Tell Your Legislators That Artists Need Jobs!

Lenore Thomas at Work

WPA Artist Lenore Thomas was hired to do public sculptures in the 1930s.

The Democrats have asked for input about their party platform in preparation for their  annual convention at the end of this month.  The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture has created an online petition asking them to include the creation of more jobs for artists as a goal in their platform.

I helped draft this petition, and I want to urge all of you who live in the U.S. to sign it and share it with your friends.  Sign here>>


I am a passionate supporter of federally funded jobs for artists for three reasons:

Jobs Programs Launch Careers –  I know the value of government job programs first-hand because that is how I got my start in the arts. When I started my arts career in the mid-1970s, unemployment was high and President Nixon’s administration responded by passing the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), which was inspired by the WPA federal jobs programs that were created during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Under the CETA legislation, the federal government gave block grants to state and local governments so that they could create job training programs that responded to the needs in their communities.

In the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere some of those funds were used to create full-time paid positions at local non-profit arts organizations. My first three years as an arts manager were funded by the CETA program.  I feel so blessed that I have been able to spend the past 40 years doing this work that I love so much, and I am eternally grateful to the CETA program for giving me my start.  I know there is another generation of young women who desperately want to work in the arts, and we need to make sure that they get their chance.

More Jobs Means More Gender Parity and Racial Diversity –  Part of the reason that it is so hard for us to make substantial progress on gender parity and racial diversity in the arts is that there are so few jobs available and the jobs keep disappearing.  Every time there is another budget crunch and an arts organization has to cut a staff position, our movement loses ground. If arts organizations had funding to add new full-time positions, they could make it a point to hire women and people of color, and our employment statistics would finally start to improve.

Our Divided Country Needs the Healing Power of the Arts –  It is frightening to read the news these days.  With each new report of hatred and violence, the divisions in our communities seem deeper.  But as artists, we need to remember that we have powerful tools for bringing people together.  When we share our diverse stories, songs, dances, and visual art, we can touch people’s hearts and help them recover from grief and move past their prejudices.

No matter how many times conservative politicians say that the arts are a frill, it’s not true.  The arts have been and always will be at the center of every peaceful society.  If we want people to live in harmony,  we need artists working in every community to help people move past their fears and rediscover their shared values and dreams.


WPA sculptor Selma Burke with portrait bust of Booker T. Washington (1935)

Since both political parties have been talking about the fact that so many Americans are out of work, it seems possible that no matter who wins the election, they will need to create some kind of federal jobs program.  When they do, we just need to be sure that artists get their fair share of those jobs. It has happened before under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s and again under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act in the 1970s. We can do it again – we just need to mobilize our supporters.

Please sign the petition to the Democratic Party at: and be sure to share it with your friends.