We had the good fortune of connecting with Tom DeCaigny and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tom, how does your business help the community?
The California Alliance for Arts Education fights to ensure all young people receive the high-quality arts education they need and deserve. As school districts across the state of California grapple with tough budget and reopening decisions, our statewide Arts Now Campaign provides local advocates, parents and educators with the critical tools and support they need to keep creativity in our schools. We help make sure the arts continue to inspire a better future. Multiple studies show arts education not only decreases students’ feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation, but also positively impacts all-around academic performance. Students who receive a quality arts education are: ● 5 times more likely to stay in school; ● 3 times more likely to get a bachelor’s degree; and ● 4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. We’re committed to making sure every student in California – and not just those students whose families can afford to pay for it – receives the critical benefits of an arts education.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Prior to becoming the Executive Director of the California Alliance for Arts Education, I spent eight years as San Francisco’s Director of Cultural Affairs. During my tenure in San Francisco, I helped win a successful local ballot measure (Proposition E) which increased hotel tax funding for the arts and arts education, advanced a number of successful space affordability and racial equity initiatives in one of the most expensive cities in the world and tripled the City’s overall financial support for San Francisco’s cultural sector. I was also proud to support the decades-long struggle by local indigenous leaders to remove the racist ‘Early Days’ statue from outside of San Francisco City Hall which we finally took down in 2018. I quickly learned as San Francisco’s Director of Cultural Affairs that the intersection of arts, creativity and government is a messy place. Government is historically hierarchical and risk-averse. By contrast, artists and creatives are eager to challenge the status quo and make new connections. They are born risk-takers and dreamers. Government today could stand to learn a lot from the creative and cultural sectors. People are hungry for a deeper sense of belonging and it is going to require some risk-taking and imagination to find new ways of governance. I believe if we could find a way to adequately and more equitably invest in arts and culture – and arts education – we would be able to build a better future.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Our offices are located in Pasadena and I always enjoy a late afternoon retreat to the Huntington Botanical Gardens. These days you have to buy tickets in advance, but a visit is guaranteed to calm the 2020 nerves. For dinner, I like to take guests to Hippo which offers nice outdoor seating and a great menu. And before COVID, I loved meeting friends for drinks at Blind Barber or for a night on the dance floor at Akbar in Silverlake – always a good time!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I owe any success to the teachers that continue to inspire me to this day. Growing up in working-class rural northern Minnesota, I had a few incredible public school teachers who introduced me to the visual and performing arts and who encouraged me to pursue my dreams. They encouraged me to try new things, take chances and eventually to pursue a degree in theater even though nobody else in my family had ever gone to college. Today, as I watch teachers around the country literally risk their lives to help their students, I’m reminded what a difference an incredible teacher can make in the life of a student. Shoutout to Julie McMerty, Rosemary Jones and Ann Grossman!