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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of power. As defined, power is the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.


In this regard, how does power show up in our world? We have seen the excessive use of power over the arts sector show up recently, and again, with the recent decision by the Florida governor to slash state funding for the arts. The $32 million cut to arts was enveloped within a broader set of funding vetoes equaling $1 billion.  While failing to explain the reason for arts cuts, according to the Tampa Bay Times, the governor (small ‘g’ intended) stated, he vetoed some items he didn’t think were “appropriate for state tax dollars.”


Unofficially defined, power is energy. The underlying intention of how power is used can cause a chain reaction of consequences. State funding cuts can lead to museum and art center closures, elimination of support to artists, and ultimately, an arts anemic community. Will visitors continue to flock to Florida to enjoy the current abundance of arts experiences, or will Disney become the one and only main Florida attraction???


Each time an arts funding decision becomes news, which is increasingly focused on cuts over support, I am led back to the words of my shero, Barbara Jordan’s 1993 lecture to the American Council for the Arts. I often quote this portion of her speech, “The arts are not a frill and should not be treated as such. They have the potential to become the driving force for healing division and divisiveness.” 


Barbara Jordan, credit Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine

But there is something more prescient in her 1993 talk that today, thirty-one years later, draws me to her guidance. Jordan said, “The arts deserve a higher place on America’s public policy agenda.” 


Just last night I attended a gathering of local arts leaders and patrons to hear from a panel, including the Kennedy Center Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact, Marc Bamuthi Joseph. It would not be the first time I’ve heard Joseph urge policymakers to consider embedding creativity in policy. Again he proposed the concept of thinking about policy as choreography: an interconnectedness of movements. Seattle’s Mayor was in the room this time, and I wondered what his takeaway for the evening was, and if he had ever read Barbara Jordan’s speech. (Jordan was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first Southern African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives, and one of the first of two African Americans elected to the US House from the former Confederacy since 1901.)


The power of the arts is a phrase that is overused, especially when one considers how power is used to render the arts an inappropriate use of tax dollars. In Collier County, Florida alone, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations generated $147 million in economic activity in 2022 and supported 1,948 jobs, according to the Naples Daily News. The math won’t math!


My point here is that unless and until the arts sector as a whole, asserts its power to defy elected officials the right to exert their power and deny the essential necessity of the arts, we will forever have these debates about cuts. Florida is not the only state in our country where major cuts are occurring. It’s happening in other states, small towns, big cities, and counties across the country.


Angela Davis once said, “If they come for me tonight, they will come for you in the morning.” We can’t wait til morning to exert our own power.

Vivian Phillips, Founder + Board President


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