‘Change the Vote’ Forum Hints at a True Arts Community

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(From left) KSAT 12 Anchor Tim Gerber, Mike Villarreal, Leticia Van de Putte, Mayor Ivy Taylor, Paul Martinez, Tommy Adkisson and Theatre for Change founder Shannon Ivey on stage at The Tobin Center during the Change the Vote mayoral forum. Photo by Page Graham.

Monday night the tireless efforts of the campaigning candidates continued at the Tobin Center for Performing Arts, where Theatre for Change hosted a mayoral forum titled “Change the Vote” that specifically addressed the arts in San Antonio.

Some writers reviewing the forum wanted more from the candidates, others focused on the economics of the arts, I will be concentrating on the arts community.

As a professional artist in San Antonio – and possibly it’s only combination playwright-game designer – I know how hard it is to make a living solely on the arts here and thus how important it is for us as a community to support each other. Anything that elevates art and entertainment in San Antonio elevates us all. Frankly, the fact that a forum specifically for the arts even exists is an amazing step, as many in the foyer at the Tobin noted before the show. I respect and thank Theatre for Change for making this happen.

The traditional top four contenders including Tommy Adkisson, Mayor Ivy Taylor, Leticia Van de Putte, and Mike Villarreal attended the forum, but they were joined this time by Paul Martinez, a San Antonio native and military veteran. The election is set for May 9 and early voting is open every weekday until Tuesday, May 5. Click here for information about polling location and times.

An audience of about 200 was not exactly what we hoped for. Still, that is about five times more people than the average forum, more than any except one hosted at UTSA by the Express-News and another, Pints & Politics II hosted by the Rivard Report.

“Most grassroots efforts start with 10-20 people, this started with 200 people; 200 people willing to voice their passions. I believe that’s a step in the right direction,” said Shelly Chance, co-organizer and COO for Theatre for Change.

I was glad to see a cross-disciplinary showing of artists at the forum – a rare occurrence – reaffirming its commitment to local artists of all fields. With Geekdom and others creating connections for artists in tech, now is the ideal time for us to come together and represent a unified arts community. If we are to succeed as a city that grows and keeps artists who can make a living plying their trade here, we need not only the support of the next mayor, but of each other.

Change the Vote Mayoral Forum 2015. Photo by Page Graham.

Change the Vote Mayoral Forum 2015. Photo by Page Graham.

It was wonderful to see strides in that direction at the event, which was well-organized and with prominent members in attendance. I collected thoughts via email from various artists and leaders after the forum:

Molly Cox, Interim President and CEO of SA2020

“At SA2020 we understand that issues facing our city are never as easy as either/or. Indeed, when we reduce San Antonio to ‘the fattest city’ or ‘the city with the highest teen birth rate,’ we neglect to applaud the progress on our declining obesity and teen birth rates. (And we are making progress.) We believe we need to know where we begin and where we’re going. We also realize the importance of celebrating the successes in between while being mindful of the challenges. How else might we progress? Such is the case with Theatre for Change’s mayoral forum on the arts.

“Sure, the turnout wasn’t as great as it could have been, but I also appreciate that 200 people came out to show that their voices – the voices of artists – needed to be heard. In a city where the turnout for voting is low, it is imperative to open a dialogue, so those who will lead and represent us know the topics that are important to us. In 2010, artists from across San Antonio made their voices heard in the visioning process known as SA2020. Arts and Culture rose to become one of the 11 SA2020 cause areas, and we envisioned a city that would lead the world as a creative community. It is when we work together that we are strongest. 

“I applaud those who came to the Tobin Center; those who submitted questions and spoke to the candidates before and after; and Theatre for Change for providing the opportunity to start a dialogue. I also applaud the other organizations that have hosted their own candidate panels, forums, and events over the last few months – for each of these started a dialogue about a variety of issues.

“Could you imagine the change if we all united our voices for what we are most passionate about? San Antonio would most certainly continue to be a ‘City on the Rise.’”

Theatre for Change founder Shannon Jarrell-Ivey on stage at The Tobin Center during the Change the Vote mayoral forum. Photo by Page Graham.

Theatre for Change founder Shannon Jarrell-Ivey on stage at The Tobin Center during the Change the Vote mayoral forum. Photo by Page Graham.

Shannon Jarrell-Ivey, CEO Theatre for Change

“One of the best things about last night was that leaders from the arts community walked out of the forum knowing who they wanted to vote for and exactly who they thought would elicit change in citywide art policy. As people were leaving, the one question I asked was, ‘Do you know who you’re voting for?’ and the overwhelming response was, ‘Well, I do now.’

“Only 7.61% of all of San Antonio voted in the last mayoral election, if everyone who attended the forum last night voted, they could change the vote. In my mind, what a huge success for the arts community.”

Christie Beckham, Theater Artist and Nonprofit Administrator

“I was also taken aback by how many empty seats there were. But when I started calling specific artists out, I found that they were busy working their third job or rehearsing on a traditional ‘off’ night in order to accommodate their day jobs, which is exactly why this forum was so important. Our city needs to help support artist work; with advertising, with stipends, with access to space and materials, and most of all with their attendance.”

Jon Hinojosa, SAY Sí Artistic/Executive Director

“The Change the Vote mayoral forum focused on the arts provided not only the audience, but our community with a clear understanding on how our next San Antonio mayor will lead, and more importantly invest, in the arts for our future. I was pleased to hear (the candidates) speak about the significance the arts plays, not only as an economic generator, but as a reason why our city is a vibrant cultural hub. The arts play an important role in the livability of our community, and as a reason folks visit here. Most importantly, they echoed what we at SAY Sí have known since our inception – our youth deserve an education that includes the arts, as it will build the next generation of our city and country’s creative leaders.”

For another view, KSAT 12 – a co-sponsor of the event – posted a summary of the forum that includes links to interviews with each candidate giving a more in-depth look at their plans for our arts economy.

*Featured/top image: (From left) KSAT 12 Anchor Tim Gerber, Mike Villarreal, Leticia Van de Putte, Mayor Ivy Taylor, Paul Martinez, Tommy Adkisson and Theatre for Change founder Shannon Ivey on stage at The Tobin Center during the Change the Vote mayoral forum. Photo by Page Graham.

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