Throughout your college experience here in Charleston, you have heard a lot about the growing impact social networking has had on our society. In a not too recent, but still applicable TED Talk titled, “The Hidden Influence of Social Networks,” Nicholas Christakis talked about how deep social networking really goes. Christakis talked about how much the emergence of social media has impacted our lives. While lecturing, he showed a map of the projected number of people affected by social networks and their inter-connectedness. Applied to real life, this complex web could prove extremely useful for the arts community; whether it be free advertising for a non-profit organization, or a way to reach new clients in an effort to keep a certain art form alive. Although Christakis talked about obesity and happiness throughout most of the talk, the important message was still there: social networking is growing and it will continue to grow. Our experience as individuals of the world now depends greatly on what happens in our network. In short, these social networks have value for those who know how to capitalize on their potential.
Last Tuesday, on February 8, 2011, I attended the South Carolina Arts Advocacy Day at the state capital in Columbia, SC, an event organized by the South Carolina Arts Alliance, a non-profit arts advocacy group based in Rock Hill, SC. I initially learned about the event last semester when Betty Plumb, Executive Director of the South Carolina Arts Alliance, was a guest speaker in my Contemporary Perspectives on Arts Management course. As a result of her motivating class lecture, when an email was sent to the College of Charleston’s arts community notifying us that the college was able to cover costs for a certain amount of both undergraduate and graduate students to attend the event, I immediately signed up. The SC Arts Advocacy Day helped to raise awareness for the arts across the state, support that is desperately needed due to Governor Nikki Haley’s recent proposed cutting of the SC Arts Commission’s budget, and was also an influential learning experience as it demonstrated just how necessary legislators’ support for programs is in order to ensure their survival.
Jennifer and Margaret at SC Arts Advocacy Day
The event began with a rally in the lobby of the State House at 11:30 a.m., where advocates wore white hard hats and “Art Works” pins, as well as carried posters and signs to demonstrate their support for the arts. The rally began downstairs, and the cloud clapped and cheered as legislators and lobbyists entered the room; afterwards, some of the group moved upstairs to continue showing their support as additional legislators left the chambers for their lunch breaks. There were several news crews present from the major channels in Columbia, such as WLTX and WIS, and the overall energy was one of excitement and optimism. However, a bit of criticism that I have for this aspect of the day is that it could have been organized better. The lobby seemed chaotic, and unless you attended the event with a large group, you were left wandering about the room. On the other hand, it was a rally of sorts, and having never attended a rally prior to this, maybe it is the norm for them to be slightly hectic. Additionally, it seemed as if the date chosen to advocate for the arts could have been selected more wisely, as there was also a demonstration to show support for Women’s Heart Disease going on in the lobby simultaneously. If SC Arts Advocacy Day had been the sole event occurring in the State House that morning, I believe the effectiveness and cohesion of the attendants would have been significantly more impactful.
Crowd of Advocates in the State House Lobby
Afterwards, the group transitioned across the street to the Capital City Club for a luncheon also organized by the SC Arts Alliance, which was structured extremely well. The luncheon was planned so that SC Arts Advocacy Day attendants sat at tables according to which area of the state they were from: the Lowcountry, the Midlands, or the Upstate. The Charleston Student Advocates for the Arts (CSAA) President, Lily Hunt, urged the College of Charleston students to spread out, and, in order to maximize the college’s presence at the event, encouraged us to sit at another area’s table if you were from another part of South Carolina. Since I grew up in Columbia, SC, I sat at one of the Midlands tables with my fellow neighbors. Each table had a spot for two legislators to sit and mingle with their constituents, and many came in and out during the course of the luncheon. Unfortunately, no legislators sat at our table except for about ten minutes during a speech, and therefore, we did not have the opportunity to participate in a conversation. This was somewhat disappointing, as I was hoping to be able to engage in a solid conversation with a legislator about the arts in South Carolina, not only for the obvious reason of advocating for the arts, but also because I was exceedingly curious to see whether he or she would actually know anything about the arts, or if they were attending merely to please some constituents from their districts.
