April 30, 2016

Understanding Arts Advocacy

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Over the past few months of 2016, I have noticed a few common themes in the field. One being able to effectively advocate for and in the arts. We are in an interesting time in the arts and education with this being a historic election year, the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and a shift in the awareness and appreciation of the arts in education, now is the time to really advocate!

This week I was able to attend the New York City Arts in Education Roundtable event called Face to Face. Through a series of panels, workshops, reports, presentations and networking, this annual conference provides participants with the opportunity to think deeply and learn more about arts education while discussing current challenges, opportunities, and answering key questions to help move the field forward.

One of the sessions I attended was entitled Creating an Advocacy Plan that Works for You. Co-facilitated by Jennifer Katona- Director of the Graduate Educational Theatre at City College and Jeff Poulin- Arts Education Program Coordinator for Americans for the Arts, they led an excellent workshop on understanding arts advocacy and how to create a powerful arts advocacy plan.

But what exactly does that mean, to advocate? Poulin defines advocacy as “building strategic relationships to effect change.” He talked about the Spheres of Influence that illustrates the power structure of putting students at the center of education and illuminates the possible relationships between stakeholders. I like this diagram because it shows where your role is, how your influence can directly influence others, and who makes decisions who directly influences you.

If you are interested in reading and learning more about the different roles one can fall in the Spheres of Influence please refer to The Arts Education Field Guide. This document, created by the Americans for the Arts, does a great job breaking down and defining the different players of the game on the federal, state, and local levels while providing information on the following:

A brief overview of the stakeholder and their role.
How they show support for arts education.
A list of barriers and challenges they may face.
Metrics of how they measure success.
Ways they partner to collaborate with others to show their support.
Where they receive funding and if they fund arts education.
The National Associations that they may be affiliated with.

The session then moved onto an action plan one can follow to create an advocacy plan that works for you. This plan asks you to think about the answers to the following:
What is your role as the advocate? (Are you the educator, the teaching artist, cultural partner, etc?)
Who are you advocating for? (Are you advocating for the students, the parents, the school, the community?)
Who are you advocating to? (Are you talking to the principal, school board, local elected officials, a funder?)
What is your hard ask? (What is your plan 3, 5, or even 10 years from now?)
What is your soft ask? (What are the immediate steps the person/group you are advocating to can do now?)
What is the research that supports your ask? (What are the studies, research, and reports out there that can strengthen your ask?)
What is a story to support your ask? (Do you have a touching story to share to show the impact of your ask? Remember data changes minds, but stories change the heart!)

Of course there is no one cookie cutter way to do this, and your role will constantly change based on the situation, but I personally found this information helpful in really understanding arts advocacy in terms of my role in the community and how we can work together to meet common goals, needs, and wants. I hope this information is valuable and helps you went advocating for arts education.