Thursday, February 4, 2010
For a few years, I've been asked to participate in Arts Day at the WA State Capitol. On Feb. 2nd each year, arts advocates gather at the capitol to meet with legislators and make a case for including the arts in the State budget. In the past, I felt too shy and busy to join in, so I politely declined. This year, I recognized that I have been trying to get in on some of that funding, and that it is valuable for our community, and that the arts are seriously in jeopardy during these difficult financial times. So, I agreed to go.
Getting there was not easy. I had to get up extra early to be ready, take care of the homestead, and get Anouk to school, and I knew it wasn't possible to make it there for the 8:30am orientation. I made it to Olympia at about 8:40, but there was not a parking spot to be found. When I did find one, there was a meter that required change. I dropped in all of my change, and stole all of Anouk's change, and I was still a nickel short. While I desperately searched for one, the machine ate my money.
I had to pee so bad I was nearly in tears. But I continued to drive in search of a spot. I found one with a meter that accepted credit cards, only to realize that I had left my wallet on the counter at home! So, I would not be able to run errands or get food after the meeting, and I was already hungry. And my bladder was about to burst.
I kept driving around, until I found 2-hour parking quite a long walk from the Capitol. And I made it to the orientation before it was over, and there were donuts to appease my hunger.
There were 4 of us presenting to Kathy Haige,a legislator for my district. Stephanie Johnson, Arts organizer for the City of Olympia, introduced us, making the whole process feel easy and comfortable. She began by acknowledging how crappy a position the legislators are in right now, having to cut EVERYTHING, and that it is difficult to make a case for arts funding right now.
I spoke about how thriving arts contribute to a healthy local economy, using the example of cities like Port Townsend. People will drive there from far away because it is a fun, interesting place to visit. Those people stay in hotels, eat out, and buy stuff. If planning for Grays Harbor County incorporated more focus on the arts, I think we could harness the tourist factor to bring more money to the cities along the route to Ocean Shores, and a big part of that is art. I also talked about art in schools, using examples from Mike's glass arts program to make my point.
Sara Utter, a printmaker from Shelton, also talked about how artists are valid members of the work force, adding funds to the local economy through studio rental and sales of their work.
Luckily for us, Kathy Haige turns out to be a strong advocate for the arts, with ideas of her own for integrating art into school curriculum. So, we left with a spring in our step, stopping to admire a painting that Ms. Haige did in the stairwell of her building, turning a gash in the plaster into a mountain range.
I drove home regretting that I had not agreed to participate in this effort before, and feeling committed to being a more active citizen from now on. Getting there may have been hard, but sharing my experience with a legislator was easy. I thought about how much opportunity we all have to influence government by calling and writing to our officials, but most of us (me included) spend our energy complaining to our friends instead. I am grateful to the Arts Commission and to Stephanie for organizing this event and holding our hands through the process. I feel more proactive and more aware of how government works, on a practical level. And I encourage everyone to find ways to engage with government, rather than simply railing against it.