Think This Isn’t an Election Year? Think Again. (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Justin Knabb, Aug 31, 2011 0 comments

Baltimore City Hall

Most anyone involved with an advocacy effort will tell you that it is a year-round process. This process is primarily focused on state legislatures or Congress.

When these bodies are not in session, advocates know it is crucial to remain engaged with representatives’ offices and staff; to constantly cultivate relationships which can benefit the advocacy mission.

However, there is another step in the year-round advocacy process that can be easily overlooked: mayoral elections.

2011 is not officially billed as an election year, as there are no federal elections and only six states (Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Virginia, and West Virginia) are holding some sort of election.

But many mayoral elections will take place this fall, and to the arts advocate, those should be considered just as important as the state and federal contests.

The United States Conference of Mayors Election Center lists around 500 mayoral elections taking place in 36 states this fall (primarily in November). Municipal elections are a key place for arts advocacy efforts for a variety of reasons.

It is often easier to cultivate relationships at the local level due to easier access of governmental staff and the relatively smaller scope of a city’s duties, compared to a state’s or those of the federal government. Moreover, mayors will often seek higher office after honing their skills at the local level.

When the mayor of your city moves on to the state legislature, executive branch, or even goes federal, those relationships you built at the municipal level will stay with him or her, and it will be much easier to access that individual and make asks to their office.

Additionally, with ever-changing economic dynamics at work in this country, more and more cities are going to have to rely on themselves for solvency, and not expect the same level of financial support from the state and federal levels. When cities have more leverage over their own economies, arts advocates need to be at the table to help shape the course of policy.

Last month, the United States Conference of Mayors hosted a “Creating Jobs in America’s Cities” forum which was moderated by Don Graves, the executive director of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

At this event, Graves noted that the council is focusing on several jobs-related initiatives including Choice Neighborhoods, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. Graves also said that the council is going increasingly rely on the voice of America’s mayors to help implement and strengthen these initiatives.

If arts advocates have the ear of their mayor, you can deduce what great things may happen.

The aforementioned programs are all areas in which arts advocates and artists can contribute a wealth information and assistance.

By effectively engaging with your mayor on arts issues, and communicating how the arts can generate a huge financial return on investment, cities will become fiscally and culturally stronger and can serve to exemplify just how positively transformative the arts can be.

*Arts Watch is the bi-weekly cultural policy publication of Americans for the Arts, covering news in a variety of categories. Subscribe to Arts Watch or follow @artswatch on Twitter to receive up-to-the-minute news.

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