12 February 2013

Artistic Rebuttaling – Using Art to Advocate for the Arts

Guest Contributor: Amy Scheidegger (Director, Artistic Rebuttal Project)

One afternoon in late January 2011, I, an artist from the age of 2, was horribly disturbed by a conversation between a group of brand new college kids on a Philadelphia subway on the way to a theater in which I worked as a prop painter. This what I overheard:
“Art is like, the most worthless degree anyone can get. It’s like having a degree in making shit out of Popsicle sticks and string.”

I’m not naïve. I was raised in the south where the majority of my community (and family) did not embrace art as a career path, but people this young? I thought the youth of America were more appreciative of art has a valid profession, whether an arts degree was involved in that career choice or not. And I do admit that when I heard “art is the most worthless degree anyone can get” I took it to mean “art is worthless,” so maybe those kids on the subway weren’t as misinformed as I jumped to conclude. Artists become artists with a degree or not. But still, their sentiments really angered me, and as an arts advocate with two degrees in the field, (a BFA in Painting and a Masters in Arts Administration) I knew I had to do something rather than just wallow in my disappointment. It is widely acknowledged that artists do not get the respect they deserve, degree or not, but what artists and what their art accomplishes is too important to let conversations like this one be ignored.

I took to the internet where professionals of the visual, performing, musical and written word persuasion, arts administrators and appreciators were contacted and hundreds joined together to make their own visually rendered statements about the importance of the arts. Statements range from where art is hiding that the non-artist does not see, statistics about how much money arts and culture contribute to the economy and what art-making does for human development. The end product of collecting all these images were full color books showcasing everyone’s rebuttal to the “arts is worthless” debate as well as their personal love for the arts.

The Artistic Rebuttal Project is grassroots arts advocacy at its best: Artists and art lovers coming together to creatively fight for their livelihoods. Since creative people are trained, either professionally or have trained themselves, to see both the beauty and the faults (but mostly the beauty) in the things that they and others observe and create, I have found them to be among the most trusting, honest, brave, and compassionate people I have ever known. The city of Philadelphia felt the same way, as evidenced by Leadership Philadelphia’s Creative Connector initiative in 2011. I was honored to have been chosen by my peers as one of Philadelphia’s top 76 Creative Connectors, a group characterized as entrepreneurial professionals who serve as civic hubs of trust who use art, culture and design to build community and economic vitality all while purposely flying under the radar. In 2011, we published a Pennsylvania edition, to take down to Art Advocacy Day in DC, a national and a children’s edition.

After a very successful first year and 200+ rebuttals collected from ages 5 to 65, our second year imposed a theme: Art is an Instinct. Artists of all trades and levels of expertise often feel an inward impulse to create. I know I have, ever since I first picked up a crayon at the age of two – and promptly drew all over my parents’ walls and keepsakes. Creative people feel a sense of accomplishment, a very personal reward, from this impulse to do, make, and perform. When this creation is shared, others are often moved and rewarded in ways that are hard to articulate. Born from this internal drive, a work of art has the potential to affect a countless number of people in an immeasurable amount of ways. In 2012, we published another Pennsylvania edition for Arts Advocacy Day, with a forward from Julie Hawkins, a Philadelphia arts advocate and fellow Creative Connector; as well as a national edition, with a forward by Kymia Nawabi, winner of Bravo TV’s “The Next Great Artist, Season 2.”
We are now in our third year and a lot has changed. We learned (the hard way) from our second year that the time-suck involved with fundraising in order to publish a small run of books was shifting focus off our main mission: advocating for the arts and artists. We also learned that asking for rebuttals in the form of .jpegs and .pdfs, in order to be printed, was restrictive to those artists who can’t put what they love about their discipline into those formats, or even into words at all. So we’re now transitioning to advocating for arts and artists digitally, in whatever share-able format a person deems fitting to them, in order to better fulfill our mission, accommodate a wider range of artistic expression and grow our audiences.
We also determined that the reasons why the project started, to combat the negative perception of an art degree and artists in general, and the reasons why the project is still functioning today are quite different - based simply on what people involved with the project are actually doing on the project’s behalf.

Here is what the project does currently:

  1.  Promotes Visual Artists Rights (since visual is my area of expertise) and advocates for artists to be better educated about the history of artists (a.k.a. the historical perception of artists) in America
  2. Promotes the creative process as a career
  3. Creates an outlet for creative people to share their arts experiences
  4.  Advocates on behalf of artists and their skill sets, arts education and arts access
  5.  Stimulates people to make art

How Others Can Help:

In order to grow the scope of our project, we need new supporters, new rebuttals, new stories about how the arts have improved our lives; just fresh faces and voices to share.

Anyone interested in helping with the effort can come up with their rebuttal and email it to artisticrebuttal@gmail.com. Rebuttals can also be tweeted to @ArtistRebuttal or left on our Facebook Page: Artistic Rebuttal Book Project.

We also want to form meaningful partnerships with both arts-centric folks and organizations that aren’t art focused but promote the use of art in their own missions, so if there is anyone, any organization out there that wants to help us in advocating for the arts/artists, please contact us with ideas through our social media outlets or email.
Rebuttals can be viewed at www.artisticrebuttal.com/apps/blog

For more info about the project, to join our e-mailing list and to donate to the project, visit www.artisticrebuttal.com. Donations assist in informing artists of their rights and printing rebuttals that are mailed to our congressmen in Washington, NC and local/state representatives.

A very special thank you to Amy for telling us about the Artistic Rebuttal Project, and for sharing a preview of some new rebuttals...

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