An email from The League of American Orchestras about the unsettled future of the arts spurred the University of Toledo’s Debra Davis to pull together a one-day symposium on the topic.
“That [email] just sort of tipped me in a certain direction, and I thought we should create something for the Northwest Ohio community where we could come together and have a discussion,” said Davis, the director of the School of Visual and Performing Arts at UT. “This is a time that we need to be paying attention, and we don’t want to lose the value of the arts to humanity and our nation. So how do we make sure we are part of the conversation?”
What: University of Toledo School for Visual and Performing Arts Symposium: The Role of the Arts in Today’s America
When: 9 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Monday (check-in starts 8:30 a.m.)
Where: UT main campus, Student Union, Room 2592
Parking: Free in areas 10, 5, 1S and the East Parking Garage.
For more information: utoledo.edu/al/svpa
To RSVP: bit.ly/2lmFJYa
The result is SVPA Arts Symposium: The Role of the Arts in Today’s America, a day of panel discussions that will be held on Monday on the main campus of UT. It is a free event.
Jesse Rosen, the president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras released a statement on Nov. 28, shortly after the nation elected its next president, Donald Trump, who has announced his intentions to slash federal funding to the arts and humanities through the potential elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“The fates of our organizations, our people, and our art form are inextricably bound up in the broader currents of our nation and world, which we ignore at our peril,” Rosen said in his statement. “The erosion of a common belief in civil society and the mistrust of a 'public space' that requires government participation for sustenance cannot be good for the arts, to say nothing of the humanities, social services, education, or health care.”
Davis began molding the symposium in December, teaming up with agencies like the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, and the arts education community for inspiration and ideas.
The program has been broken into four hourlong discussions: Our Current Artistic Moment; Programming the Arts Across a Divide; Arts and Education, and Arts and Community.
During the lunch hour, guests will hear from keynote speaker Will Lucas, founder and CEO of A William Lucas Co., which includes several technology and media related brand marketing businesses, and curator of TEDxToledo.
Federal funding to the endowments of arts and humanities, both established by Congress in 1965, has fluctuated over the years. Each received about $148 million in federal support in 2016, according to their respective websites. That makes up less than 0.02 percent of the federal budget, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
A loss in federal funding trickles down to the state and local levels through the Ohio Arts Council and grants to communities. The National Endowment for the Arts reports it has handed down 145,000 grants since its inception — about 40 percent of those grants supported activities in high-poverty neighborhoods.
A changing of the guard in the White House isn’t the only reason to have a discussion about the arts. Davis and some of the symposium’s panelists say the importance of bridging cultural, ethnic, and economic divides, reaching out to those different groups of people, and the future of art education also need to be weighed.
“The arts have continually been utilized in a growing fashion to address or participate in broader issues ...,” said Marc Folk, executive director of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo and a panelist and moderator at the symposium. “We are looking for a dialogue around shared values and community. It’s an important time to talk.”
The Arts Commission has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts over the years, including for programs like the monthly art loops, Artomatic 419, and a recent $20,000 grant to assist with its creative place-making neighborhood program. In 2009, the endowment supported a joint partnership between the Arts Commission and the Toledo Community Foundation with a $250,000 grant that helped stabilize jobs in northwest Ohio.
Davis hopes to bring in not only artists and others already immersed in the local arts community, but those on all sides of the spectrum, to engage in civil discourse. She plans to expand upon the workshop in the future as an annual event.
Mari Davies, executive director of the Toledo Ballet, said she is looking forward to the sharing not only with the audience Monday, but her fellow panelists. She expects the political climate to play into the conversation.
“In the last couple of weeks we have seen the Tony Awards, the Grammy Awards, we have the Academy Awards coming up. It’s hard to imagine that we as a society would not have the opportunity to experience any one of those facets of the arts,” she said. “The arts is what we want to live for, it’s what we look forward to, it’s how we increase our compassion for one another.”
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