Advocacy in "Interesting" Times
This article was originally published by CultureWork: A Periodic Broadside for Arts and Culture Workers, in January 2016. CultureWork is a publication of The Center for Community Arts and Cultural Policy at the University of Oregon. The following blog post is an abbreviated version.
The idea that advocacy should be a daily activity, and not just something that is reserved for once-a-year visits to the State Capitol, hit home for me a few years ago. An enthusiastic constituent made the trek to Madison from a small town on the Mississippi River—a trip of at least four hours each way—to attend Arts Day. At the end of the day, she told me that she had had a great time learning and networking but didn’t get a chance to visit with her legislator. She said, "I'll come back to Madison one of these days to meet with him." My response was, "Well, he'll be home this weekend, and every weekend, so why don't you just call him up and meet for coffee at a local café?" That's when I realized…there's a misconception out there that advocacy is something separate from life, that you have to make a special effort and drive a long way to meet with your legislator to be part of the civic discourse.
The story illustrates Arts Wisconsin’s mantra that advocacy is a process, a mindset, a way of life, and deeply rooted in human relationships, opportunities, and ongoing activism. True, effective advocacy is an everyday activity, and it's most effective when it comes from the local level and from the heart. Getting to know people as fellow humans, getting to know what's important to them, and getting to a point of mutual benefit, is key to successful advocacy.
The following principles guide Arts Wisconsin’s work to encourage strategic thinking and action locally and globally:
- The 21st century world demands new ways of thinking and doing. With great change comes great opportunity. It's a very exciting time, because if there ever was a time that we needed the arts and creativity, it’s now. Creativity, innovation, imagination, and entrepreneurship–all qualities inherent to the arts—are what we need to move our economy, educational systems, and civic infrastructure forward. The arts are important because creative expression is fundamental to the human condition. And the arts are important because creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship will move us, locally and globally, to grow the economy; create locally-based, sustainable jobs; educate our children for the 21st century world and workforce; enliven our communities large and small and bring diverse communities together; enhance and strengthen a community's competitive edge. The arts and creativity should be recognized in strategic economic, educational, and civic plans.
- Don't assume that leaders already know about and support the ways in which the arts are a force for their communities. Even if they are supportive, they are faced with difficult budget and civic choices every day. It's critically important to build and sustain relationships on all levels. You can and should provide ongoing information about your work, and about the public value of the arts, arts education, and creative economy locally and globally. Remember that budgets and viewpoints can be changed if enough people speak up and show that they care.
- Say thank you, if you’ve received public funding in any form. For that matter, say thank you if anyone or any institution supports you and your work. Make sure decision makers know that investment in the arts is an investment in human and civic infrastructure.
- The number of people involved in a cause speaks volumes about value, and success is directly proportional to the numbers of persons involved. The more people speaking up for the arts in your state, the more it will be understood that the arts are valued in and important to everyone, everywhere. If you don't speak up for your cause, then others will speak up for their causes. Those are the causes that will get attention and resources…and then you will wonder why no one cares about or invests in your cause.
- Involvement and leadership will help get others involved. Patrons, audiences, parents of your students, business community, educators, and the public at large will only be as committed as you are. Don't expect others to do the work for you. Advocacy doesn’t happen by itself. Commitment, persistence, and passion inspire others.
- None of us can sit back and stay uninvolved. If you care at all about your community’s future, it is your duty and your opportunity, and in your best interest, to speak up for the arts and creativity and believe that change can happen.
Here at home, I feel privileged to work with so many people who care deeply and work passionately, to know and appreciate the state’s strengths and opportunities, and to help Wisconsin continue to move forward. I’m looking forward to gathering with my national colleagues and friends in Washington, DC at Arts Advocacy Day on March 7-8, to tell our stories about the transformative opportunities through the arts and creativity throughout the country.
Note: To read Anne’s full blog post and Arts Wisconsin’s statewide advocacy efforts, please click here.