Kendra Roberts, co-founder and creative producer of Common Ground Arts with offices in Portland and New York, recently wrote of her experience advocating for arts and culture this session.
By way of introduction, I am a co-founding partner of Common Ground Arts (CGA), an art consultancy and production company committed to transforming urban environments by curating and producing unique cultural experiences from concept to completion. We tailor our services to meet the demands of every project, no matter the scale, location or budget. I am also a self-produced artist; my practice centers and informs my work as a cultural curator and producer, as well as my role as an arts advocate. In the last several years, I have represented the great states of Ohio and New York, speaking with local and national representatives, their staff members, and other arts workers about why the arts are integral to the fabric of our communities. It is in this spirit that I now describe my second experience advocating with the Cultural Advocacy Coalition’s annual Cultural Advocacy Day here in Oregon this spring.
As requested, I sent emails to four representatives about Cultural Advocacy Day inviting them to join us by scheduling a time to speak with me about the importance of our cultural organizations, artists and arts workers. I received a response from one; since she was not available to meet with me, I met with one of her staffers, who are equally important when it comes to advocating. One of the first things I always ask is for each person to share an early or recent experience they have had with the arts. This question gives me an idea of whether this is an “arts person” or not and can help guide the rest of the conversation. It was immediately apparent this staffer had not been asked that question before and her eyes lit up as she talked about her time at PSU appreciating the public artworks she saw on campus. From there, I led with gratitude for the representative’s support for the CARES dollars to our cultural sector and urged for her continued support of increases in state budgets and allocating more dollars based on the talking points CAC provided. In my own pre-meeting research, I learned that this representative is also a pediatrician, so I was sure to be thankful for being on the frontlines of this pandemic making it personal by sharing that my mother is a retired RN who worked in pediatrics throughout most of her career. Thinking that this representative may be most interested in how the arts increase holistic health and wellbeing, I shared a few stories about how art heals, saves and changes lives.
Finally, I closed by asking what kind of information would be most useful and/or meaningful to her mission while in office. I was told she welcomes any/all information about the arts in Oregon, particularly around problem-solving our current challenges, direct advocacy for the arts, and clear action points. I responded saying I would be more than happy to follow up with as much information as I can, thanking her again for her time and attention.
Advocating is not just about simply writing and calling your representatives, it’s about connecting, finding common values and meaning, and giving gratitude.
Kendra Roberts, Co-Founder & Creative Producer
Common Ground Arts