Arts Leaders and Americans for the Arts Members Getting Out the Vote

Posted by Abigail Alpern Fisch, Oct 22, 2020 0 comments

As the 2020 election gets closer and many voters are already voting by mail or in-person, arts organizations around the country are doing their part to help voters make their vote count. This election is crucial to electing leaders at each level of government who will ensure that funding for the arts is protected and accessible for all.

In this month’s Member Briefing, Americans for the Arts members Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, and Nate McGaha, executive director of Arts North Carolina, discussed using the arts to Get Out the Vote. They shared their experiences conducting voter outreach in their communities including their candidate forums, messaging about important voting deadlines, and partnership with other local and national organizations including ArtsVote.

Takeaways and Highlights

McGaha and Smith discussed that arts nonprofits should not be afraid of participating in election advocacy, as long as they stay focused on advocating on behalf of issues and treating all candidates equally. Smith described how 501c3 organizations can provide resources about voting deadlines and information about how legislators stand on various issues regarding the arts. However, 501c3s cannot make endorsements of any candidate or added commentary when providing that information to voters. McGaha suggested giving all candidates from every party the opportunity to answer a candidate questionnaire, making the same number of calls when following up with each candidate: “Ensure that there is a level playing field in how you treat all candidates regardless of party.” 

When giving advice to other arts leaders about how to encourage their members to get out the vote, Smith commented, “Look at what resources are already out there to get inspired. We looked at the Plan Your Vote arts initiative, and have been using a lot of the Arts Action Fund Arts Vote campaign—that website has so many useful things from state-by-state voting rules and beautiful graphics made by Shepard Fairey. It has been very helpful this year to use all of their resources.”

Smith and McGaha also encourage organizations to mobilize artists and creative workers in their communities to become poll workers or perform for voters waiting in long voting lines so that they don’t give up. One member shared that her arts building is right next to an early voting location, so she has been putting out chairs, bottled water, music, and a window gallery to keep voters entertained.

While many Americans are focused on the election that is less than two weeks away, McGaha reminded us that advocacy is needed all year round from arts organizations for races at every level of government including city council, state legislature, and mayoral races. 

“It cannot be understated the role that nonprofits can play in elections all year long. We must make people realize that voting is so important and vital. We want to see arts facilities more and more make connections between creative life [and] political life,” said McGaha. “Hold a voter registration drive in your lobby or foyer of a museum or theatre. Make connections between civic-mindedness, learning, and your arts organization all year long. There are 364 other days a year beyond November 3 that you can continue that conversation and keep momentum going—that is what advocacy is all about.”

Click here to watch the recorded webinar for more ideas about how arts organizations and leaders can mobilize voters in this election and encourage arts advocacy and civic engagement all year long!

Member Briefings are our quarterly opportunity to talk to you about what’s happening now! These calls take place once a quarter, so mark your calendars for the next briefing on Dec. 15 and stay up-to-date on what’s happening at Americans for the Arts and across the sector. These calls are for you, so let us know if there’s a topic you’d like to know more about by contacting membership at [email protected].

We firmly believe that our #AFTAmember network is one of our strongest resources, so after each update, we open the floor up to your questions, comments, recommendations, and lessons learned. We hope you’ll take advantage of each other’s expertise!

About the panelists

Sheila M. Smith (left) is the Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts which strengthens our cultural community by achieving arts friendly policy in Minnesota. As Chair of the Creative Minnesota Project, she produces important research about the arts and cultural community for education, policy making, and advocacy. 

Nate McGaha (right) has served as the Executive Director of Arts North Carolina, the statewide advocacy organization for the arts, since 2017 where he works for public funding and policy for the arts and arts education.

Please login to post comments.