Let Your Voice Be Heard: Why the Arts Matter in Texas

By Caitlin Giddens

The arts are more than entertainment. They evoke powerful emotions. They connect us through shared experiences. They change us and our communities for the better and they generate $5.5 billion each year for the state’s economy.

These were the key points of discussion during the Texas Arts Advocacy Day, organized by Texans For the Arts in partnership with the Texas Cultural Trust, at the State Capitol on February 9. The Creative Waco team left the session feeling informed, empowered, enthusiastic about speaking for the arts and proud of Waco for serving as an example of a community in which diverse sectors are working together effectively to grow the arts.

“It is helpful to have firsthand knowledge and to see how arts advocacy works on a state level,” Angie Veracruz, co-founder and executive director of the Central Texas Artist Collective, said. “We learned how to change perceptions about the arts. The arts are vital to a community and thrive when there is support from all sectors.” 

Keynote speaker Margy Waller, senior fellow with Topos Partnership, shared her critical research in communicating the impact and value of the arts. The first step is differentiating the arts from entertainment. If state leaders think of the arts as entertainment, they will fail to understand why investment in this key sector is vital.  

Waller explains it’s important to understand that the arts are a necessary part of the community and local economy. This sector contributes $343.7 million in state sales tax revenue annually. The arts serve as the strongest beacon of tourism, generating revenue for local businesses. And they enhance local property values and incentivize new construction. 

“We all benefit from the powerful ripple effect of a vibrant creative sector in Waco,” Creative Waco Executive Director Fiona Bond said. “When people come together to share experiences and ideas, they connect with each other in powerful ways to create a community that can solve its problems with imagination, understanding and a dose of laughter, wonder, curiosity and the unique magic that the arts bring.” 

That ripple effect could be seen in new research released at the event by the Texas Cultural trust, quantifying the benefits of arts in education.

This year’s Advocacy Day was especially important, as last session’s investment funding for the Cultural & Fine Arts District Programs is not included in the proposed state budget. If this appropriation is not reinstated, Downtown Waco, the newest cultural district in Texas, will lose its opportunity to apply for this high impact investment.

“Cultural districts are a powerful resource for cities,” Bond said. “Analysis on the first 1.5 million dollars that was invested through the state’s Cultural District program shows that it delivered more than $20 million in direct impact. That’s a great return on investment by any measure.”

State leaders will decide whether to restore the $5 million appropriation for Cultural Districts in the next few weeks during the 85th Legislative Session budget discussions. To support the appropriation, write a letter to your senator or representative. Tell them the facts and the benefits of arts in our community. 

“When talking about the arts, know your facts and be truthful, especially when speaking to a state leader,” Veracruz said. “They have many topics of interest on their plate. They need to know the key facts in order to vote for what is best for their communities.” 

Texas-specific research into the impact of the arts can be found on the Texas cultural Trust Website.

If you aren’t in direct contact with your state leaders, you can advocate for arts funding by contacting Executive Director of Texans for the Arts Ann Graham at [email protected]

From left: Animator and cartoonist, Greg Peters; Director of The Art Center of Waco, Meg Gilbert; Creative Waco staff member, Caitlin Giddens; Director of Central Texas Artist Collective, Angie Veracruz; Baylor Religion Department faculty member and Creative Waco board member, Elise Edwards; Creative Waco staff member, Luann Jennings; Texas State Representative from Waco, Doc Anderson; and Creative Waco Executive Director, Fiona Bond.