It was January 1975. He’d had his hand in the creation of the New England Artist Festival and Showcase, today called the New England Arts Biennial.
The team of founders — including Lynch — marketed it as “New England’s largest gathering of artists, craftspeople, performers, poets and other creators.”
The lie: It had never happened before this; there was a chance no one would even show up.
That wasn’t the case.
The event, held in May, attracted 20,000 people. And as this was Lynch’s first adventure into marketing, a variety of mishaps ensued.
Tickets cost 99 cents, but the event organizers hadn’t expected patrons to want the penny change; they had to come up with 20,000 pennies.
The volunteers providing security showed up dressed in riot gear and carrying billy clubs, despite the festival’s family-friendly image.
A symbolic release of white doves was actually a flock of pigeons, and they stuck around once released — and with them came their droppings.
Finally, when the North Hampton mayor boarded a hot air balloon there, it lifted 10 feet off the ground before blowing sideways 100 yards, plowing over two interns in the process.
“I was completely booked,” Lynch said. “The excitement, the energy, the arts.”
He said once all the problems had been solved, people were free to enjoy the music and the artwork. It was then that Lynch understood: Art can bring communities together. There was a sense of understanding among the patrons.
Lynch, the final speaker in Week Four’s topic on “A Case for the Arts,” said art is so instrumental he questions why communities have yet to take it seriously.
Lynch is the president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, an organization that promotes art and art education. His speech, titled “America at a Cultural Crossroads,” explored the history and benefits of the arts on communities and education.
Benefitting from the arts
When Lynch was growing up, his parents had a very different view of how his life would go: His mother wanted him to a dentist, while his father wanted him to be a lawyer.
“I chose creative writing, specializing in poetry — where the big bucks are,” Lynch said sarcastically. “So I got out, and I discovered all the poet jobs were taken.”
Though he joked about this, he said the arts actually contribute to the economy quite well — $166 billion a year, to be specific. They generate 1.7 million jobs and $30 billion in taxes.
Furthermore, arts can result in creativity, self-actualization and self-discovery. Lynch said most people already know this, thanks to religious services, communities, environments and personal lives.
When asked in a survey what inspires innovation, superintendents said the No. 1 factor is arts education in schools. Similarly, a group of American businessmen said arts education is the No. 2 factor.
Arts have had a place in America’s history since the very beginning, he said.
It’s mentioned in the Constitution, reading that Congress should have the right “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
Even today, interest in the arts is thriving, despite reports from the National Endowment for the Arts saying otherwise. The NEA reached that conclusion because of fewer ticket sales — but Lynch said the organization failed to take online and television views into account.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, he said, is responding to this demand by inviting amateur musicians 25 years of age or older to play with its members. Although the orchestra expected only a few responses, 400 people took the opportunity.
“It’s out there,” Lynch said. “The hunger (for the arts) is there.”
It’s these facts, he said, that policy makers need to hear about if supporters of the arts hope to make change.
The issue behind it all
Despite all these positive trends, Lynch said, the arts are getting very minimal government funding.
Sixty percent of funding comes from revenue earned by individual art organizations, and foundation and corporate funding provides about 4 percent each. Individual donors make up about 20 percent, with the remaining 12 percent coming from the government.
The NEA, he said, provides less than 1 percent of total funding for the arts, even though it’s one of the most known supporters of the arts.
Lynch said the main goal behind it all should be to find a way to make people understand the necessity behind the arts. Arts education is one way to solve this.
Presidents have enjoyed the arts; militaries have utilized the arts; communities depend on the arts. Yet, Lynch said, governments officials don’t recognize their impact.
“We’ve enjoyed the fruits,” Lynch said, “but we need to spread the word, making the value of arts — in a very practical nation — better understood as a critical need right now.”
Robert L. Lynch is the president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, the national organization dedicated to advancing the arts and arts education in people's lives, schools and communities.
Lynch was executive director of the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies for 12 years, and managed the successful merger of that organization with the American Council for the Arts to form Americans for the Arts in 1996. In 2005, he oversaw the merger of the Arts and Business Council Inc. into Americans for the Arts. Also in 2005, he created the Americans for the Arts Action Fund and its connected political action committee to engage citizens in advocating for the arts and arts education to ensure arts-friendly public policies.
With more than 30 years of experience in the arts industry, Lynch is motivated by his personal mission to empower communities and leaders to advance arts and arts appreciation in society. Under his 24 years of leadership, the services and membership of Americans for the Arts has grown to more than 50 times its original size in 1985. He has personally reached audiences in 49 states and eight countries, ranging from Native American tribal gatherings to the U.S. armed forces in Europe and the president of the United States.
Lynch currently serves on the boards of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, the Arts Extension Institute and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst College of Humanities and Fine Arts. He is a member of the executive committee for United Voices for Education and the advisory council of the National Museum for Children in the Arts. Lynch earned a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and plays the piano, mandolin and guitar.