What should designers do after the election?

Four years ago, President Obama articulated a vision for arts and culture that recognized its role in the American experience. Although fiscal imperatives will make it difficult, he now has four more years to support and encourage the arts.

By successfully securing healthcare for creative professionals, economic recovery funds that saved artists’ jobs through the National Endowment for the Arts and ongoing support for appropriations that fund federal cultural agencies, the President has taken many steps in supporting the nonprofit arts sector.

Over the course of the next four years, AIGA hopes to encourage President Obama and his administration to remain focused on maintaining arts education in every classroom and on introducing design; allocating a larger budget for design, which is a generator of American jobs, products and communities; and protecting charitable giving incentives that are the lifeblood of the nonprofit arts sector.

The 2012 election offered some promising indications of public support for the arts in local initiatives around the country. In California, Proposition 30 was passed, which will provide billions of dollars to California’s strapped school districts to be used for more consistent resources for arts education, among other items. In Portland, Oregon, voters approved a $35 per income-earning resident tax measure that will be used to restore arts education in public schools. And in Austin, Texas, voters approved Proposition 18, which will allow the city to provide funding for designing, constructing, improving, and equipping library, museum and cultural arts and film production facilities.

In its role as an advocate of the interests of the design community, AIGA makes the case for design-related policies and opportunities directly to elected officials and government agencies. We also work regularly with Americans for the Arts in their advocacy efforts. Finally, by informing and supporting local action by individual members or through chapters, we seek to encourage designers to use the most effective means of leverage they have on public policy.

At this moment, all AIGA members, regardless of political affiliation, should consider the following steps:

  • Send a letter of congratulations to each elected leader representing your community (federal, state and local levels) and identify yourself—or AIGA—as a resource for design, arts or innovation policy issues.
  • Ask all freshmen members of Congress to begin thinking about joining the bipartisan Congressional Arts Caucus or Senate Cultural Caucus in order to advocate stronger support for creativity and innovation in your community.

A summary of state, gubernatorial, congressional and presidential election results is available at votesmart.org; an election guide is also available at Congress.org.

At this moment, with all levels of government focused on fiscal issues and job growth, the strongest public policy argument for design is that it is critical to both innovation and global competitiveness in the American economy. Support for developing this critical talent in the American workforce will drive economic growth in the future.

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.