Last week, Memphis Music Initiative took our show on the road. Our mission? To advocate for the arts and show our state legislators just how big an impact it has on our community.

But we weren’t alone.

Memphis was well-represented by local arts and community organizations, including: AngelStreet, Blues Foundation, Memphis Slim House, New Ballet Ensemble, PRIZM Ensemble, Hattiloo Theatre, Young Actors Guild, CazaTeatro, Centers for Transforming Communities, Successful Inc., Playhouse on the Square, ArtsMemphis, and Memphis Black Arts Alliance.

Of the larger Memphis cohort, roughly a dozen representatives from local organizations made the trek with our MMI staff, who organized transportation, provided lunch, and handled logistics. We are so glad we were able to bring some of our partner team members along—in spite of the early call time. (Word on the street is that the AngelStreet bus had the most energy at 5:30 a.m.)

The MMI partner cohort after a long day on the Hill.

Arts Advocacy Day is an annual event organized by Tennesseans for the Arts (TFTA) in partnership with the Tennessee Arts Commission (TAC). Each year, TCA helps fund the arts and activities for more than 700 organizations, schools, local governments, and nonprofits in Tennessee. For more information on TFTA, click here.

We began our day on the Hill with a presentation on the impact of Tennessee arts nonprofits featuring TFTA leadership, including Parke Kennedy, board President, and TFTA board member Bryce McDonald. These were followed by speeches from Speaker of the House Rep. Cameron Sexton and Arts Caucus Chair Senator Becky Massey.

We also received updates on the TAC from Executive Director Anne Pope. According to TAC data, the economic impact of the nonprofit arts and culture industry is significant. The sector supports more than 38,000 jobs across the state and generates more than $138,000,000 in total government revenue.

That afternoon, we met with legislators to advocate for our local arts community and to thank them for their continued support of the specialty license plate program—which provides a whopping 80% of the funding Tennessee arts organizations receive.

Chatting with Rep. Jesse Chism.

That financial support is critical to keeping organizations like ours alive.

We’re thrilled we were able to make the trip, especially in light of current events. Now, with many of us confined to our homes due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s a great time to reflect on just how much the arts enrich our lives. When you can’t go outside, music, film, and art are still available to you online (it’s hard to imagine self-quarantine without them).

 

Rep. Larry Miller

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has severely impacted the way many businesses function on the day-to-day, if they’re open at all. And one of the hardest-hit industries is the arts sector, which is comprised of freelancers, gig workers, and side hustlers who can’t perform at closed venues. And while there are some artist relief efforts underway in cities across the country, they are far from widespread.

So, if you’re able, consider purchasing that album, movie, etc. you’ve been streaming online. Better yet, buy the physical copy. And you can always donate to your local arts organization—many of which employ local musicians and artists (including MMI).

We’ll get through this together. After all, tough times often spark the most poignant art.

The entire Memphis group.