down in a hotel ballroom and drilled us on the message for the day: the arts are not frills in our society, but are an industry employing upwards of 200,000 individuals — er, voters — statewide. $1 invested into the arts translates into over $9 for the local economy. We’re an industry. Take us seriously.

Texas has the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT tax), which gets doled out for local funding to cities and towns. But at the state level, the appropriation of $0.22 per capita ranks 48th or 49th in the country, depending on whom you ask (the average is $1.18 per capita). So we were asking legislators (or their aides) to raise that amount, on the argument that we’re Texas, damnit, and we shouldn’t be at the bottom of the barrel. At the end of the day, one exhausted aide who’d been lobbied all day for various causes commented, "we’re at the bottom of the barrel of everything."

Run-of-the-mill stuff for your average lobbyist, but it was thrilling for us arty hayseeds from the political backwoods (speaking for myself, anyway).

Here are some photos from the day:

 



On the bus — just like high school track meets, only without the pillows and the Run DMC.

 



Scores of eager arts lobbyists absorb their talking points

 

The keynote speaker at our training session was Bill Lively. This Dallas fundraising icon might be unfamiliar to non-Metroplexers, but he’s a fixture up there, in the performing arts anyway. He was awesome.


 



Houston’s Sara Kellner also fired up the troops

 



Texans for the Arts board members

 

There were some actual lobbyists there, employed by Texans for the Arts. Their names — and I’m not making this up, or lifting it from Animal House or Trading Places — were Brandon and Snapper:

I suppose it’s necessary to have lobbyists to get anything done in government these days. But did these guys from Hillco really believe they were going to help us get more funding for the arts? Their website doesn’t even list the arts as a "practice area." Looking out at all of us in the ballroom, they seemed like high school assistant coaches tasked with getting the theater alumni ready to play the varsity football team. I sensed a veiled resignation in Snapper and Brandon. Their pep talk ("OK guys, you’re heading out into a very competitive environment!") rang a bit hollow. I don’t know — maybe it’s just my own deep suspicion of lobbyists, but I didn’t believe that they believed. 

Anyhoo. To continue:

 



The Houston contingent

 



(l-r) Lawndale’s Dennis Nance, MFAH’s Claudia Solis and Eleanor Williams exercize their right to solicit money from the government.

 



An arts supporter from days of yore?

 

also by Rainey Knudson

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