Candidate Questionnaire: Pat Wilson Pheanious

  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?

I benefit daily from creative art expression. In March—I am grateful to have attended what I didn’t realize might be for a very long time, my last broadway show (“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”). Since the shut down I listen to music ranging from Chopin to 2-Pac. On occasion I write poetry. The arts thrive all around me through the artists in my family. My sister is a well published author, my brother-in-law a playwright. My son is a tv writer/producer and music journalist. I am married to a spoken word artist who regularly records and presents his art. Although we live in a rural town, far from the city foundational to his art. This form of “urban artistry” has been well received by the people in my District. Even while the Pandemic has limited the opportunity for sharing art with others, it has not dampened the spirit of artists, and they continue to create, record and share ideas on facebook, zoom and over the phone. The pandemic hasn’t killed art, though its intensified the problems of production, and limited people’s opportunity to enjoy it collectively for the time being. I consider myself blessed to have art so readily available to support me in this difficult time.

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?

I would help to harness the power of the arts for Connecticut’s economic recovery by remembering a past economic crisis, and learning from a past success. Right now pandemic related unemployment is exploding—and people who would like to gather to enjoy artistic expression, can’t. Art needs to be created and people all over the country need to be paid for work. We could explore the opportunity to stimulate the economy by re-engineering and re-instituting a 1930’s era program.

During the great Depression, then President FDR put thousands of artist to work through government created programs, one of which was the Works Progress Administration. The WPA employed local people who were out of work creating public works projects and artistic endeavors that benefitted and beautified the community.

The WPA was borrowed from a similar program instituted in Mexico in the closing days of the Mexican Revolution. Mexico hired artists and paid them as day laborers to create murals that visualized the history being created/lived and making history visual and accessible to thousands of illiterate citizens. The American version of this concept created jobs for thousands of out-of- work professional artists. WPA programs also led to the creation of community arts centers which held exhibitions, and art class. Such a creative initiative could ignite an arts explosion in America as well as putting to work

the thousands of people whose livelihood has been destroyed by the Pandemic. Whether we currently have the collective political will to use this kind of creative and practical solution remains to be seen—given that the current administrations has moved to eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Education Association. Our country needs a morale boost and an arts jobs program could be fashioned to meet this need.  Perhaps by looking into our past we can generate a solution for tomorrow that recognizes the importance of art’s accessibility to aid and repair the nation’s psyche.

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?

Art has cross cultural appeal. Bringing people together is an important role for the arts and culture in healing and rebuilding the social fabric of our cities and towns.

It is hard to agree on much of anything these days. We are living in desperate and divided times. But without regard to external differences we all share the imperative for art. Art is human expression. Art reflects life. Art builds community, promotes social and economic development and can help us communicate more effectively—for example by using music and rhyme to spread health information. Art heals. Whether one is a care provider, family member or person experiencing illness or fighting to regain strength, art can be an important element of recovery.

The arts —and all forms of artistic expression can help reach people in ways that printed or tv news briefs cannot. I have seen creative commercials about mask wearing—and more could be done in this mode to prevent disease. Such methods have been used in the past (e.g. prevention of HIV; alerting people to symptoms of Ebola; combatting misinformation about vaccines). Art can be used therapeutically in mental health settings, and to ease the pain and isolation of people recovering from illness lived in isolation.

Art expression is at once a uniquely individual experience, and a collective statement that can be understood without regard to—and at the same time, within the context of our lives; our history, our culture, our origins, our income, our various abilities, our gender and our race. This is why art can bring us together through collective appreciation.

You don’t have to live out west to appreciate the stories and the cadence of country music. You don’t have to be English to love Shakespeare, or German to feel Mozart, or understand a word of Italian to be moved to tears at an opera. Jazz may have originated in a uniquely African-American experience—yet those rhythms have spread spread their influence all over this world. The same can be said of rap music. The universality of art makes us all more human. In sad ways, the Pandemic is doing the same thing. The Pandemic has brought us back to the recognition of how frail our humanity is. No one is immune. We are all vulnerable. Will this realization allow us to show each other greater human consideration as we fight together to recover?

In the past lonely months we are seeing an out-pouring of creative sharing by professional and non professional artists alike, getting on zoom or live streaming musical events that seek to help people deal with isolation and to solve the “no audience” sense of loss that many artists are feeling.

Because we experience through art the entire spectrum of human diversity and emotion, In this time of Pandemic destruction, we can look to art to help us redefine and highlight what is important in our lives.

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?

I know that the arts can help to build racial and social justice in Connecticut. I’ve seen it happen. The arts have been used in this manner for years. Union organizers have used song and graphic arts to help bring people together. The civil rights movements turned to song and hymns to give voice to common human struggles.

The expression of artistry shows us how to change the world around us by allowing us to better understand each other and to change our inner world. The arts speak to the spirit, stimulate our imaginations and fires our creativity. The creative act brings to light contrasts and contradictions that speak powerfully to a wide range of audiences, across boundaries of language and education.  When people discuss and illustrate their racial heritage and culture they demonstrate their humanity.  When people see that humanity through art and music and film they are more likely to understand the universality of human frailty, triumph and the sameness of all of us under the skin.

Shared love of the art experience helps build racial and cultural bridges that can lead to shared recognition of the need for justice and equality that are the same for all human beings.

When people who think that they are different can relate to one another around an expression of artistry, they can find emotional peace and perhaps mutual appreciation of the common experience. Shared experience can be the start of the discourse that could support the work of reconciliation.

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?

I am aware that the arts are funded primarily through grants at the federal, state and philanthropic level, and that over the lats several years there have been significant reductions in many areas of funding. I will support emergency funding to the arts industry in Ct at levels that recognize their importance to establishing a new normalcy.

I will support emergency funding for Connecticut’s arts industry, and also advocate for important protections and expansions to existing programs. This is not just a state-level fight. Arts funding is under attack at the federal level in the current administration. Like so many parts of our institutional framework, the humanities are under attack.

Conservative groups who apparently don’t believe that the arts should be funded by government, have been trying to kill the National Endowment for the Arts for years. The Trump administration just released a budget that proposed zeroing out and winding down funding for the National Endowments of the Arts— and in general government support for the arts.   I am concerned that their may be initiatives to discourage private support, perhaps by changing tax laws or otherwise discourage contributions by individuals and foundations.

We will have to work hard in Connecticut to make sure that federal cuts and restrictions cannot destroy state and private support through the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and various other state funded initiatives that encourage art and tourism. Given the level of destruction in the lives of so many artists and arts arenas (the whole of broadway for example), I believe we should work to double the funding available to this sector.  Right now there is no major state or national arts/ jobs program. It will take private money to create and manage such an initiative —while working in concert with the existing state and federal funding mechanisms.

I also think it is important to support the arts in education. The US Dept of Education currently directs grants to states to strengthen the arts as part of a well rounded education. This effort needs to be redirected to capture the advent of zoom school and other at-home initiatives.

Funding arts education may become even more important as children are reintegrated into the classroom. Art, music and creative expression may be the bridge we will need between pandemic-imposed isolation and the return to academics. Such a transition could be critical to our progress. Research over the last 30 years has shown the young people who participate in comprehensive sequential and rigorous arts programs are by multiples, more likely to be recognized for academic achievement; more like to be elected to class office within their schools, more likely to participate in a math or science fair, more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem. Students who thrive in arts programs do better on SATs, develop the greater analytical and critical thinking skills so important to an effective 21st Century workforce.                                               Especially after the losses that children will suffer because of pandemic-related educational inconsistencies, the substantial increase in funding for art in education is of critical importance for our sanity and for our future workforce.

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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