AADM alumnus Amy Scheidegger was a guest speaker in my Overview of the Arts course last fall. She spoke about her work as an artist, an arts administrator, and an activist. I caught up with Amy in February to further discuss her Artistic Rebuttal Project. Read on to learn more!
Sarah Braverman: You started the Artistic Rebuttal Project in January of 2011. What inspired it?
Amy Scheidegger: I had earned my Master’s in Arts Administration just one month prior, when I overheard a bunch of Poli-Sci undergrads on the subway say that "art was the most useless degree anyone could get...it's like getting a degree in making sh*t out of popsicle sticks." You can imagine how enraged a painter/arts administrator would become at such an inaccurate and demeaning statement. I was on the subway, riding to one of my freelance gigs (painting skulls and bones for a production at a local theater), and for the rest of the day I cooked up this response as opposed to just being angry and chalking it up to youthful ignorance.
SB: Did you have experience in arts advocacy before this project?
AS: I did - I had gone to Arts Advocacy Day in D.C. twice by that time: the first time as a newbie and the second time after organizing a group of Drexel students as the Arts Advocacy Director of the AAGA board.
SB: When you started the Artistic Rebuttal Project, did you think you'd still be involved with it six years later?
AS: Definitely not! I thought it'd be a good thing to focus my energy for the rest of the year and to focus on my own form of arts advocacy, which tends to be very visual instead of the talk-talk-talk-talk of legislative meetings in D.C. during Arts Advocacy Day. I thought it'd be a thing I did for a month of out of the year, in the Spring when Americans for the Arts scheduled Arts Advocacy Day.
SB: You've begun compiling rebuttals for 2017 - how is this year different from previous years?
AS: This year is different because there's a REAL threat of the NEA, NEH and PBS being completely defunded without a second thought. I mean, the NEA always comes up against (most) Republicans who don't see the benefits and use it as a moral compass to show their constituents how conservative they are. This year I think we're all terrified that despite all the good, all the numbers, all the benefits of federal arts funding, it'll all get cut or privatized. It's also different on a personal level because I'm moving abroad the weekend after Arts Advocacy Day, so I'm guilt ridden to do this massive arts advocacy initiative and revamp the project. But I’m still a human being that has a personal life to pay attention to, an apartment to empty and a new culture to study before I get there. For my sanity, I'm focusing on the move more than arts advocacy and hopefully passing on the torch to fellow art advocates.
SB: Why is arts advocacy important?
AS: Advocacy is "arguing in favor of something." So arts administrators and artists do this every day. Every day we have to fight for an audience, fair compensation, value in our community, value to our economy, value to youth and education, to justify ticket prices, the list goes on and on. On a national scale, arts advocacy is important because what the federal government allocates money to shows every citizen where its priorities are. If we spend nothing on the arts, then we’re saying that artists and culture makers, archivists of that culture, don't matter to the country and its leadership - which is terrifying.
SB: Do you participate in other advocacy efforts? Do you feel your work in arts advocacy informs them?
AS: Well, clearly since November, we've all started to research more causes that need our attention. I've decided to dedicate my graphic design company to exclusively create work for organizations that are run by or serve women, youth, people of color, LGBTQ communities and other underserved persons. That's becoming my way of contributing to other advocacy efforts.
SB: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get involved in arts advocacy?
AS: Get creative. National Arts Advocacy Day gets really mundane and you end up rattling off numbers (that yes, politicians respond to), but we're artists. We can and must advocate for our field/disciplines in the most unforgettable, positive, heart-warming ways we can think of.
SB: You're moving to Ecuador soon (exciting!). How will this impact your advocacy work?
AS:As I stated before, I'm going to give myself time to assimilate and get used to living in a new culture before concretely deciding what to do with Artistic Rebuttal or think about what direction it's going to move. I do want to learn the culture of art in Ecuador, learn the copyright/trademark laws that helped me navigate art advocacy in the U.S. (I have a future-mother-in-law who is a retired Ecuadorian copyright lawyer) and get a feel for how artists and the arts are (or aren't) revered in a South American country. I want those experiences to help dictate how best to position the Rebuttal project as one that always keeps artists at its core.
Thanks for chatting with me, Amy! Wishing you safe travels to Ecuador!
To learn more about Amy and the Artistic Rebuttal Project, visit her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Be sure to visit the “Save the NEA 2017 Rebuttal Gallery.”