How to Get a Seat at the Table

Posted by Linda Langston, May 30, 2014 0 comments

I recently spoke in an Americans for the Arts’ State Arts Action Network webinar entitled, “How to Get a Seat at the Table” on May 7. As president of the National Association of Counties, I presented from a political perspective. As a former museum director though, I am attuned to the unique challenges and opportunities in making sure your voice is heard as an arts organization. Your first priority in getting a seat at the table is to make sure that your organization’s business plan and vision are in line. You need to define what your organization is and also you need to determine your organization’s place is in the community. You must be the story-teller of your organization.

Once you have your organization’s story, I urge you to become more political and by political I do not mean partisan, rather you should become involved in your community’s political arena. For example, aligning yourself with a political action committee not only increases your organization’s exposure, it helps you create relationships and help elect lawmakers who will be arts supporters and advocates. I also encourage arts organizations to attend their city council meetings and their county commission meetings; in fact, you should bring along your board members and arts advocates to those meetings. You don’t need to over-think it—just thanking them for their support is a great way to stand out. Never underestimate the power of a thank you—the city council or county commission will remember you during the next round of budget planning.

While coordinating and networking with your fellow arts organizations is important, go back to your organization’s story and figure out why the arts positively affects the community. Think of the positive impact the arts has on the local economy through ticket and arts sales. Consider the community development that occurs when a city has a vibrant cultural district. Community developers are noticing that people, particularly young adults, do not necessarily move to places with a strong job market; they move to communities that are vibrant and exciting. As you look at your community, build a map, find the pieces that make it unique, and craft your story on how the arts connects the dots. Then, reach out to your local business chamber and social service organization and broaden your arts organization’s reach.

Last but not least, get to know your elected officials. Make appointments with your mayor and your city council members. On your appointments, invite your new partners in business and social service organizations. Make your case and tell your story; explain why the arts are here to support your community’s tourism and tell them why the arts are vital in workforce and community development.

Yes, there are challenges in being in the arts, but think of all the wonderful opportunities. Open your mind to new possibilities in relationship building. Go beyond your normal network and think of creative ways in your outreach. Be your organization’s storyteller and make the case of why the arts deserve a seat at the table.

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