Continuing contributions with nationwide impact: Public Ally Chris Elliott's work with the Arizona Commission on the Arts
November 28, 2023 — Arizona’s arts and culture sector generated $1.1 billion of economic activity in 2022, according to the new, nationwide Arts and Economic Prosperity 6 Study. Its findings have been published by news outlets local and national, highlighting their state’s results.
The Arizona Commission on the Arts joined the effort, coordinating with arts and culture organizations across the state.
One man behind the study? Public Allies Arizona member Chris Elliott.
Matched with the Arizona Commission on the Arts as a part of the ASU Lodestar Center’s Public Allies Arizona program, Elliott works as a special initiatives coordinator. He traveled with his supervisor, Organizational Programs Manager Brad DeBiase, to collect data used in Arizona’s leg of the Arts and Economic Prosperity 6 study.
“The Arts Commission took up the task of engaging pretty much anyone who fell outside of the communities already represented,” said DeBiase. “We were engaging arts and culture organizations from Yuma to Nogales to Willcox to Winslow to Kingman — we were all over the map earlier this year.”
Public Allies Arizona is an AmeriCorps program that matches nonprofit organizations with emerging leaders from a variety of backgrounds. Allies are placed in10-month paid nonprofit internships, where they have access to professional and personal development opportunities.
Contributing to the study made up the majority of Elliott’s first year as a Public Ally in 2022. However, the work is still ongoing, even as he returns for his second year as a member of the 2023 Public Allies cohort. According to Elliott, his work with the study is transitioning into a new phase: “advocacy.”
“Now we can use this data as a tool for arts and culture organizations [and] nonprofits, to utilize this data to advocate for more funding for the arts in our communities,” Elliott said. The Commission is “going back to those communities, presenting the findings, and setting up … the data to advocate for more funding for their community.”
In his day-to-day work, Elliott sets up methods of interpreting and sharing the Arts and Economic Prosperity 6 data, whether it's developing presentations or sharing the findings online. His role has also expanded beyond the study, now including managing communications, acting as a grant panelist and more.
“He came in specifically for this research project, but he’s taken roots in so many parts of the agency,” DeBiase says. “I've really seen him develop a new comfort level in … the leadership role that he has.”
As an artist himself with a background in music, Elliott brought a fresh perspective to his allyship with the Arizona Commission on the Arts, while also pursuing his career interest in “arts nonprofit” work. He found his greatest passion in interacting with the unique artistic and cultural landscape of Arizona.
“I really do enjoy community engagement,” Elliott said. “I like that more in-person relationship building where we can highlight artists.”
This was especially true while working on the Arts and Economic Prosperity 6 study, which took Elliott to underrepresented communities outside of the Maricopa and Pima counties. As an out-of-state transplant, he says he found himself noticing that “art is very integrated within the cities and towns” of Arizona. Elliott says his personal favorite was the Snowdrift Art Space in Winslow.
“It was so cool,” Elliott says. “We got to tour the space, learn the history, how it became and things like that.”
However, not only did Elliott make his first steps into the arts and culture sector of Arizona as a Public Ally, but he also became accustomed to the nonprofit and grant-funding landscape that supports it. Elliott says being a Public Ally introduced him to the value of volunteerism and philanthropy.
“I’ve seen the value of it, in regard to giving up your services for nothing simply because you want to do good for the community and do good for the organization,” he said. “Being surrounded by those types of people has definitely helped me grow as a person more loving towards other people.”
As he continues through the remaining months of the Public Allies Arizona program, Elliott hopes to integrate himself further with Arizona’s nonprofit sector, stressing that “having those connections and getting more entangled with that scene up here is really cool, but also really beneficial to my career.”
Story by Lillian Finley, ASU Lodestar Center.
Photo: Chris Elliott and the Arizona Commission on the Arts staff in front of a commissioned mural in Flagstaff, AZ
Find out more about Public Allies Arizona
Public Allies Arizona is changing the face and practice of leadership throughout Phoenix and Tucson communities by demonstrating our conviction that everyone can lead, and that lasting change results when citizens of all backgrounds step up, take responsibility and work together.
Public Allies Arizona is a 10-month AmeriCorps program that places emerging leaders in full-time, paid nonprofit internships with partner organizations in the community. Allies come from many backgrounds and do not need to attend ASU. Our mission is to create a just and equitable society and the diverse leadership to sustain it.