Advocacy is Easier Than You Think (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Tim Mikulski, Oct 13, 2010 0 comments

Tim Mikulski

Having worked for a state legislative caucus and an individual legislator at the beginning of my career, it always amazes me that potential arts advocates feel that contacting local or state officials is either a difficult or frightening experience.

As arts education programs across the country continue to face uphill budget battles in individual school districts and even within schools, it is the perfect time to sit down with leaders at all levels to discuss the benefits of arts education and the good work that you do or witness others doing in your own communities.

Recently, I have been working on a new tool kit for our Keep the Arts in Public Schools Facebook Cause that provides teachers, students, and parents with a few easy steps for those groups to take to support arts education in their respective schools.

Here are the six easy steps that parents and teachers can take to affect change for arts education in their schools:

1. Craft your story

Take a moment to write down your personal story about arts education. Speak from the heart and tell the reader what your students have learned and felt from participating in your classes, concerts, recitals, etc. You can earn extra points if you can provide examples of alumni who have gone on to be successful in the “real world” since the current argument for arts education that is resonating the most relates to it providing students with creativity and innovation skills needed in the 21st century workforce.

2.  Brush up on your arts education facts and figures

I know you well are aware of the basic facts about the benefits of arts education for students, but it is helpful to brush up on the most recent information available. One place to find it is on the Americans for the Arts website. With new information becoming available on a consistent basis, it is helpful to always have the latest trend or statistic in your arsenal.

3.  Connect with your principal

I am sure that your local principal has a full plate, but it doesn’t help to reach out and make sure the arts are always on the front of his or her mind—especially around budget time. Find out what he or she would want to do with specific courses and if needed, explain how some of arts lesson plans or ideas can fit into math, language arts, or technology courses. Although this might not seem like direct advocacy for arts education, it is all part of the process.

4.  Gather your case

Combine your personal story and the results of your conversation with your principal into a narrative. Then, attend your next Board of Education meeting. If you feel comfortable enough, read your statement during public comment or simply introduce (or reintroduce) yourself to the members of the board when the meeting ends. By making sure they remember your face and name, when they have a question about arts education or are deciding the fate of your next budget, they’ll remember that you are the person they should consult. While you’re at it, make a pledge to testify for arts education in 2010 on our website.

5.  Reach out to allies

Working with allies that have the students’ best interest at heart can do nothing but improve your chances of improving arts education for the children that attend your local school, and the others in your district. In particular, seeking out the leaders of the local parent/teacher organizations is one alliance that can easily motivate and mobilize a large group of advocates on the behalf of arts education should a crisis arise. When there isn’t a crisis, the open dialogue provides a sounding board for both sides to discuss day-to-day issues that may impact learning for the students.

6.  Keep climbing the ladder

Once you become the main contact for arts education in eyes of school board members, keep reaching higher. As stated previously, local, county, and state representatives try to keep up with all of the latest happenings in their communities, but they simply cannot be everywhere all the time. Through simple e-mail correspondence or even invitations to music events at your school, you are opening the dialogue with the officials, and frankly, it’s often hard for an elected official to pass up a photo opportunity with students. Once the official attends a few events, ask to welcome the audience or even sit in with the band or chorus the next time they come. Just like in the workforce, networking is easy and effective in advocacy once the process begins.

These six steps will lay the foundation to allow you to help arts education in your local school, but it’s just one place to start, and various combinations of these techniques pay off in different ways.

Arts Watch is a weekly cultural policy publication of Americans for the Arts that covers news in a variety of categories related to cultural policy including Culture and Communities, Arts Education and the Creative Workforce, Public Investment in Culture and Creativity, and Philanthropy and the Private Sector. The newsletter also features an Arts Watch Spotlight item and Arts Canvas – News from the Field, a short piece written by a different Americans for the Arts staffer each week.

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