ArtFul Living: St. Louis Area Fine Arts, Crafts & Performing Arts

Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky, Arts Editor

Art may not intend to be political, but somehow art does seem to get tied to politics.

Recently, I’ve been reading about the art of the Renaissance, and how deeply it became entwined with the politics of that era. The artists of the Renaissance, although wanting to just express their creativity, became involved with government and church leaders. Would their art have been different if they had not been dependent upon those who funded their art? Did they cater to their funders? These questions are subject to debate, but truly we’ll never know with certainty.

Throughout history, it’s the same story: it seems that art—and artists—always get caught up with those who fund the arts. Let’s face it, the arts NEED funding if they are to survive. Starving artists may be the norm, but it is nice to eat once in awhile, and meals require money. So artists depend upon their funders.

Support for the arts crosses party lines. It doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican or Green or whatever party you identify with. The support for arts is not only a private matter for art collectors or performance audiences. Public funding is necessary for the arts to thrive—for the arts to survive. That public support has been necessary throughout history, and remains just as critical today.

The amount of public funding appropriated to the arts varies every year, depending upon what Missouri state legislators set in the annual state budget. Once that amount is determined and agreed upon in the legislature, it must then be approved and signed by the governor. Too often, the arts become a hostage in the negotiation of state appropriations.

Missouri Art Council channels the funding it receives to the many and various nonprofit arts organizations that call Missouri home. If you’ve attended any exhibition or a performance, chances are quite good that Missouri Arts Council provided some of the funding that made that exhibition or performance possible. Missouri Arts Council, as part of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, derives its income from the annual state budget. Some years are good, and some years are…well…poor. As the funding trickles down, the arts organization may, or may not, get adequate funding (varying every year) depending upon what the state legislators and governor decide to appropriate to the arts.

Here’s where we, as citizens, come in:

It is a CONSTANT, CONTINUAL process to educate legislators on the value of the arts to our society so they understand why the arts should be funded — why the arts make life better, why the arts attract people to our state, why the arts are valuable to the rounded education of our students. Bluntly put, legislators have a lot to know and, the truth is, they often just don’t know. So, it’s up to US, as their constituents (you know, the people they’re supposed to represent!) to TELL them what is important to us (you know, their constituents!). Do the arts matter to you?? Then, please, tell your representative and senator to provide funding for the arts in the state budget. Yes, it’s that simple: TELL THEM! You’d be surprised how few people actually contact their representatives, so your letter/phone call/email can make a difference.

On February 7, Missouri Citizens for the Arts organizes Citizens’ for the Arts Day in the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. It’s a FREE event, open to all Missourians interested in the arts in our state. The day begins with a 1-hour update on the state of the arts in Missouri at 10:30 a.m. Attendees can then visit their legislators in their Capitol building offices, with a noontime piano performance in the Capitol Rotunda. Missouri Arts Council presents their annual Arts Awards in the Rotunda at 2:30 p.m. Make it a day! (Jeff City is less than a 2-hour drive from St. Louis). For more details, visit www.mo4arts.org.

If you cannot make it to Jefferson City on February 7, you can still help Missouri’s arts. Reach out to elected officials in your District. Talk with them. Tell them that the arts matter to you, to your community, to our state. Tell them that it’s vital to provide funding for the arts. If you don’t speak up for the arts, funds will go to whatever other budget-seekers speak up.