The Cultural Congress and Confab, a 3-day conference hosted by Washington State Art Alliance with support from the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) brought together art educators, advocates, students, non- and for profit art groups to address some of the most relevant issues affecting the arts in Washington state. This year’s conference ran from October 11-13 and offered panel discussions, presentations and entertainment. Artstra board members Sharon Svec and Jean LaCrosse attended 13 different sessions in total, collecting information and resources to help further our advocacy for the arts in our community. There was a wealth of information at the event.

Here, Sharon and Jean document some of the themes that captured their interests, including Gallery One, legislative advocacy, and culture and heritage:

Cultural Congress take-aways
by Sharon Svec and Jean LaCrosse

The first thing that struck our interest was Gallery One. Gallery one is a visual arts center in Ellensburg, and was home base for the Cultural Congress. The three story multipurpose space is in its 50th year and provides studio spaces for artists, after school programs for kids, a full ceramics studio, a retail gift shop, a large event space, and an outdoor courtyard. We spoke with Sarah Haven, the retail manager for the gift shop, carrying works by artists from all over the country. She explained the programs that support Gallery One and the history of its formation and thriving growth that’s taken place there. According to their most recent annual report, events make up 20% of income while sales account for 32%. Selling goods takes a big chunk out of expenses too, coming in at 21% of the total. Much of their success has been supported through partnerships with the Main Street Association, Downtown Association, and the City of Ellensburg which instituted a valuable funding stream from tax on new construction.

Legislative themes were woven throughout the event, and a great amount of energy and excitement about legislative advocacy were expressed by presenters and attendees alike. We were graced with the presence of Idaho Senator Cherie Buckner whose keynote was peppered with riveting song and engaging affirmation, which very succinctly demonstrated the connection between art and humanity. One notable quote from Senator Buckner was in reference to finding purpose in this world. She shared that “purpose is where great need intersects great joy.” After this very motivating and heartwarming address, David Foster was welcomed to the stage. Foster has been a lobbyist in Olympia for more than 15 years, and noted his running support of legislation surrounding art, culture and heritage. He’s well known to ArtsWA, and they share an interest in promoting the economic usefulness of investing in the arts and encouraged this perspective. Regardless of what the message was, he encouraged people throughout the state to unify under one voice to have the greatest impact in Olympia. Surveying the audience, we discovered that many attendees were interested in advocating for arts education. Noting that mental and behavioral health were top priorities in Olympia, we asked if promoting the arts as they relate to these topics would be worthwhile, to which he responded that it could be a “winning strategy.”

Lastly, we found heritage and culture to be well integrated. Our first introduction to culture at the event was through art. 250 finely decorated felt tablecloths greeted guests during breakfast Saturday morning at the Elks Ballroom and showcased a wide range of cultural themes. Very regularly, sessions would begin with recognition of being on the land of the Yakama. Galleries in which sessions were held included the Kittitas County Historical Museum, Clymer Museum of Art and Gallery One, all which celebrated various cultural influences with their current exhibits. Representatives from Indigenouz Placemakerz were present, and hosted a session during which they encouraged reflection of cultural, social and community teachings with a heavy focus on language preservation. Taking heed of this advice, it’s also worth noting that advocacy for arts in education was one widely appreciated directive. We gathered some amazing data from the 2017 publication of the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network’s White Paper entitled “The Arts and Dropout Prevention: The Power of Art to Engage” which showcased how “studying the arts promotes academic self-efficacy and school engagement and it enhances socioemotional skills valued in social relationships, the workplace, and education settings.”

Overall, it was evident that art advocates in Washington State have a solid faith in the ability of art to heal and transform individuals and communities. The congress gave attendees an opportunity to reflect on both scientific data and personal experiences which support this idea, and to further identify methods of maintaining and growing the value of arts advocacy in our communities. We are thrilled to have been a part of this most recent gathering of arts advocates, and hope that you too will consider the unmistakable benefits of art as you continue to build personal and social connections in your world. Contact us at Artstra if you want to know more about how art can help further your community goals.