When Arts Advocates Yield Just 2,300 Emails, This Happens

"What do they think they're doing??"
"What do they think they're doing??"
“What on earth do they think they’re doing?”

Nothing. Or at least not much.

Ever since CFR columnist Jessica Wilt’s pointed critique of the lame way our major arts advocacy groups, including Performing Arts Alliance and Americans for the Arts, run their save-our-funding campaigns, we’ve been thinking more and more about her considered prescription for revamping the whole approach to the pro-arts movement, especially her powerful Step 2:

Story continues below.

I don’t believe slamming our government officials with endless cut-and-paste chain emails is the way to go. Other than making those officials experience overflowing email inboxes, is anyone actually tracking this data and the content? Is there any kind of measurable effectiveness at the end of a campaign other than to say, “Hooray, we did it thanks to your support! See you this time next year”?

Yesterday, Performing Arts Alliance sent out an email blast and finally we have what Wilt asked for: tangible data on how many emails were sent out after July 23, when PAA issued action alert asking the field to email members of Congress and push back against a proposed 49% cut to the National Endowment for the Arts. Drum roll, please:

You responded by sending 2,300 messages to more than 300 members of Congress expressing support for the arts in our nation.

Woo-hoo! 2,300 emails! Talk about overflow! Ain’t no stopping us now, as McFadden and Whitehead once said, right? Dance break!

Or how about…wait a minute. Like, that’s it? Respectfully, that’s pathetic. Other words also come to mind, such as insufficient and ick and unimpressive and oy and worrisome, dangerous and infuriating. What is that, an average of seven emails per Congress member? Is this the best that our vaulted, venerated arts community can do? We’re tens and tens of thousands strong — we are 4.13 million full-time equivalent jobs, Americans for the Arts tells us — and the best we can do when arts funding is under threat is an average of seven emails per member of Congress? Thank you, Jessica: email campaigns really are so 2004.

Now we’re remembering Step 1 of Wilt’s plan, called “Stop crying wolf and whining”:

….Collectively and individually, we’re great at talking and preaching to our choir. But outside cultural circles, our voices are being cancelled out, if they’re even heard at all, because no one wants to listen to a whiner. We’re a whiny bunch. So, no more crying wolf and no more whining, OK?

In reality, the 49% cut wasn’t ever going through. Maybe it’d make it through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives but it would never pass the Senate and, even if it did, the President wouldn’t sign such legislation, and, even if he did, so what? It would only prove yet again that the nonprofit arts ecology remains polluted by stasis, by the quicksand of its own entrenched ideas.

We still think a Million Artist March on Washington, D.C. is what we really need. But then again, if we can only muster 2,300 emails in reaction to an action alert, maybe we deserve our funding to be cut in the first place.