Once more, with feeling

As a final epilogue on NPAC before it completely disappears from our memories (the official blog is already looking pretty dead), and in the spirit of contributing constructively to the discussion, I thought I’d share how I voted among the choices that were given to us at the final AmericaSpeaks town hall meeting/caucus session, and why.

What should we do about arts advocacy and communicating our value at the NATIONAL level?

Organize a national media campaign with celebrity spokespersons, catchy slogans (e.g. “Got Milk”), unified message, and compelling stories – 27%

  • Create a Department of Culture/Cabinet-level position which is responsible for implementing a national arts policy – 23%
  • Lobby elected political officials for pro-arts policy and funding; demand arts policy platform from candidates – 14%
  • Create a coordinated national performing arts policy campaign involving artists and organizations – 12%
  • Collect, analyze and disseminate data demonstrating the value of the arts (e.g. economic, intrinsic, developmental/educational values) – 12%
  • Establish a National Arts Day/Festival with free performances, open houses, and art-making opportunities – 8%
  • Explore interactive new media initiatives to increase access and relevance (e.g. create a “Google Arts”-type resource, blogs,YouTube) – 5%

I’ve talked before about the national media campaign idea. My favorite among these, though it wasn’t a strong one, was “Lobby elected political officials for pro-arts policy and funding.” My experience at the Saving Our Cultural Capital event last month reminded me that politicians will listen to pretty much anyone if they just squeak loud enough. Artists up until now have been hopelessly disorganized in their grassroots political engagement, so this is the area with perhaps the most room to grow. Best of all, it doesn’t require cash falling from the sky in order to make happen.

What should we do about arts advocacy and communicating our value at the LOCAL level?

Create an arts coalition to get involved in local decision-making, take leadership positions, and strengthen relationships with elected officials – 21%

Forge partnerships with other sectors to identify how the arts can serve community needs - 21%

  • Foster cross-disciplinary conversations to share data and best practices, develop common goals, and create joint activities/ performances – 14%
  • Mobilize audiences to be advocates for the arts – 13%
  • Utilize existing advocacy and data to influence local funding, policy and public support for the arts – 9%
  • Create collaborative local marketing campaigns in mass media and public venues – 8%
  • Develop and promote recognizable champions for the arts – 7%
  • Create new cross disciplinary events and festivals to promote the local arts community – 6%

My favorite for this one was “Create collaborative local marketing campaigns in mass media and public venues.” Unlike national advertising, local advertising is cheap enough that pooling of resources among arts organizations really can make an impact. There is an effort not totally unlike this in the Bay Area that was initiated by the Wallace Foundation: arts organizations are banding together to create a giant mailing list of arts patrons in the region. The first of the winning suggestions (creating an arts coalition) is a good one as well. I really believe that local is where it’s at as far as advocacy for the arts is concerned.

What should we do about arts advocacy and communicating our value at the ORGANIZATIONAL/INDIVIDUAL level?

Build relationships with non-arts groups, including governments, corporations, community development organizations, etc. – 26%

  • Create opportunities for active participation in the arts for all ages (including interactive websites, open rehearsals, etc.) – 24%
  • Expand relationships across the community to find and develop new leaders (e.g. through Board development) and local champions for the arts – 12%
  • Participate in the local political process by lobbying city council, school board, etc. – 10%
  • Create multi-media marketing strategies (including YouTube, Facebook) to communicate and demonstrate value and relevance – 9%
  • Connect the stories and experiences of local community members to new and existing artwork – 9%
  • Create arts supporters out of our audiences – 7%
  • Build relationships with local media to widen their coverage and exposure of the arts – 4%

Again, I feel that local is where it’s at for advocacy. Having arts-aware and -friendly leaders is the surest path to achieving policy changes when we need them. Thus, I voted for “Participate in the local political process by lobbying city council, school board, etc.” The most popular suggestion also addressed this idea in a broader (but vaguer) way.

What should we do about arts EDUCATION on a NATIONAL level?

Devise an advocacy campaign to promote the inclusion of performing arts in core curricula – 36%

  • Enlist artists as full partners in all aspects of arts education through training and creating an AmeriCorps/WPA-type program – 22%
  • Lobby for education reform, including rescinding No Child Left Behind – 20%
  • Form partnerships with national education infrastructure (e.g. National Education Association, PTA, teachers unions) – 13%
  • Invite new constituencies to experience the performing arts and create opportunities for lifelong learning by providing more points of entry – 5%
  • Research successful models / best practices and disseminate via the web – 2%
  • Establish diverse cross-sector committee to create an enriched arts curriculum – 2%

This is the topic on which I’m least knowledgeable, so take my suggestions with a grain of salt. I voted for “Form partnerships with national education infrastructure,” since I’m always for collaboration whenever possible, and this one seems like a natural fit. I considered voting for rescinding No Child Left Behind since that just seems like a good idea regardless of its bearing on the arts.

What should we do about arts EDUCATION on a LOCAL level?

