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Arts Entrepreneurs Become Advocates for the C.R.E.A.T.E. Act

It is rare that a bill makes its way through Congress that can provide direct benefits to young professional artists. Yet, right now, there is legislation being worked on that does just that. 

Most of us in the arts can be considered small businesses. The government creates opportunities and programs to help small businesses grow – such as micro-loans, assistance with getting back in business after a natural disaster and business incubators. Why? It’s good for the economy. It supports jobs, generates commerce, improves our global competitiveness and provides revenue to the government. 

So what’s the problem? Artists and creative workers are often considered ineligible for these programs. Millions of dollars are geared to the size and scale of arts businesses, but those in the arts don’t get the access. Arts advocates have been hammering Congress for years to help them better understand the value that musicians and artists bring to the economy. 

There has finally been some significant movement. For this to take hold, however, we in the arts need to step up and make our voices heard. And, we need to leverage the voices of others in our industry and community to do the same. This is no less than a matter of legitimizing the role of the artist as part of the workforce and the economy.

The new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate is called the “C.R.E.A.T.E. Act.” That catchy handle is, of course, an acronym for the more descriptive title, the “Comprehensive Resources for Entrepreneurs in the Arts to Transform the Economy” Act. It was introduced this past spring by New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall for the purpose of strengthening the creative economy. 

What’s in it for you as an artist? Plenty! Some of the key provisions include the following:

  • A direction that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) should work with micro-lenders, traditional lenders and regulators to ensure that artists and entrepreneurs have access to micro-loans and that loan program criteria are not discriminatory toward arts-related businesses.
  • A requirement that the Economic Development Administration and Rural Development Administration ensure that traditional economic development tools, such as incubators and grant programs, support the arts industry.
  • Assistance to artists trying to get back on their feet after a disaster.
  • It allows artists to claim tax deductions for charitable contributions based on the sale value of a piece of artwork, rather than the value of the materials used to create the artwork.
  • It decreases visa processing times for foreign artists visiting the U.S.

The Audience Participation Part

Yes, we have to do something to make these benefits happen.

To help get this legislation moving, our U.S. senators need to hear from us – especially the artists – about how important this is to our work. Why? Because it’s a bill that is aimed at strengthening business and the economy, and we need to hitch our work as artists to a stronger economy. That may be a different way of “making the case” for the arts than you’re used to.

As a young artist, I could always be counted on to step up and make a passionate plea when government arts funding was on the line. I knew that the arts were fundamental to our humanity, that they ennoble and inspire us, fostering creativity, goodness and beauty. When times are tough, art is salve for the ache! 

While I have never abandoned this message, I have learned that it is rarely a stand-alone winner. It must be augmented by connecting the arts to the pressing community issues that keep our government leaders and decision-makers awake at night: jobs, tourism, the economy and community development. 

Fortunately, there is already research that bridges this gap for us. Data demonstrates that the arts are on the right side of what needs to be done in this country, and we’ve got the facts to back that up. 

  • Arts strengthen the economy. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the arts and culture sector is a $704 billion industry, which represents 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP – a larger share of the economy than transportation and agriculture. The nonprofit arts industry alone generates $135 billion in economic activity annually (the spending is by both organizations and their audiences) that supports 4.1 million jobs and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue. 
  • Arts are good for local merchants. Attendees at nonprofit arts events spend $24.60 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking and babysitters. Attendees who live outside the county in which the arts event takes place spend twice as much as their local counterparts ($39.96 versus $17.42). That’s valuable revenue for local businesses and the community. 
  • Arts drive tourism. Arts travelers are ideal tourists, staying longer and spending more to seek out authentic cultural experiences. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the percentage of international travelers who include museum visits on their trips has grown steadily since 2002 (18 to 28 percent). The share of those attending concerts and theater performances has grown from 13 to 17 percent since 2002. 
  • Arts spark creativity and innovation. The Conference Board reports that creativity is among the top five applied skills sought by business leaders – with 72 percent saying creativity is of high importance when hiring. The biggest creativity indicator? A college arts degree. Their Ready to Innovate report concludes, “The arts – music, creative writing, drawing, dance – provide skills sought by employers of the 3rd millennium.” 
  • Arts mean business. The creative industries are arts businesses that range from nonprofit museums, symphonies and theaters to for-profit film, architecture and design companies. A 2015 analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data counts 702,771 businesses in the U.S. that are involved in the creation or distribution of the arts and that employ 2.9 million people – representing 3.9 percent of all businesses and 1.9 percent of all employees. You can find your own local report at www.ArtsUSA.org/CreativeIndustries
  • The public agrees that the arts add economic value. Regardless of whether people take advantage of the arts or not, 87 percent believe they are important to quality of life, and 82 percent believe they are important to local businesses and the economy. 

So, you’ve got the facts. Now what?

Start Making The Case

I often ask legislators how much interest they need to receive in order to realize that an issue is trending with their constituents. Think 10-100-1,000. If local legislators hear from as few as 10 people, it gets their attention. State legislators start paying attention with 100 hits. At the federal level, it takes 1,000 emails, calls and meetings. The good news is that it is easier than ever to contact your legislators. 

  • Send an email to your two U.S. senators. It’s a cinch using Voter Voice. Simply enter your ZIP code and up pop your state and federal legislators, along with sample letters and information about key issues. Start your own campaign in minutes.
  • Start with my Top 10 List of Reasons to Support the Arts, so you’ve got the facts. 
  • Build relationships: Make an in-person visit and have a working relationship with key decision-makers. Become their trusted arts adviser. I was nervous the first time I scheduled a meeting with my congressman. It was quick – 10 minutes of face time – but it couldn’t have been more pleasant, and I got my points out. And, he remembered me the next time I saw him! Don’t let your first visit be your last.
  • Join the Arts Action Fund. It’s a free way to get politically involved and stay current on the issues.
  • After you take action, be sure your colleagues, friends, family and neighbors do as well. That’s how you hit that critical 1,000 hits.

The CREATE Act improves resources available to artists and creative entrepreneurs. It expands programs at the SBA to increase microloans, business loans and technical assistance programs for artists as well as economic development tools like incubators, technical assistance and increased access to disaster relief. There is a lot of great potential, but we’ve got to step up to bring these benefits to life. Your voice really does make a difference!

Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen has been empowering arts advocates at Americans for the Arts since 1991. He recently published Americans Speak Out About the Arts, …more 

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