Details about the San Diego Win for Arts Ed (From Arts Watch)

Posted by John Abodeely, Jun 17, 2009 0 comments

Arts and arts ed consultant and one of the San Diego arts ed advocacy masterminds, Victoria Saunders, gave an interview to the California Alliance for Arts Education. It's posted on CAAE's Facebook site. This story is so great, it gave me goosebumps. She says, "I told myself, if the Visual and Performing Arts Department goes away and I didn’t do anything to try to prevent that from happening, I will regret it for the rest of my life. If we lose it and we try at least we know that we tried and that we stood up for something we believe in."

Here's an awesome slice:

We also created a Facebook fan page to help build community support and share information. Then we combed through our Facebook fans to find out who supported our cause. I discovered that one of our “fans” was the brother of one of the school board members. That was useful information. In some cases, we got in touch with our fans to find out more about why they supported our issue. That helped us understand who we could leverage to help plead our cause.

For example, one of our Facebook fans was a former head of the local taxpayer’s association and now he’s an independent political consultant. I wrote to him and asked him about his interest in this issue. He wrote back and said that he has two kids in school, one in the band, and he’s always been a supporter of the arts. We had coffee and I asked for his advice. He suggested a media event emphasizing that we needed publicity.

I don’t do media. So I asked around for advice. I contacted a colleague who specializes in public relations. We put together a brief for her, and in 48 hours, she helped us pull together a media event. She told us that it is important to have strong visuals. So the VAPA Director helped get kids there - theatre students came in costume; arts students made banners, and musicians brought instruments. The Guild of Puppetry brought some huge puppets, including one Day of the Dead character.

The kids hung a sign around his neck that said “Don’t Kill the Arts.” We got all the local news stations – even someone from the Spanish language station, Univision. One lesson we learned is that we needed a Spanish-speaking advocate at the event, because we needed someone who could speak to the Spanish language reporter in Spanish.


Everybody that we contacted in the district was behind what we wanted to do – nobody wanted to get in our way. Everyone – school officials, police – was cooperative.

The media event was a great success. Ours was the lead story on all the local television stations.

ALLIANCE: What happened at the school board meeting?

VICTORIA: Several advocates spoke to the board. One of the kids in middle school came and said that he wanted to talk about the importance of music in his life and how it helped make him a better math student.

When it came time to vote, the board said they had received our letters and heard our commentary. One said, “I don’t want to remove something that’s keeping kids from dropping out.” You organize all of these talking points, and in the end, you’re not really sure which they are going to remember and respond to.

Here are a few choice strategies pulled for advocate and good for any advocate, veteran or neophyte...

"You can go to the school board website and find out about upcoming meetings and look at the budget. In this case, there was a section describing cost cuts and it said “other options.” That’s where I saw the proposed elimination of the [Visual and Performing Arts  (VAPA)] Department,  which they estimated would save $3.2 million."

The "other options" strategy is tricky. Sometimes the cuts that will harm arts education for all kids gets buried in bureaucratic strategy, excess documentation, "special" meetings, or "other business."

"I called the head of the VAPA Department and asked, what does that mean? How many teachers are we talking about? How many programs? What is the ultimate impact of that cut? The VAPA Director gave me a lot of useful information I could use to understand the proposed cuts and the potential impact. We could not have made our case without her and the information she could provide."

" It’s important to get your message right. I was always careful to frame the issue in terms of keeping the VAPA Department. It wasn’t a wholesale elimination of the arts in the schools.

"You have to speak the language of the school board. You don’t want to say “everything is disappearing,” because then the school board can say, no, that’s not true. And we would look like we hadn’t done our homework.

"Then you have to boil it all down to talking points you can share with advocates and tell them exactly what you want them to say. In our case, we wanted them to say: don’t eliminate the VAPA Department, and please remove the proposed elimination of the department from your list of cuts."

Thank you to the CAAE for capturing that information! For more information about organizing your own local advocacy campaign, visit

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