Nat'l Arts and Humanities Month Revs Up

From Anchorage to Annapolis, from Kennebunkport to Key Biscayne, all 50 states are gearing up to participate in an October tradition: National Arts and Humanities Month.

Sponsored by the nonprofit Americans for the Arts, one of the nation's leading arts advocacy organizations, National Arts and Humanities Month is arguably the country's largest annual celebration of the arts and humanities, a project that the group has coordinated since 1993. From declarations and proclamations issued by political leaders, to the publication of op-ed pieces in newspapers, to the hanging of banners in classrooms and performance facilities, there is little doubt that National Arts and Humanities Month serves as the booster-in-chief for culture in the public eye.

In fact, according to Nina Ozlu, vice president for public and private sector affairs at Americans for the Arts, the event has become so large in scale that until October actually concludes, the organization will be unable to fully catalogue the range of activities occurring in every state. "We broadcast the event widely through electronic means and we also go through all the national arts service organizations in order to get the word out," Ozlu says. The result is a long list of community gestures, some large and some small, in support of the festivities.

Just as one example, Ozlu says that when the U.S. Conference of Mayors "issues a declaration supporting National Arts and Humanities Month"--as it does annually--"that alone generates 200 to 300 additional proclamations from smaller cities and towns. Now, when a mayor puts together a proclamation, there's usually a ceremony, at which point all the cultural groups from that area are generally invited to be there and to step up and state what they plan on doing." National Arts and Humanities Month is thus the ultimate in grassroots activism, she says, with "one measure of support leading to another and then another."

The idea also retains the support of President George W. Bush, who in his 2001 proclamation said "The study and appreciation of the arts and humanities serve as both a unifying force in society and as a vehicle for individual expression."

From April to October

According to Ozlu, the genesis of National Arts and Humanities Month began when the National Endowment for the Arts, in 1985, wished to create a coast-to-coast event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its founding back in 1985. At the time, the NEA gave a sizeable grant to the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies--which merged with the American Council for the Arts in 1996 to form Americans for the Arts--to help promote an idea called National Arts Week, which was then slated for every April.

Beginning in 1993, however, "it was decided among many of the national service organizations to include the humanities as well as the arts in the celebrations--and to make it a month-long event, not just a week--and to actually move it to October, because in both the performing arts field and in the visual arts, the fall is always a good time to kick off activities, not to mention a large, national public awareness campaign."

To make things as easy as possible for communities of every size and stripe, the organization's website (www.americansforthearts.org) provides a suite of fully downloadable items, including logos, sample proclamations, sample press releases, and a 101-item checklist of "things to do to celebrate the month." These suggestions cover the gamut, from encouraging "local performers to hold open rehearsals" to something as simple--yet, perhaps, as essential--as "reading a book out loud."

Watch for updates on what New York City will do to honor National Arts and Humanities Month in the weeks ahead.