Mobilize and collaborate with K-12 and higher education institutions to strengthen arts education and arts participation as core curriculum –
23%

  • Strengthen relationship with school boards and policy makers through lobbying, electing “arts friendly officials”, involvement in local politics – 17%
  • Innovate financial models to fund the arts: link to tax base, develop dedicated sales tax, connect to corporate funds - 15%
  • Integrate arts teaching in educators’ professional development and integrate teaching programs in artist organizations – 16%
  • Bring art into non-traditional spaces (e.g. parks, workplaces, social programs) to create new educational opportunities — “enter into the communities we serve” – 14%
  • Develop joint arts education programs across disciplines and within the community for fuller distribution and comprehensive programming – 8%
  • Establish and share assessments that create empirical data to demonstrate correlation between arts and educa
    tional impact – 7%

I chose “innovate financial models to fund the arts” not because I see any connection whatsoever to the issue of arts education (I don’t), but because I think this is desperately needed. Denver has a very interesting system tied to the local sales tax that has resulted in a funding base for the arts of $40 million a year, quite remarkable for a city its size. Money isn’t everything, but it’s amazing what actually having enough of it can do for achieving one’s goals.

What should we do about arts EDUCATION on an ORGANIZATIONAL/INDIVIDUAL level?

Lead lifelong education programs that actively involve people in multigenerational groups. “Make the arts part of a lifelong wellness plan.” – 23%

  • Directly engage teachers to integrate the arts into their teaching and create professional development programs to address their needs – 19%
  • Commit your entire organization to arts education in mission, budget, programs, and collaborations – 13%
  • Create new partnerships to share responsibility for planning and delivering local arts education – 11%
  • Leverage new technology to create art, engage more people (especially young people), and support learning. – 10%
  • Run candidates for school boards and local government – 9%
  • Use comprehensive education models to engage the whole family in your mission and programs. – 8%
  • Join, be active, and take leadership roles in civic organizations – 7%

I may sound like a broken record, but of course I voted for “Join, be active, and take leadership roles in civic organizations.” Local is where it’s at!

What should we do about DIVERSITY on a NATIONAL level?

Charge national service organizations to create dialogue at convenings, create training programs, promote diverse art and artists, and partner with grassroots organizations who are already connected to diverse communities - 43%

Diversify boards, management, and staff in all national arts organizations – 26%

Create a media campaign with artists from diverse communities including celebrities to provide exposure to diverse art – 15%

Raise national funds to support internships, reduced price events, and under-represented artists – 9%

Create national forums, listserves, and websites to support sharing of successful diversity efforts – 7%

So, my question about this one is: why put it all on the service organizations? Why is it their responsibility to create this change? I mean, of course they have a role to play, but I really think this thing is larger than that. As I said to my table, any discussion of diversity has to acknowledge that there are groups of people in this country that simply don’t talk to each other. A few band-aids here and there won’t do anything to solve the underlying problem, which is that our social circles are too often defined by these stupid labels, and that our school funding systems (among other things) exacerbate race and class divisions in particular instead of easing them. So my reluctant first choice here is “Diversify boards, management, and staff in all national arts organizations”–because I think these social divisions make it important to welcome people who can serve as bridges between communities into the fold–but realistically, that will at best make a small dent in a problem that is much too large for the performing arts community to handle alone.

What should we do about DIVERSITY on a LOCAL level?

Open an honest dialogue across community groups and sectors to share priorities and identify barriers to participation – 31%

Partner within the arts, as well as with community organizations, to build relationships – 23%

Expand beyond traditional venues to establish new points of access – 17%

Create programming to address the experiences of the diverse elements of the community – 11%

Engage community leaders from outside the arts to serve in arts leadership positions – 7%

Use diverse voices, experiences, and traditions to market arts programming – 7%

Organize a recurring local performing arts convention – 4%

I actually agreed with this one. I think an honest dialogue is so important, and once again, the local level is where to have it. I got so frustrated with being at tables with other white people at this conference and feeling like we were talking in circles around this issue. But the dialogue can’t be a one-off kind of situation–it has to be sustained and fed and followed up on. And both (or all) sides have to want it, too.

What should we do about DIVERSITY on an ORGANIZATIONAL/INDIVIDUAL level?

Discover arts in your community offered by cultures other than your own and establish peer relationships – 37%

Set long term goal and plan to have staff, board, programming, and audiences reflect the demographics of your community – 32%

Program more diverse artists and content – 15%

Create an internship / entry-level staff program that attracts and recruits diverse staff – 6%

Convene diverse ad hoc steering committees (including youth) for specific projects – 6%

Produce at least one large-scale, publicly accessible event per year – 5%

I agreed with this one too. At one point one of my caucus table-mates was talking about how audiences tend to want to stay inside their comfort zone, and I said, “Yeah, totally–like when was the last time any of us at this table went to a hip-hop concert?” Of course, nobody could remember the last time. So much of the performing arts community is afraid to collaborate outside of its own peer group, much less with an entirely different culture (unless the group representing that culture is from another country–then it’s hip).

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, can we talk for a second about the internship program idea? Someone thought that the way to empower underrepresented minorities is to have them stuff envelopes for $100 a week for three months? Because that’s what most internships in the performing arts are, slave labor masquerading as “educational opportunities.” I would call that one problematic.

Anyway, I think that’s the last post I’ll do on NPAC, at least for now. These are important issues and I’m glad we at least got a conversation started about them.

Note: for more on this, read Adam Natale on the Fractured Atlas blog.

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