An Open Letter to My Literary Community

Dear Writers of America,

Why aren’t you more actively engaged in supporting federal, state, and local funding for the arts?

Many of us, myself included, have found personal benefit in this funding. Several years ago, I was one of 11 artists to receive a $5,000 grant for poetry from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. The poems receiving that award ultimately became the centerpieces of my first collection, The First Risk. The funding I received from the Arizona Commission not only provided significant financial support as I balanced my “two full time job life” (one that paid/one (being a writer) that didn’t), it also provided me with the emotional fuel to complete the collection.

In the 90s, Congress decided that artists funded by the National Endowment for the Arts were doing harm to traditional American values. In response, they cut funding to the Endowment, crippling its ability to support individual artists. Today, writers and jazz musicians are the only independent artists eligible to receive project grants from the National Endowment.

Each winter, we as a community celebrate our colleagues, peers, and friends who receive this generous and essential awards. We revel in the knowledge that poetry and fiction matter to our culture, that many of us who work low income jobs or without health insurance can find legitimacy through our art.

Each year, the National Endowment and state arts agencies provide millions of dollars to the organizations that allow us to connect with our audiences and readers: nonprofit presses (now the bread and butter of poetry publishing), literary centers, writing conferences, publishing collectives, book review outlets, and so on.

While federal or state funding should never be considered a crutch or an essential income stream, it is important. To paraphrase Adrienne Rich, federal funding is not “more necessary” than sales revenue, donations, or grants–“but it is necessary.”

In an article published today, The Huffington Post reports that Congress is yet again pilfering the measley arts coffers in an effort to close our budget gap.

And, if we don’t act, they will take that money.

They have already taken the arts out of our schools. Now they will take money away from our presses, meaning fewer books can be published. They will take money away from our literary centers, meaning fewer writers can be remunerated for appearing there, fewer staff can be hired and sustained. They will take money away from our state and local arts agencies, whose goals are to fund smaller projects and organizations, more individual artists in other disciplines.

They will pull the plug on the arts, and many of our organizations–well run or not–will wither and die.

The good news is there is something you can do. (And, if you ask me, there’s something you must do.) Become an advocate for the arts by telling your story. Explain the value arts organizations give to YOU, your family, your community.

Get involved on the state level by locating your state advocacy agency (often called “Alliance for the Arts,” “Citizens for the Arts,” “or “Action for the Arts”) and sign up to be notified when important votes come up in the legislature.

They will prepare your email or print letter for you. All you have to do is click send or print it out.

And it matters.

When 10 people contact a legislator about an issue, it makes a difference. If 100 people contact 10 legislators, it makes a significant difference. When 1,000 people contact 100 legislators, it has a snowball effect. Imagine what we could do if even just 1,000 writers signed up to be arts advocates and made a commitment to be more involved with arts policy in our country.

Writing is an isolating art. We are often not at the table when larger discussions of “the arts” occur. But that’s our own fault. We aren’t going to be invited to this party, so we need to crash it. We’ll make our own seat.

Help save federal funding for the arts by signing up for the Arts Action Fund through Americans for the Arts. You’ll get only a few emails each year updating you on the progress of our advocacy, and you’ll only be asked to send a few yourself.

Those twenty minutes you’ll spend this year advocating the arts can have twenty years of impact.

What else will you do this year to make such an incredible difference not only in the future of American art but the future of America?

A culture is remembered through its art. We are the makers of that memory. We are the makers of our future.

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