Obama aide discusses relation of art, politics

2012 campaign manager Jim Messina discussed the importance of storytelling within politics and the arts


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The relationship between politics and the arts isn't obvious to everyone. But President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina sees the link easily.

Speaking to a crowd of about 600 at the Americans for the Arts annual convention -- this year's taking place in Pittsburgh -- Mr. Messina explained that success in both the arts and politics relies on storytelling.

In the case of Mr. Messina's strategy to get Mr. Obama re-elected, it meant telling the president's story. The American people wanted to hear both where Mr. Obama had come from and what he hoped to achieve in the future, Mr. Messina said.

Mr. Messina said the campaign staff was constantly listening to the stories from the people of America to make the election less about Mr. Obama and more about the citizens of the country.

"We got to this place by telling stories, and that's what you do every single day," Mr. Messina said to the artists in his audience.

Art also needs to stay relevant, Mr. Messina said, which is another issue that he made his focus. In Mr. Obama's campaign, staying relevant involved hiring a technology-savvy staff rather than a group of individuals interested in politics to help reach more people.

"Art also has to speak to a broader collective wish for where we want our world to go," Mr. Messina said. "That is when we become relevant."

California-based demographer Manuel Pastor, the other keynote speaker during Friday's convention, discussed trends within the United States. He focused primarily on the increase of diversity, which he said has been a point of contention in the country.

One way to alleviate some of this contention is for the society to create meaning together, which can be achieved through the arts, Mr. Pastor said.

"A big task ahead of us in America is realizing that we are really all in the same society together," Mr. Pastor said.

One of the artists who found Mr. Messina's speech particularly interesting was Christopher Audain, a graduate student at Goucher College in Baltimore.

Mr. Audain enjoys both arts and politics so found himself enthralled listening to Mr. Messina. He plans to take away the advice from Mr. Messina about the importance of storytelling.

"Telling stories is exactly what we need to do as artists," Mr. Audain said.

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Jessica Tully: jtully@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1159 and on Twitter: @jessalynn4.


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