Americans For The Arts: Supporting Artists and Creating Community

Make Music Day

Interview with AFTA Chief of Staff Daniel Fitzmaurice, conducted by the Make Music Alliance in May 2022.

Can you tell me a little bit about AFTA, and what the organization does?

We are a national arts service organization, really focused on building visibility and recognition about the value of the arts. Sometimes that manifests itself in the advocacy space, learning and training, research is a big area of our work as well, and perhaps most uniquely we work across the whole country and for any type of creative practice, artists or arts workers. There is no disciplinary boundary, no geographical boundary, it’s all in! 

How did this organization begin? 

AFTA in its present form represents a couple of organizations that came together in the late 90s. Together, they’ve been around for well over 60 years, about the same time as the local arts agency movement in this country. Part of it was to say that we need a national outlet to serve all of these local arts agencies that were forming, and then the other was this idea that we needed a national voice to speak for the arts in the political arena across the country. We have also added a business and arts component over the years from another organization that came in and nationalized with us, so it has very much evolved as the ecosystem has evolved, and the infrastructure of the ecosystem has evolved in this country.

What kind of training do you do?

We have an online platform called “Arts U” that provides a lot of online training and webinars for arts workers, which is very broadly defined as far as people’s levels of their career goes, or the types of engagement they have as creative workers. And, a lot of those resources also just live on our website, so they might not be an active part of the video experience, but the database of materials that you can access and pull into your own practice. So you could find a study or a report or a framework or a template and bring it to you.  

What is next for AFTA, given the changes that have happened in the arts landscape in recent years?

The evolution is key; the organization is actually in a process because of covid, because of racial justice, because of our own desire to evolve and serve the needs of our country better. We operate under a value that everyone is an artist; just as, from my own experience in political organizing, everyone is a voter, even if you don’t vote; in the same way, everyone is an artist. Even if you don’t have an active practice, you have creativity and self expression inside you, and that is a big piece of connection between all of us. And again, as an organization that works across all those disciplines, that’s what we have in common, even as artists, that we have our own ways of connecting with that or of engaging with that. Audiences are also artists in their own ways. The whole ecosystem has many parts and everyone plays a unique role; there is a whole universe of different responsibilities and opportunities and not one is more important than the other, we need each other in that. Of course that is true all across society, but it is in creative contexts that I think it is extremely relevant. This is one of the challenges that an organization like AFTA faces, building work and building services and providing leadership that can contain multitudes; developing this work and supporting artists is the goal.