Election Day Thoughts - The Single-Issue Voter, Cross-sector Advocacy, and Mission Creep

Posted by Scarlett Swerdlow, Nov 02, 2010 4 comments

Without a crystal ball or Miss Cleo's digits, it's impossible to write a "what will the election mean ..." piece before the polls close. Right? Well, I like a challenge, so I'm going to try anyway.

The forrest for the treesOf all the blocs of voters we have heard about this election -- women, moderates, youth, Tea Party, single, unemployed, etc. -- there is a breed of voter that hasn't made the headlines: the single-issue voter, the person who chooses a candidate based on his stance on one issue.

Even in "normal" times -- when unemployment was less than 10 percent, when the National Debt wasn't accelerating at a rate of $4 billion a day, and when Americans were confident in their country's competitiveness -- even in these times, many frowned on the single-issue voter. It's unrealistic. It's not sensible. It's missing the forest for the trees.

That said, I wonder whether our organizations -- the voices for the arts and arts education -- are making the same mistake as single-issue voters. Given the reality of the times, for us to focus squarely and solely on "our issue," is that wrong? Is that a waste? Or is it smart, mission-driven, effective advocacy?

Over the summer, the Obama administration announced $100 million in funding for initiatives to make communities more sustainable. Agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts would work together to award the money, and together they encouraged arts organizations to apply. Here in Illinois, this resulted in at least 3 grants, all with arts partnerships and components.

The arts and sustainability might be a no-brainer to us, but I believe these agencies took a chance and a stand by bringing us to the table. On my karmic balance sheet, they're in the black.

This all brings me back to the question I asked before, do we owe it to our comrades in advocacy and to our communities to care about more than the arts and arts education?

What about our allies in active transportation? Wouldn't better buses and trains, by the way, make it easier for everyone to experience and participate in the arts? What about teachers, school administrators, and education reformers (and not just those interested in the arts)? Isn't our advocacy in schools ultimately about the students and their success anyway? Or is it just about audience development? What about those working in immigrant communities? Certainly the arts play a role in cross-cultural understanding, so should arts advocates play a role in reform efforts? Or is it too controversial to be worthwhile?

It would be very, very easy to write these ideas off as mission creep, and maybe that's what they are. But I believe as we increasingly talk about cross-sector collaborations in our programming, we also need to talk about cross-sector collaborations in our advocacy. And just as the single-issue voter seems to hopelessly miss the point given the times we're in, part of me thinks the same can be said of the single-issue advocate.

What do you think? I hope you will leave a comment on this or any of your election predictions.


4 responses for Election Day Thoughts - The Single-Issue Voter, Cross-sector Advocacy, and Mission Creep


Ms. Rachel A. Ciprotti says
November 08, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I think it depends on what you mean by "we."

If there is a major public transportation project being considered for a city, it's entirely appropriate for that city's Arts Council or Symphony or artists' collective to make a statement in support of the initiative, as it relates to increased accessibility for audience members. However, I don't think it's appropriate for them to spend time and resources lobbying for the project, nor do I think it's appropriate for any of those organizations to take a stand on Public Transportation in general.

In the same vein, I would hope that a local Parks authority would make public statements of support for a local arts initiative, but I don't think it's appropriate to ask them to expend their resources fighting for it.

As the national advocacy organizations for the arts, Americans for the Arts can, should, and often does comment on legislation that will have positive or negative effects on arts organizations and/or artists. But I think it needs to keep its comments limited strictly to things which affect the arts in a direct and obvious manner.

Otherwise - it's Mission Creep!

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FCM says
January 10, 2011 at 10:48 am

The word "mission creep" is a heavily biased adjective based upon a foregone conclusion.

If the Gates foundation were to expand its operations into a new area, they would not title the press release "Mission Creep for 2011: x, y, z, etc"

So we have to jettison the word, if debate is still alive.

And the debate cuts to the heart of what we do. Take classical music -- does the product need to be improved before it will gain audiences? Looking at the exponential growth in specialization and talent development, is there any result on the other side of the equation (audience development and growth)?

I think the same can be said about organizations. The notion that anything that addresses the scope of the mission is a distraction from the mission, can easily fall into circular reasoning.

What the arts need in America, is not just a faster hamster wheel.

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Ms. Rachel A. Ciprotti says
November 02, 2010 at 10:57 am

I'm going to have to side with the idea of mission creep on this. There are a near-infinite number of worthy political causes, and I encourage all voters to be well-informed and not to be one-issue voters.

However, when I'm wearing my 'Arts Advocate' hat, I speak only about the arts. It's completely legitimate for someone who supports the arts to be against particular transportation legislation or to disagree about wider educational issues. I think it would weaken our cause to begin supporting issues with only the barest of ties to the Arts.

I mean, nearly Everything has some kind of tie to the arts in the way you connected "active transportation."

Lower taxes would make it easier for people to afford tickets to arts events; universal health care would provide benefits to working artists; fewer people in jails creates a larger potential audience for arts events...the "ties" are endless. We need to remain focused on what directly impacts the arts in this country.

Just because, as arts advocates, we send out information that focuses solely on our issues, does not mean we are promulgating the idea of being a one-issue voter. We are encouraging folks to be informed voters and to understand the consequences to the arts of their election day choices.

If I begin taking public sides on every political issue, I will lose support from those who disagree with me on non-arts related matters.

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November 02, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Rachel, thanks for the awesome response. I myself am not sure where I stand on the question I raised, so I liked reading your ideas.

You are right that there are many arts advocates who disagree on other issues that have ties -- even very direct ties -- to the arts. In fact, there are even arts advocates who don't agree on our core issues, like public funding. And then there are arts issues that create tensions in the community, like orphan works and copyright reform.

I used to work in a field that made a very compelling case for the value of that issue to other sectors and communities. We wanted folks to join our party, but we weren't willing to go to the party at their house.

If we want to build a big tent of arts advocates, are there some ties that we should pursue? I definitely agree we shouldn't look for a theory of everything, but are there some policy issues we should collaborate on? What do you think? How do you define it as an arts issue?

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