Action Both Today AND Tomorrow

Posted by Brea Heidelberg, Ms. Ann Marie Miller, Mar 07, 2017 0 comments

There are a lot of bases to cover when preparing people to be effective arts advocates—especially when those aspiring arts advocates are undergrads. Much like a game of intellectual Whack-a-Mole, your chances of success increase the more eyes, brains, and hands you have on deck. This isn’t work to be done alone. We have the distinct pleasure of working together, a boomer and a member of the Oregon Trail generation preparing arts advocates of the future.

Ann Marie Miller is Director of Advocacy & Public Policy for ArtPride New Jersey and Adjunct Professor at Montclair State University. She is directly or indirectly connected to most of the arts and cultural institutions within New Jersey and is a go-to person for information on state and local (arts) policy. Dr. Brea Heidelberg is Assistant Professor of Arts Administration and Director of the Multicultural Studies program at Rider University. She serves as a trustee of ArtPride NJ and as Co-Chair of the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Network.

We met through ArtPride New Jersey, the state arts advocacy organization and member of Americans for the Arts State Arts Action Network. It was kismet. One had suffered through too many save-the-state-arts-council and save-the-NEA crises, the other through the inherent trials and tribulations of strategically navigating academia. Although we took different routes, we are both dedicated to ensuring that university students and young professionals in New Jersey have a solid background in public policy including cultural policy as they prepare for and advance careers both in and outside of the arts.

Collaborating on ways to educate future artists and arts administrators on the policy process and their role as arts advocates came easy to us because:

  • We respect each other’s experiences and knowledge bases: Ann Marie’s time in the trenches is just as valuable as Brea’s time researching public policy and political science theory regarding advocacy and collective action. We take it as a given that both perspectives inform the ways we engage with young arts advocates.
  • We take the fact that arts advocacy doesn’t look like “one thing” as a given. There are tactics that have worked and those that haven’t, but students’ ideas for civic engagement are looked at with curiosity and not judgment.
  • We know (based on our respective experiences) when to laugh, when to roll our eyes, and when to go get a drink.

Teaching about the history of U.S. arts and cultural policy in the classroom is fun because we often are in front of students who have never heard about the laws, battles, and controversial pieces of art that have shaped the artistic disciplines and field they want to contribute to upon graduation. But the real fun comes when we get to make the theoretical real.

Each year, ArtPride NJ raises funds specifically to subsidize professional development for young people including participation in National Arts Advocacy Day. Funds are raised in memory of two women who were exemplary arts advocates and served on the ArtPride board of trustees. Each left a legacy in their own activism: Berda Rittenhouse, who served as Arts Education Program Director at the NJ State Council on the Arts, and Jane Burgio as NJ Secretary of State. The result is that each year, students from Rider and Montclair State Universities have the opportunity to experience the intensive training that occurs the day before visits to US Congress and the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy. Prior to the DC excursion, students are well versed in the budget process on both federal and state levels in class, providing even greater context to the Capitol Hill experience. The collaboration between educational institution and dedicated nonprofit organization is key. There are places where larger educational institutions can provide strength, but there are also blind spots and a general lack of nimbleness that can be covered by the nonprofit. This is the marriage between theory and practice at its best.

It is clear that some of our students will go on to successful arts related careers, as arts administrators or in media and communications, but our overall goal is to help groom full citizens that are civically engaged, who know how to effect change—we are just lucky that most of them are interested in doing this work on behalf of the arts, because we need them now and tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of advocacy blogs leading up to Arts Advocacy Day 2017. Read more advocacy blogs here.

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