The 9 Questions You Need to Answer to Run a Winning Arts Advocacy Campaign

Posted by Matt Wilson, Apr 12, 2016 7 comments

For many artists and cultural leaders, being a part of a political campaign is the farthest thing from their mind. Concentrating on a new creative inspiration, the upcoming show, ticket sales, are often the #1 focus for an artist or arts administrator.

Yet, we all have to remember the arts and cultural community is a public good. Like schools, police departments, and roads, the arts deserve public investment as they are vital to the health and vibrancy of our communities.

Public policy decided by our political leaders is a major factor in deciding the level of resources and support for the creative sector’s work. If the arts, cultural, and creative community wants the resources and support necessary to build vibrant, healthy and equitable communities, it has to start embracing and running political campaigns to build that public support.

If we don’t all build and implement campaigns for our cause, the arts and cultural community cannot compete with other advocacy communities and will get stuck as a second tier advocacy force.

While I run the Massachusetts arts advocacy organization MASSCreative, my background is not in the arts field. Besides a pottery class I took last year, my previous arts class was drawing with Ms. Mullin in 8th grade. Rather, over the past 33 years, I have ran local, state, and national campaigns that have brought together people to engage in important campaigns.

Webster’s Dictionary defines a campaign as a “connected set of military operations.”  Well, OK we don’t want that.

More appropriately, a campaign is a “connected series of operations designed to bring about a particular result”?  That is the framework in which we need to think.

To set up an effective campaign, here are your nine basic questions you need to answer --

  1. What’s Your Problem?

    What is the issue you are addressing? Arts education teachers being eliminated? Cultural facilities not being maintained?

  1. What do you want to Change?

    You need to set your vision and goals to solve your problem. Think of this on a number of levels.

  1. Short term goals—What is your immediate? And is your campaign one that…

    1. Will have an impact and create change?
    2. Is winnable?
    3. Is doable with your resources (our resources you can build)?
    4. Has an adrenalin factor to engage your supporters?
  2. Long term goals–What is your long term vision? Is this campaign consistent with that dream?
  3. Organizational goals–In addition to winning your policy, make sure that you have goals on how to build the long-term strength of your advocacy capacity to run future campaigns. Will this campaign bring in more money, identify more members, create more partnerships, and give you more visibility?
  1. What is your Pathway to Victory?

    1. Executive Branch–Can your Governor or Education Secretary solve your problem through an administrative decision? i.e. Arts education policy?
    2. Legislation Branch–Do you need to pass a law?  i.e. A Percent for Art program?
    3. Outside of government–Can you reach your goal without the government? i.e. Increase corporate support to that arts with an education campaign?
  2. What is Your Strategic Approach?
    How do you approach your political leaders? Do you argue on the merits, provide your leaders political cover, create a hero opportunity, or do you turn on the political pressure? Look at the chart below. 



  1. Who is the Decision Maker?

    In most campaigns, there is one key person who can make a choice that will get you what you want and win your campaign. Figure out who that person is.

  1. What guides the Decision Maker’s Choices?

    Create a Power Map to figure out what are the influences on that person. As you can see by the chart, our political leaders are moved by money and financial influences; opinion leaders; the general public (votes); the media; and personal interests.   

Put yourself in the shoes of your decision maker and figure out specifically in these areas what influences your decision maker. Do some research and dig down to find out specifically what moves him or her.

  1.  What are your most effective tactics?

    From your Power Map, do two things:

    1. Choose the strongest influencers on the decision maker.
    2. Decide what influences you can have an influence on.

From those two filters, decide your tactics to focus on.

  1.  What is your timeline and who will do the tasks?

    Create a timeline to implement your tactics. Who is going to do what? Who can you recruit to help you?

  1. What is Your Narrative? 

    Develop a message that is:

    1. Compelling and lays out a clear problem, solution and urgency.
    2. Concise so you can tell your story in 30 second bites.
    3. Consistent so that everyone can be on the same page with your message.

By methodically going through answering these questions, you can create a great framework for a campaign to bring more support and resources to your arts and cultural community. 

Matt is a member of Americans for the Arts. Learn more about membership.

7 responses for The 9 Questions You Need to Answer to Run a Winning Arts Advocacy Campaign


April 12, 2016 at 11:28 am

So appreciate you sharing this expertise with us. It really helps break down the work into managable parts. Thanks Matt! 

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April 12, 2016 at 11:41 am

Great pointers, Matt, and i love the phrase "adrenaline factor," so expect to see that more often. I can tell you worked with our mutural friend Ennis Carter!!

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Matt Wilson says
April 12, 2016 at 11:50 am

Campaigns gives us the opportunity to translate values into concrete action. It is a active process through which individuals, communities, and states are set up to make key choices to determine their future.

Campaigns need to be strategic and engage the “head” and and they also needs the adrenaline factor to engage the “heart,” to guide and inspire - telling us not only why we should act, but moving us to act and create change.

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Matt Wilson says
April 12, 2016 at 11:43 am

Glad this is helpful.  Hope it can add  to the great work you will doing on Oklahoma Arts Day on May 4!

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Ms. Sheila M. Smith says
April 12, 2016 at 3:10 pm

I'm so glad I got to see you make this presentation in person at National Arts Advocacy Day. Lot's of great stuff. Thanks so much!

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Ms. Ann S. Graham says
May 02, 2016 at 1:57 pm

Ever so slowly getting to read all of these great blogs!  This is great and a systematic and thoughtful way to work through all facets of a campaign.   I, too, got to hear your presentation at our Arts Advocacy Day gathering in DC and this reinforces your presentation.  Thanks so much. We're working through our legislative agenda for Texas 2017 and I'll apply what I've learned from you and this approach!   So appreciate it.

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January 26, 2017 at 6:31 am

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Where did you get it from?

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