Developing Arts Advocates: The Future of the Arts
The last few months I have been speaking a lot about arts advocacy in various venues. While sharing information about advocacy with others involved in the arts, I have come to realize that there are many who feel the work that advocates do is important; however, they are reluctant or unsure how to become involved themselves. In these conversations, I began to realize that advocating for the arts might not be enough. Perhaps arts advocates need to identify the citizens, leaders, artists, and arts audiences in our respective communities who could become arts advocates and contribute to our efforts in sustaining the presence of the arts in our respective communities.
Before I continue my discussion, allow me to preface it with a point that was raised by a respondent to my previous post on ARTSblog. There is plenty of blame to go around for the lack of support of the arts in this country. However, feminist authors like Gloria Anzaldúa and Audre Lorde have taught me that promoting social change requires two things: identifying the issues that exist and proposing solutions. Therefore, my intent in talking about the constant need to educate others about the importance of the arts/arts education is not to say that we should shoulder this responsibility ourselves. Instead, we have to recognize the reality that exists, respond to that reality, and develop strategies for convincing others of the significant role of the arts in culture and education.
In my recent discussions, research, and participation in arts advocacy networks, I have come to realize that there are misconceptions about arts advocacy that cause individuals--who are sometimes actively involved in the arts themselves--to avoid participating advocacy efforts. The list below includes some of the perceptions that I have informally gathered the last few months and responses that may help in convincing others to become involved.
1. I am a teacher, and as a state employee I cannot participate in arts advocacy efforts.
While it is common knowledge that using state resources to participate in advocacy is not condoned, all private citizens can participate in arts advocacy efforts. If you pay taxes and hopefully vote, the politicians in your respective district expect their constituency to keep them informed. Furthermore, the work you do in the classroom on a daily basis provides you with real-world examples that you can use to support the facts and figures that you can use in crafting your message. Examples from the trenches bring such data to life and help stakeholders put a name and face on the value of the arts and arts education.
2. I am unsure of how to become an arts advocate because it seems like an inaccessible network to penetrate.
State advocacy networks can be located by looking on the Americans for the Arts website. Furthermore, these networks will usually provide you with the current outlook on the arts/arts education in your state and strategies for effectively sharing this information with the stakeholders in your communities.
3. I do not understand how legislative and/or funding decisions are made.
The political process can be confusing, and studying it can remind you of the things your teachers were trying to teach you in your High School Government Class. The good news is that Americans for the Arts has developed resources to help you make sense of political/funding processes and their relevance to your context. Participation in arts advocacy does not require one to reinvent the wheel since the research that will help you make your case already exists. Take a look at AFTA's Issues Briefs, which are updated every year before National Arts Advocacy Day . Also, the Advocacy Toolkit on AFTA's website provides some information about the importance of advocacy, different ways to be involved in supporting the arts, and resources to help you get started.
4. Arts Advocacy is too political.
While becoming an advocate for the arts requires us to remain informed of how political decisions impact the future of the arts in our country, arts advocacy is a nonpartisan activity. Therefore, it is not about aligning oneself with the different sides of the political aisle. Instead, it is about being informed, effectively communicating the facts to others, and raising awareness to promote support.
5. I do not see change happening fast enough, and it is frustrating to dedicate time to something that will not change.
Widespread change can only occur through a collection of smaller actions that eventually materialize into lager action. In my own experience, the process of advocating and the networking that occurs through consistent efforts on the part of private citizens can eventually result in large victories. However, building relationships with policy makers and school board officials is the first part in developing trust that can lead to long-lasting alliances in support of the arts/arts education.
Without undermining the important efforts of arts advocates, advocacy does require dedication but not necessarily a lot of additional time from individuals. Furthermore, there are many different ways to participate. As arts advocates we are in the practice of educating others about the importance of the arts. Perhaps we should also consider educating those who could be instrumental in our efforts and grow our network of individuals who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.