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Emerson to Rally in Support of the Arts

With arts funding under attack in President Trump’s draft budget released last week, Emerson’s Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research and ArtsEmerson are teaming up with MASSCreative to rally support for the arts and make their case to local lawmakers.

The second Arts Matter Advocacy Day on Tuesday, March 28, will begin at 9:00 am with a gathering at Emerson’s Paramount Center.

The half-day event will feature speakers, performances, and “legislative prep sessions” to prepare participants for the 12:30 pm march to the State House, where they’ll meet with state representatives and senators. President Lee Pelton will give opening remarks. 

Five days before the rally, on Thursday, March 23, the Elma Lewis Center will organize postcard making stations across campus, where the Emerson community can write to their own local reps at the state and congressional level about why arts organizations are so important. Some of those postcards will be hand-delivered to lawmakers on March 28.

Those who can’t attend either the postcard making stations or the rally are encouraged to show their support on social media, with the hashtag #AMAD17.

“I feel that it’s important that the Center be involved, especially given this current political climate, and that we as American citizens take action and find ways to be involved in legislative processes,” said Elma Lewis Center Executive Director Judy Pryor-Ramirez.

Trump’s budget eliminates four agencies that play a crucial role in the health and vibrancy of arts organizations and arts education: the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

But it’s not like the arts were lavishly funded to begin with, Pryor-Ramirez said. Arts have historically been underfunded at all levels of government, and are often among the first to feel the blade when cuts have to be made.

Arts Matter Advocacy Day, now in its second year, supports MASSCreative’s efforts to increase the Massachusetts Cultural Council budget, establish a public art program, and increase student participation in arts education. This year, MASSCreative—a consortium of arts, culture, and civic organizations, of which the Elma Lewis Center and ArtsEmerson are members—is urging state lawmakers to support $16 million in arts funding, a $1.7 million increase over the allocation in Gov. Charlie Baker’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal released in January.

It’s not just traditional arts organizations that suffer from inadequate funding, Pryor-Ramirez said. A number of organizations that work with underserved youth have arts components to their programs.

“We already started from a position of being behind the starting line, so this is an added blow, in my mind, to the field, to the arts, and also young people and people who do the work on behalf of the community,” Pryor-Ramirez said. “That’s why I’m very passionate about this.”

Matt Wilson, executive director of MASSCreative, said in a statement that community-based arts organizations improve the quality of life in Massachusetts cities and towns by creating places and events for residents to connect.

“They are also driving local economies, and creating educational opportunities, particularly in under-resourced communities,” Wilson said. “Democracy starts at home, and it’s important that policymakers and legislators understand the value of investing in the arts and cultural sector, and our creative communities.”

If Elma Lewis ’43—an arts educator and an advocate and promoter of African American art—were alive today, Pryor-Ramirez thinks she would have “activated citizens” and reached out to elected officials, just as ArtsEmerson and the Center that bears her name is doing.

In The Arts in Boston (1970), author Bernard Taper recalls a quote by Lewis that Pryor-Ramirez thinks explains the alumna’s motivation and vision.

“The arts to me are education, the arts are our cultural heritage, the arts are the dignity and soul of man,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”