Dear Governor Brownback,

By Abigail Omojola, 2011 Baton Rouge Fellow

Unlike Alexander Aldrich, the Executive Director of the Vermont Arts Council, I have not
been following the debate which resulted in Kansas becoming the first state to eliminate
state appropriations for arts programs. Nonetheless, I am angry.

I am angry that for some reason you truly believe that the arts will survive solely on private funding. I am angry that, in a manner
similar to your state’s artists now, Baton Rouge artists are consistently
struggling. I am angry that you are just one of many who consider arts a nicety
and not a necessity.

I am no expert on the state of the arts, and other than surprisingly excelling in random visual arts and music courses, performing in
the occasional theatrical piece, and writing in an effort to record personally
significant events, I do not often engage in artistic pursuits unless I am the
spectator. Yet, as a City Hall Fellow, I have unexpectedly become an arts
advocate. At the East Baton Rouge Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) I work
on implementing creative arts programming in our detention facility. As a
member of the Of Moving Colors
(OMC) Board of Directors—a membership offered to me because of my work with
DJS—I work to ensure that this non-profit modern dance company remains fiscally
strong and visible through the community by leading fundraising initiatives and
promoting events.

I have recently begun soliciting local dancers, painters, actors, musicians, etc to commit a meager 5 hours per year to arts instruction
for our incarcerated youth. Over a month ago, in addition to making multiple
phone calls to each artist, I sent out over 50 letters and follow-up emails in
order to schedule potential community partner meetings. To date, I have been
able to definitively schedule just two meetings. Of the artists with whom I had the privilege
to speak, I heard how amazing the opportunity to receive arts instruction would
be for our youth and in the same breath, “We don’t have the resources,” and/or
“We don’t have time.”

Recently elected as the Strategic Planning Chair for OMC, I meet similar disappointment as I continue to learn the complexities of
financial stability for artists and arts organizations. In addition to presenting groundbreaking
performances, part of OMC’s mission is to find its dancers paid work. But if a
company struggles to pay its dancers due to a lack of funding, its dancers
eventually find better opportunities in other cities. As a result, the talent
and artistic competitiveness of a company continues to be diminished. Donors
become more and more reluctant to give to a company that is not in demand, and
the vicious cycle of scrambling for money persists. If “actor” or “musician” were
inserted in the place of “dancer,” all previous statements would hold true.

In essence, most Baton Rouge artists are overworked and underpaid. They are
forced to question whether their passion for art will be enough to sustain
them. Artists in Baton Rouge struggle even with government funding, and the
State Legislature is debating whether to cut funding by 60%. Yet, according to
research I have done to justify DJS’ need for an arts program, the rest of us
should be questioning why we aren’t more supportive of the arts. Based on
statistics from the College Entrance Examination Board, students involved in
acting, play production, music performance and appreciation, drama appreciation
and art history scored much higher than low-arts students in math and verbal
sections—at least 31-50 points higher. According to The Economist the creativity used to develop a work of art
eradicated human beings from the feeling that they are “at the mercy of
mysterious and random forces.” In creating art human beings realize the power
to make decisions, solve problems, develop an informed perception and
articulate a vision. Because there are many collaborative arts, children are able
to develop the crucial ability to pool ideas for a common goal. The arts
introduce a more productive type of “peer pressure,” a pressure to succeed,
that underprivileged children may not experience in their schools,
neighborhoods, and homes. The arts instill basic skills, thinking skills and
personal qualities, characteristics the US Department of Labor determines are
necessary for workers in the 21st century. Suffice it to say we need
the arts in our detention facility, we need the arts in our schools, and we
need the arts in our communities. Period.

Governor Brownback, I ask you to reconsider your decision. Please do not make the work of those who enrich society any harder. To everyone
else who may read this letter, I implore you to give to your local arts
organizations and artists as often as possible. You are quickly becoming art’s
last hope.


Abigail Omojola

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