Yardie Interviews → Lisa Carnevale


Lisa Carnevale
Steel Yard Board Member
Director of Rhode Island Citizens for the Arts

Lisa Carnevale is one of the founding members of the Steel Yard board and a Rhode Islander from the start.  Outside of that, she has major responsibilities as the Executive Director for Rhode Island Citizens for the Arts, an advocacy group that protects funding to the arts and works to advance the creative sector through policy in our state.  We wanted to introduce you to one of the driving forces behind the Steel Yard and acknowledge some of the hard work that's being done in our state to support the arts.  Currently, RI CFA is facing a challenge in reaching membership numbers that will sustain their work.  If you are interested in becoming an arts advocate, or supporting advocacy, follow the link below. 

Steel Yard: What led you to your advocacy and arts interests?
Lisa Carnevale:
I think being from Rhode Island, it wasn't too hard to find arts or creativity in and around Providence.  I was probably 15 years old the first time I went to an arts event in a mill.  I find there is an incredible amount of richness in our State through this sector.

To me, arts, creativity, culture, innovation, and imagination make up who we are as people, as a society, and through this, create great places to live.  But they also make up the characteristics needed to compete in a global economy.  For this, I'm selfish - I want creativity to be strong in our state so I continue to enjoy its perks in my every day life, but also so we have a healthy economy.

I have a background in Public Relations.  Though I've always found myself doing some sort of side work in the arts sector.  Advocacy has actually combined my interests.  It uses the skills of PR towards something I am passionate about.  I'm just directing that activity to a whole different set of characters... most often, those in public office.

SY: Do you have a favorite advocacy success story? 
There are many very funny advocacy stories, and many with great success - such as passing legislation or saving the arts budget.  But the ones I like the most are from what we might call 'first-time advocates'.  At RI CFA, we hold advocacy trainings and an advocacy day at the State House.  In this venue, we give our constituents the tools and know-how on advocating for our sector, speaking to legislators, etc.  And oftentimes, when they go off and find their legislator in the halls of the state house, or call them up and have a conversation, they return with stories and excitement in having just taken that action.  They are empowered by it.  I think this is the greatest success, really, we can have - to inspire and empower citizens to be part of this democratic system, and to have a voice.

SY: Have you lived in Providence and/or Rhode Island your whole life? 
LC: Most of my life.  I grew up in Rhode Island.  During college I lived for some time in California, and after college in Seattle.  I have travelled widely throughout the U.S., Italy and Central and South America.  I do think it's important to get out from where ever you are from and explore the world.  I try to do this on a continuous basis.

SY: How did you first become involved with the Steel Yard? 
LC: As is often the case, there are varying ways I got connected into the Steel Yard.  It all solidified when I took a desk in the Steel Yard's communal office space in 2003.  How I got to this point was a variation of meeting Nick [Bauta] before the Steel Yard even existed and listening to his crazy idea of having a space where industrial artists could share equipment.  I met with him, Clay [Rockefeller] and Peter [Eiermann] at the Yard just after Clay and Nick purchased the land.  There it was, three guys standing in a somewhat renovated two story building surrounded by a lot of old steel and dirt with an idea, energy and an ever attracted community of people.  It was exactly what Providence and Rhode Island had always signified to me:  creative and innovative spirit.  I got really persistent when I heard they had desk space to offer.

SY: How long have you been Executive Director of Rhode Island CFA?
LC: I have been involved with RI CFA since 2002, but only became their first full time Executive Director two years ago.

SY: What is RI CFA's role in Rhode Island?
LC: RI CFA organizes and educates citizens around initiatives that seek to advance RI's creative communities.  We are a political group, lobbying at the State House and trying to affect changes in policy while also protecting and hopefully increasing funding to the arts through our state agency.   We are tied nationally to Americans for the Arts, so we act as the point organization in RI for advocacy at the federal level. 

SY: How do you feel Rhode Island compares to the rest of the country in terms of arts funding and support? 
LC: Rhode Island doesn't do too badly compared to other states in basic funding support, though we are not as integrated as one might think, given our reputation for "getting" the arts.  Other states have created - through legislation or executive order - dedicated plans around the creative sector.  Things like an economic development plan for the creative economy, point person in the state that works to nurture this sector, ways in which creativity is understood as a needed asset and even more, the future of economic sustainability.  We have moments of this here and there.  The Department of Art, Culture and Tourism is a great example of integration, but it is a city initiative that doesn't cover the whole state.  Basically, we just don't have a comprehensive strategy that would really benefit the state as a whole in the end.

SY: What have been some of RI CFA's success stories? 
LC: For as small as we are, we have had some great success.  Most recently was fighting and successfully reinstating all arts funding and programs that were on the chopping block last year.  Governor Carcieri proposed a 58% cut last year and we were effective in organizing the efforts to fight against this cut - rallying hundreds of advocates, giving them the tools, and lobbying our legislative leaders. 

In other years, we've more quietly protected arts funding (that is funneled through the RI State Council on the Arts), added a staff person to their department, and protected the 1% for public art program.  We even passed a Scratch Ticket for the Arts that raised additional funds for individual artists.

SY: What is the biggest challenge facing RI CFA?
LC: Right now, RI CFA is facing a significant challenge of sustainability as an organization.  While the organization has been around a little over 10 years, we are really just two years young in the current form with paid staff resources.. of one!  While it is just me, with this, we've been able to break important ground in giving a voice to the sector.  We have a presence at the State House (I am a registered lobbyist), and we've helped elected officials understand the importance of the sector, including our current Governor. 

Though, organizationally, it's been a consistent struggle with capacity and reach.  Because of our political work, we are fully funded through members.  Our membership efforts haven't produced what we have needed in the past year, in part because we have focused our limited resources on protecting the funding for the arts.  To sustain our work, we need to be over 2,000 members strong and we are quite shy of that. 

SY: How does someone become a member of RI CFA?
LC: You can become a member at our website:  www.ri4arts.org.  Click the 'Membership Drive' button on the left side.  Annual membership begins at $25.  (Please note: because of our political work, membership is not tax deductible.)

SY: What can people do to show their support of the arts in Rhode Island and nationally? 
LC: Be part of the voice.  Spread the word about the arts.  Support an arts organization or buy products from an artist.  Get involved in your local advocacy organization (most all states have them).  Be part of Culture Stops!

Unless you are deeply involved in the sector and surrounded by others that are -- the arts are not a kitchen table topic, just like the environment, energy or even what's happening in other countries.  It takes extra effort to have conversations that helps others realize the decline arts and creativity has taken in our nation.  But we need to have these conversations, before we truly lose ground in this area. 

I saw a quote today that I've used in many ways over the years but somehow stuck out even more to me:  "Voices are louder in numbers".  Be part of the voice.

SY: Thank you Lisa!