Candidate Questionnaire: Brian Ohler

  1. YOUR PERSONAL CONNECTION TO THE ARTS

The pandemic has been challenging for so many in CT and in so many ways. How have you personally benefited from the arts or creative expression in the last few months?

What local arts experiences have you missed most during the shutdown? 

The past 8 months have been some of the hardest and most trying times for many of us. It seems that nobody has been immune to the emotional and financial rollercoaster that has been a result of this widespread pandemic. The arts have always provided us with that necessary outlet to express ourselves; whether it was through dance, paint, cinematography, theatre, and so much more. Especially when many people rely on the arts as a coping or healing mechanism during challenging periods of their lives, to have these outlets shut down during the pandemic has had a terrible ripple effect on all of us. Thankfully, through virtual tours of dances, plays, galleries, and other arts centered venues, we’ve been able to maintain a connection that has proven to offer us those coping and healings benefits, even if it may have been slightly different than viewing it in person. I have missed, so much, our local plays that are typically put on by our school children, as well as, the many paint and sculpture galleries that have been shuttered as a result of the pandemic. Thankfully, in a limited capacity, the Sharon Playhouse has resurrected live performances with their drive-in style production. My brother in law, Michael Kevin Baldwin has been an actor for decades and now proudly sits on the Board of Directors for the Sharon Playhouse. 

2. ARTS + ECONOMIC RECOVERY

CT can’t recover without the arts. Arts and culture are key for CT’s economic recovery. Creative industries pump $9 billion into the state and account for 3.5% of CT’s total economy. Our non-profit arts organizations support 23,000 jobs, generate $800 million annually, and return $7 back in tax revenue for every $1 invested by the state.

How will you help harness the power of the arts for CT’s economic recovery? 

When I was legislator back in 2016 to 2018, I was a sitting member of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee. I truly enjoyed my time on the committee because it afforded me the chance to speak with so many stakeholders who were involved in the budget process. When certain items were presented and debated there would often be a quick stroke of the pen to approve or disapprove at particular line item, and that was that. But I urged changed in that process because I believed every line item deserved to be vetted and heard. When it came to the arts, there were many legislators who couldn’t see the benefit or justify the expense. That is when I STOOD UP for the arts and pleaded my case as to how return on investment (ROI) should actually be judged and scaled. I refused to allow my colleagues to look at ROI has simply raw numbers, or profit and loss. When the government invests in the arts you get so much more than just revenue from tickets sales. You build culture, you embrace and support diversity, you provide structure and protection to youths and adults who are free to express themselves without fear of prejudice or persecution, most importantly you nurture human lives so that can have the love, confidence, ambition, and respect, to be giving and productive citizens of society. That is the real ROI and to me, that is invaluable. 

3. ARTS HEAL + REBUILD

Creativity helps us process loss, fight loneliness, and create vibrant, resilient communities that attract and retain residents, businesses, and visitors.

What do you think is an important role for arts and culture to play in healing and rebuilding the social fabric of our cities and towns? 

The arts will and must be an active player in the rebuilding of our communities and our state post pandemic. Even before the pandemic hit, we as a society were trending towards greater personal isolationism, choosing to stay inside, within the confines our homes and apartments, rather than enjoying the company of others. The arts will be, once again, that vehicle for unity. When it is finally safe to do so, when the air has cleared per say, the arts will once again be that favorite gathering place, that memorable stage, and that inspiring production. In order to find happiness again, we will need that variable to present itself and offer itself to us, and I am more than confident that the arts will fulfill all our needs.

4. ARTS SUPPORT RACIAL & SOCIAL JUSTICE

The pandemic has deepened existing divides in Connecticut, particularly along the lines of race and class. The arts create shared experiences that can unite people and bridge divides to acknowledge the strength in our differences.

Do you believe the arts can help build racial and social justice in Connecticut? If so, how? 

America has been at a racial and social crossroads for many years. It seems that with each passing day, there are more people and entire cultures being targeted because of their specifics class, color, or creed, and that it is a sad reality. If you think back in our nation’s history, way back to the days of segregation and the anti-immigrant movements, the hate that was spewed was beyond despicable and it took strong leaders to unite us all. This unity didn’t just happen through legislation, it happened with the help of many interveners, one being the arts. As different cultures began to express themselves freely and more openly, and dance floors and theatres became integrated with people of different classes and colors, we all soon discovered that the music, dance, and theatrical marvels that each group brought to the American way of life was simply amazing and this soon brought everyone closer together; resulting in increased tolerance, acceptance, and a willingness to learn from each other. This same method of unity must happen again once we are able to safely open up our cultural centers and arts programs. The venues must once again be that vehicle and nucleus for positive social change. 

5. CT NEEDS HELP FROM THE ARTS

With 62% of artists unemployed and most arts organizations unable to reopen, the industry needs emergency support to recover and thrive. CT’s arts and culture sector has suffered an estimated $400 million in economic losses.

Will you support emergency funding to support the arts industry in Connecticut? If so, from what source and at what level?  

The social and economic fallout that our artists and arts organizations have incurred is immense and there is simply no denying that. With an estimated $400 million dollars in projected losses, it is easy to assume that such an impact would be impossible to recover from. I would support an aid package that included emergency funding for the arts industry, because like most of our schools, hospitals, and businesses, these arts organizations have a very direct and tangible connection to every man, woman, and child in our state, especially here in the Northwest Corner. The arts simply do not exist without having had been first created, interpreted, expressed, or produced by the human mind, body, and spirit. Again, this all reverts back to my statement about return on investment, and for that reason, and many

Create the Vote CT is a nonpartisan public education campaign to raise awareness and support for the arts among voters and candidates running for public office. CT Arts Alliance launched the first Create the Vote CT during the gubernatorial election in 2018 and inspired focus on the arts during Governor Lamont’s transition and helped stabilize statewide public funding for the first time since the Great Recession. The initiative was originally conceived and developed at MASSCreative, a state arts advocacy organization in Massachusetts.

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