However, I did sit next to a native South Carolinian, artist, and prominent figure in the arts community throughout the state, Dr. Leo Twiggs, who was very interesting to talk with. He shared a little about his himself, and I discovered that he used to be a professor at the University of South Carolina, and is also a well-known artist who actually has some works on display at the College of Charleston. He inquired about several faculty members at the College of Charleston, including Mark Sloan, Director of the Halsey Gallery, and Scott Shanklin-Peterson, Director of the Arts Management Program. As he is currently working on a book that profiles his artwork, Dr. Twiggs expressed an interest to get back in touch with Sloan to discuss the pieces of his artwork that the college owns. Dr. Twiggs even had a mock book cover with him that he shared with our table. Sitting next to Dr. Twiggs and having the opportunity to talk with such a respected figure in our state’s arts community, although it was brief due to the constant presentations that occurred during the luncheon, was certainly one of the highlights of my experience at the SC Arts Advocacy Day.
The agenda during the luncheon consisted of introductions of the legislators, each of whom said a brief comment about their support for the arts, performances by the SC School for the Deaf & Blind, and speeches by several figures in the South Carolina arts community, including Ken May, Executive Director for the South Carolina Arts Commission, and Gretchen Keefner, Principal of Hilton Head Island Elementary School for the Creative Arts. An interesting aspect of many of the legislators’ remarks was their addressing of the state budget; some seemed to be true supporters of the arts (obviously, since they would not have attended the event otherwise), but also expressed a genuine concern with funding for them due to the state’s current fiscal situation. However, many touched upon the fact that although South Carolina has a deficit of over $800 million, they do not think that cutting the Arts Commission’s budget, less than $3 million, will make a significant impact on minimizing that deficit. Overall, I would say that the legislators’ notes had a mixed message, which was that they believe the arts are a vital part of the community, but did not want to make overzealous comments about their survival in the state’s budget in the upcoming fiscal year.
Another high spot of the day was having the opportunity to listen to Ken May’s speech. May’s carefully planned speech addressed the legislators and urged their support for the SC Arts Commission’s budget. He spoke to the fact that in order to ensure survival for the arts in South Carolina, the legislators are going to have to truly take a stance on the issue and fight for their continued existence in the state budget. May touched on how much the arts benefit the community and their influential role in attracting both tourists and new businesses to the state. He also discussed the necessity of the Arts Commission’s existence in order to secure the presence of the arts in the more rural communities of South Carolina, since the majority of support for the arts is funded by local businesses and industries, and the Commission’s grants to rural areas are among the only things that guarantee all the state’s citizens have access to the arts. Listening to May appeal to the legislators for their support really demonstrated just how imperative it is for advocates to actively engage their representatives in conversations regarding funding for programs they believe are an instrumental aspect of the community, for without the support of these individuals, certain public programs would cease to exist.
Overall, my experience at the SC Arts Advocacy Day was an incredibly beneficial one. For one of the first times in my life, I felt like a responsible citizen advocating for a cause that I believe in. Also, considering that the Governor wants to entirely cut funding the SC Arts Commission, I think the College of Charleston’s presence at the event was essential, particularly because there were not as many young people at the luncheon as I would have expected. Additionally, listening to the speakers helped to demonstrate just how necessary it is to raise awareness for certain programs, especially cultural programs such as the arts, since these are the areas that get slashed first when the money is tight. Furthermore, my attendance at both the rally and the luncheon allowed me to tie together many of the issues that have been addressed in my classes, both my public administration courses and my arts management courses, throughout this year. Having left the event feeling that I gained something valuable, as well as contributed to an important cause, I absolutely plan to attend again in the future, and hopefully encourage additional advocates to come with me!
College of Charleston students at SC Arts Advocacy Day
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