Where Arts Issues Play a Role in Midterm Elections

November 4, 2014 | Arts & Entertainment, Elections, Politics
A Middlesex County ballot question asks voters about creating a Cultural and Arts Trust Fund.

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

They’re issues artists come in contact with every day: Is it financially worthwhile to donate my artwork? Can I bring my instrument on a plane? Not surprisingly, these topics don’t come up in debates, but for those who do earn their livelihood through art, the subject can be a deciding factor on Election Day.

Ann Marie Miller is executive director of ArtPride New Jersey, a statewide advocacy organization for the arts. ArtPride sends out candidate surveys on arts-related issues prior to elections. “Well, once they’re elected, it’s a whole different environment that they’re in,” says Miller. “So if we can know in advance that they’re committed, we can reinforce that commitment.”

Candidates are asked questions like their stances on National Endowment for the Arts funding, arts education research and whether they would support specific pieces of legislation. This year, that includes a bill that would allow artists to deduct fair market value for their artwork donations and another allowing musicians to travel internationally with antique instruments made with ivory.

“You will get the responses that either tell you they’ll be supportive or that they don’t actually have the information to make a statement,” Miller says. “So that’s when you know that, you really have an education job in front of you.”

Some candidates don’t respond at all. Miller says, despite multiple attempts, surveys can get lost en route to candidates’ desks, or candidates don’t answer surveys as a matter of policy. But in other cases, “There are those who choose not to answer because the answer might be negative and they don’t want it on record,” she explains.

In Middlesex County, there’s another measure on the minds of arts professionals: Public Question 1. It would authorize the creation of a Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund.

County Freeholder Director Ron Rios is a creator of the public question. He explains that money for the fund would be realigned from surpluses in other areas of the county budget. “It would be a dedicated fund solely used for the arts. It would be at no added dollars for the taxpayer,” he says. “And again, it’s a non-binding referendum.”

Whether voters are for or against the measure, Middlesex County resident Jennifer Senick says the language used in Public Question 1 makes it non-threatening. “The wording is actually quite on target for New Jersey voters. My guess, in that it authorizes the ability to fund arts in this way from any surplus revenues, without binding those revenues,” she says. “It leaves it flexible.”

Regardless of any one question or candidate, Miller reminds that there’s an entire ballot to consider, “So there’s always a good reason to vote.”

If voters do approve Public Question 1 and Middlesex follows through on a Culture and Arts Trust Fund, it would be the first county fund of its kind in the state.