Arizona Citizens for the Arts’ executive director Joseph Benesh believes arts and culture is essential for connecting communities.
That sentiment is part of the arts advocacy organization’s mission to fight for arts funding and keep arts education in schools at the legislative level.
“It is our job to advocate for the spending of tax dollars on the arts in the state budget,” he says. “About 80 percent of voters across the country and in Arizona believe in supporting public arts, so it’s our job to help our legislators remember that.”
Arizona Citizens for the Arts’ annual fundraising gala, the Governor’s Arts Awards, honors emerging and established artists and organizations that contribute to Arizona’s arts and culture sector. This year, the event was supposed to take place at Mesa Arts Center on March 26, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The organization came together to come up with a creative alternative: a virtual 24-hour telethon called Hearts for Arizona. The event, which will be livestreamed on the advocacy group’s website from 5 p.m. on Friday, April 3, through 5 p.m. on Saturday April 4, will feature performances and presentations by politicians, public figures, artists and musicians from across Arizona.
Benesh says they currently have about 30 participants, including Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego, Joey Burns from Tucson Tex-Mex band Calexico, Valley visual artist Faith Christiansen Smeets and Phoenix poet laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski.
Because arts advocacy isn’t a tangible service like health care or education, Benesh says it can often be hard to show people all the work they’re doing behind the scenes.
“Where they do see it, later on, is when they get to attend performances in their community, they get to see public art on the walls of their community or when their kids come home and talk about the cool arts stuff they did in school,” he explains. “People often don’t know that we are a critical piece in that puzzle for making all those things happen.”
The telethon, he says, is way for Arizona Citizens for the Arts to showcase what they’re fighting for.
“One of the questions I’ve gotten is why art is important right now when we’re also facing a health care crisis, housing crisis, unemployment,” Benesh says. “So, it’s important to showcase everything that’s happening around Arizona as much as we can to say, ‘Hey we are still moving forward, we’re still in this together.’”
He adds that art is helping to tell the story of both the hardships and inspiring moments that are currently happening across the country. “We have to keep it going for our emotional health, but also for the sake of our future,” he says.
Benesh’s goal for Hearts for Arizona is to raise money, but he also hopes that it makes people see “that we are more connected than we realize.”
“Ironically, being quarantined and going online and finding new ways to reach out is reminding us that we are connected and I think we’ve kind of forgotten that,” he says.
While most of the telethon’s prime time spots are already filled, Benesh says they still have a few slots open for anyone that wants to participate. Go to azcitizensforthearts.org for more information.