Profile: She’s a Passionate Advocate for the Arts – and Artists — in New Jersey

Paula Saha | March 26, 2014 | Profiles
Ann Marie Miller, executive director of ArtPrideNJ, help cultivate creative pursuits in the Garden State

Ann Marie Miller
Jersey Girl: Raised in East Brunswick, Anne Marie Miller was inspired by a strong high school arts program to become an art teacher. She spent two years teaching in the Freehold Regional School District, traveling between two different high schools. But it was the mid-1970s — a difficult time for finding teaching jobs — and when enrollment issues arose in the district, she landed at the Middlesex County Arts Council, doing public relations for an artist-in-the-schools program.

Other stops along the way: Miller has worked in public and private arts funding, and on a local, state and even federal level through an internship with the National Endowment for the Arts. “I was able to see how the funding really works and impacts people on all different levels,” she said. After a stint as grant coordinator for the State Arts Council and another eight years doing development for the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, she arrived at ArtPrideNJ 18 years ago.

What’s ArtPrideNJ? It’s a nonprofit organization that keeps New Jersey residents informed about how the arts are “connected to all aspects of our everyday life.” The organization monitors and tries to advance public and private arts funding and arts-related public policy.

Shadow, what shadow? The idea that New Jersey is at a disadvantage because of proximity to arts meccas New York City and Philadelphia isn’t as true as it once might have been, Miller said. “New Jersey’s come into its own in terms of a national profile, and it’s more positive than people in our state seem to think,” she said. “We’ve worked hard over the past 15-20 years to increase that public profile of the arts in New Jersey.”

Biggest challenge: “New Jersey is not home to large, private foundations that support the arts,” she said. Private foundations in the state, aside from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, generally support other sectors, she said. So finding that kind of sustainable funding for the arts can be a struggle.

Lessons learned: “Arts advocates really are passionate. They let their feelings be known. What they’re learning to do over time is to be more proactive and less reactive to crisis. They’re more prone to expressing their feelings before something’s in jeopardy.”

The best part of her job: Miller is often copied on the thousands of emails and communications sent to legislators expressing support for the arts. “People really take the time to talk about how important the arts are to them personally, what they mean to their children…When I read some of those heartfelt emails, it reminds me the work we do is really important.”

Victories for the arts: Miller says she has been excited to see real wins for the arts and public policy during the last few years. She noted that, through the efforts of the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership, New Jersey became the first state in the country this year to include facts about arts education in annual school performance reports.

“Now when parents are looking at how the school did on their ACTs and SATs, they are also seeing how many students are engaged in the arts.”

The heightened attention, she said, “provides a basis for advocacy.”

The current hot issue: In 2003, the state enacted a fee on hotels and motels, a percentage of which would go toward funding for arts, history and tourism in New Jersey. Arts advocates say the proposal was originally for cultural and tourism programs to get 40 percent of those revenues, but the state has been allocating only the minimum amount allowable under the law, and that amount not changed in the last several years.

“Certainly the tax has grown since 2003 and we’re not getting our share of the growth. That’s going into the general fund,” Miller said. She argues that getting those funds would help create arts programs and stimulate activity that would bring greater benefits to the state. “Everybody’s fully aware of the strains on the budget, but making sure we get our share is the only a way to increase revenue for the state.”

There are currently two bills in the Legislature — A-2160 and S-1133 — that would increase the minimum funding levels for arts, history and tourism. Miller says they are not looking for an increase in the tax, just an increase in their share. So far, New Jerseyans have sent over 8,000 emails in support of those bills, Miller said. “They’ve already done a remarkable job in bringing the issue back to light. We certainly aren’t going to give up.”

Work and play: It’s no surprise that the arts play a big role in Miller’s nonprofessional life, too.

“I like to go to cultural events with my husband,” she said. “I love theater, more drama, then musical theater.”
She admits a certain fondness for the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, where she once worked. She’s particularly looking forward to catching the upcoming “The Figaro Plays.”