Arts Education Policy: Without Clout, There Will Be No Change

Posted by Robert Lynch, Aug 11, 2011 0 comments

At Americans for the Arts, we see an opportunity to advance national arts education policy by working in a very specific way.

We focus on forging strategic alliances with key leaders in the public and private sectors and on working alongside these allies to educate the decision-makers who have leverage in the national policy arena.

We concentrate on giving those decision-makers meaningful research and specific information about the benefits of arts education in an effort to impact and inform future decisions about education policy.

This work is informed by the best practice examples surfaced by our national network of state and local advocates and the specific stories they share about the impact of arts education programs on the ground.

It is further shaped by the opportunities we create for high-level corporate, philanthropic, and thought leaders to take action personally and speak publicly about the value they see in arts education before new audiences.

All of this work builds the clout that is critical to the success of our decision-maker education effort. Without the clout, there will be no change.

Federal Arts Education Policy

In terms of investment, we advocate for resources to support the arts in the broader education agenda, including issues of equity, improving college and career-readiness, and workforce development.

This work includes encouraging the U.S. Department of Education to focus on state and school district fulfillment of regulations already in place that support arts education, as well as working to ensure that the guidelines for new grant programs allow the funds to support arts education programs and services.

Among federal policy issues, no other issue stands out as more important than reversing the narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Americans for the Arts began working to prepare for NCLB reauthorization over five years ago, and we have continued throughout each Congress to work to inform decision-makers about the importance of 1) language in the legislation that would increase the role of the arts as a core academic subject; and 2) appropriations that would allow funds, such as Title I or federal grant programs, to be used for arts instruction and/or professional development

We developed these recommendations through a collaborative planning process through which we have consistently engaged over 80 national organizations. In my view, this process represents the best mechanism for debating, refining, and uniting behind shared policy objectives.

To be truly effective, we need many more organizations to join us in this process and commit to working with the group. This is critical to our future success, and one of my chief areas of focus right now is doing whatever I can to help build this larger national coalition.

Building National Clout for Arts Education

We deliberately collaborate with leaders from many different arts and culture, education, and public and private sector organizations to advance education reform at the national level and in local communities.

We interface with a complex web of national, state, and local support entities that advocate for arts education to help develop the leadership that is necessary to strengthen policies and expand resources for arts education.

These efforts focus in three areas: (1) Supporting an advocacy network comprised of national service organizations, state arts and education advocacy organizations, and over 100,000 citizen activists through our Arts Action Fund; (2) Cultivating more than 50 strategic partnerships with organizations representing arts and culture, elected officials, businesses, and policy and funding decision makers; and (3) Engaging in national visibility for the cause of arts education, through efforts such as Art. Ask for More, and the Keep the Arts in Public Schools Facebook Cause with its more than 1.2 million members.

The combination creates the capacity of powerful outcomes.

Consider, for example, our 2010 National Arts Policy Roundtable at the Sundance Institute. The dialogue at this meeting, which included officials from the President's Committee on the Arts & Humanities (PCAH) and the U.S. Department of Education, helped to inform PCAH’s Reinvesting in Arts Education report. At our annual convention, we hosted a special session on the report and began an ongoing discussion with the field as to how some of the objectives outlined in this report can be realized at the local level.

We take strategic data and case making information like the PCAH report out to decision makers through our broader network of strategic alliances and leadership venues ranging just this summer from the Chautauqua Institute, Aspen Institute, Sundance Institute, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and many others focused on  all levels – federal, state, and local. Relentless messaging and a large army of messengers are the keys.

Together, these advocacy efforts (influencing federal policy and building national clout) will help create a strong voice for arts education and a platform for action that engages the many layers of decision-makers, stakeholders, and advocates in making sure that the arts are a robust and vital component of education in every community in America.

*This post was originally published as part of the Arts Education Blog Forum on Barry's Blog. To read other posts responding to the same issues, visit blog.westaf.org.

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