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Advocacy for what?
The New York Folklore Society plays a leading role in advocating for sympathetic and informed attention to issues and concerns related to folk arts, and the arts in general, on the part of the state legislature, the federal government, and other entities whose policies affect the welfare of the field.
“When Americans finally acknowledge the art that affects their own lives, the art in which they take an active partin fashion and foodways, in song and celebration and storiestheyll be better prepared to commit to a public culturethe art and artists and arts organizations that labor in the nonprofit sector....”
—From American Canvas: An Arts Legacy for Our Communities by Gary O. Larson, published by the National Endowment for the Arts
Folk and Traditional Arts and Culture
“Active support, as of a cause, idea, or policy” is one dictionary’s definition of advocacy. For people who care about folk arts and culture, advocacy may take many forms. It may mean organizing at the community level to ensure that a traditional festival is allowed to take place or that a building of cultural significance for the community is not torn down. It may mean pushing for the inclusion of folk and traditional arts in cultural or heritage tourism planning or in the funding profile and guidelines of a state arts agency or private foundation. Within a university setting, advocacy may entail working to establish or maintain a graduate or undergraduate program in folklore.
Folklore, folklifethis is the water we swim in. It permeates nearly every aspect of our lives that involves other people (see Whats Folklore?). Drawing attention to it, making its central importance known, ensuring that in the face of mass, commercial culture the traditional forms of cultural expression are maintained, shared, and adequately supported—these are formidable challenges.
The Arts and Humanities
Folk culture is also part of the larger world of the arts and humanities, a world that has been under systematic attack at the national level and whose importance to the well-being of our society is not yet well and widely understood. In New York State, government support for the arts, especially funding for the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, has been growing slowly but steadily since the massive cuts of the early 1990s, and the climate in both the legislature and the governors office is favorable. But the National Endowment for the Arts has been under constant threat of elimination and has seen its budget cut drastically in this decade. Without dedicated advocacy efforts by people who care about the arts, there would be no NEA, and in New York, we wouldn’t have seen the increases of recent years.
The Folk Arts programs at the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts are small compared with other programs, but they have had enormous influence on the development of strong folk arts activity and organizations around New York and the nation.
Advocacy is not only about money.
It’s also about promoting ideas and influencing policies that may have impact, positive or negative, on the lives and traditions of people and communities, on folk culture and the arts. Will a proposed road or development destroy an historic and vital ethnic neighborhood? Will a new parks regulation or zoning law or safety ordinance make it easier or more difficult for a community to gather for the traditional celebrations, religious ceremonies, or social activities that are central to its life as a community?
READ ADVOCACY AND COMMUNITY TIPS checklist for how to respond to action alerts.
READ YOU GOTTA HAVE ART to find out why the arts are a great economic investment.
|CHECK the ACTION ALERTS page regularly for calls to action and developments in advocacy for folk and traditional arts in New York State and at the national level.|
What You Can Do
If you want to see folk culture—and the arts in general—benefit from public funding and good public policy at the local, state, and national levels, you can help.
Visit, Write, Call!
Active contact with your legislators—local, state, and federal—in their home districts is the essential ingredient of success. All politicians care what their constituents think, and the more personal the contact with them, the better. Phone calls to a legislator’s office are good; a personal letter is better; a visit in person is best. Encourage your friends and colleagues to join you or organize their own visits. Follow up with a letter and calls.
Here are some talking points:
- Traditional arts and culture are found everywhereeverywhere they are supported.
- Federal and state folk arts programs can bring money and cultural vitality into nearly every legislative district.
- If you know of a folk arts program in your area that receivesor should receivefederal or state arts funding, make sure your legislators know that it exists and that its important to you.
- The arts are a vital industry in New York and elsewhere, a mainstay of tourism, and they attract new business. Public money invested in the arts leverages private dollars and stimulates economic activity far beyond the original investment. (For a compelling argument about the economic impact of the arts in New York State, see You Gotta Have Art!, put together for the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs by McKinsey & Company in 1997.)
- A vibrant cultural life is essential to the health and vitality of the state and its people; it is not a frill. It is through the arts and culture that we express, learn about, and understand ourselves, one another, and the world around us.