By Jennifer Sadler
The arts exist not only for social, cultural or entertainment value. They also have major impact on the economy and education and serve as a primary way for communities to preserve and celebrate our culture and heritage. We must strive to keep the arts strong and vibrant, and because of the current economic downturn, community support is more important now than ever.
Educating both the public and legislators on the true impact of the arts must be a primary goal for any arts advocate. Arts advocacy involves sharing your views and opinions with the elected officials who make decisions impacting your arts community or organization. Effective advocacy hinges on continuous education and communication among your supporters, their decision makers at the local, state and federal levels, and the public.
As an arts supporter, you already know the value of the arts. But to take that support to a higher level, it is crucial to know the facts as you build your case for the arts. Many local and national arts groups such as GCAC, the Ohio Arts Council, and arts-specific advocacy organizations such as Ohio Citizens for the Arts and Americans for the Arts have created pages on their Web sites to help individuals and organizations to develop key objectives and talking points and increase the power and effectiveness of their messages. Most sites provide links to the tools and information necessary to become a successful arts advocate.
There are many reasons to take your level of support up a notch and get more actively involved in your arts community. There may be arts programs in your local schools being cut as budgets shrink and levies fail. A group may be looking in your neighborhood for property to invest in to open art studios. Or funding cuts may be on the ballot that would affect your local community center where you and your neighbors enjoy arts programming. You can help build support—at your school and in your community with decision makers and legislators.
It’s easy to get involved, and you can choose any level that’s comfortable for you from simply writing letters and e-mails in response to action alerts from advocacy networks to meeting with legislators and school board members or signing up to share your opinion in front of City Council.
The Columbus Arts Marketing Association (CAMA) recently hosted a panel discussion on making your case for arts advocacy and the economic impact.
The panel included experts from different industries and backgrounds. All had great tips on how to start taking action and effectively communicate your organization’s economic value to stakeholders, sponsors and elected officials.
As a leader in the advocacy and arts education fields, Collins has had the opportunity to work extensively with national, statewide and local organizations. In 2004 and again in 2010, she was elected to the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network’s (KCAAEN) National Leadership Committee of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and most recently served as Chair of the Writing Team for the KCAAEN Arts Education Advocacy Tool Kit. Her national work extends to Americans for the Arts, for whom she serves as Past Chair of the Arts Education Council and the State Arts Action Network.
Ohio Citizens for the Arts was founded in 1976 and was one of the first organizations of its kind to form nationwide. OCA has helped many organizations put together by-laws and their first boards, and has helped train board members on arts advocacy. Other support provided by OCA includes professional development for arts organizations.
“We can help your organization with resources and information on how to plan for coffee talks to engage in advocacy topics of the region, or discuss things like the state or federal budget,” said Collins.
Because of her many years of working in arts advocacy, Collins was able to share some sage advice.
“Never ask for less than what your organization truly needs. Asking for less is not a good negotiation tactic,” said Collins. “Don’t let the debt ceiling debates, funding cuts or pending elections intimidate you. It’s our job to ask for what we need. Hope is not a strategy. Organizations like OCA can help you with the data necessary to back you up when you testify for your budgets.”
Collins urges individuals and groups to take advantage of the data that’s out there regarding arts and economic impact from organizations like OCA, the Ohio Arts Council and others. There are a number of creative city reports available that provide statistics on the number of people and businesses working in the arts and how much tax revenue they generate.
“You are the ones who make the impact when you tell the story,” said Collins. “Share what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and the impact you make on your community. We’ll provide the data; you worry about telling the stories.” Collins wanted to warn individuals advocating for issues should take caution in relation to their every day job.
“As an individual and as citizen, you should do your advocacy work on your own time,” said Collins. “You don’t want to put your organization in jeopardy. If you’re not the executive director, get some clarification about where the company line is—if I’m going to write to anybody, I’m not going to write that I’m with the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education, unless I know they have a position and I’ve been given permission. But I can write about it as mother, a citizen, a tax payer.”
As the director of development and public affairs, Brown is an advocate for sustainable funding from the public sector, corporate partners and sponsors to support the Destination Columbus plan and build the area's tourism economy. He is responsible for identifying opportunities for collaboration and partnerships where Experience Columbus can build the city's national image to harness the economic power of tourism, sports, conventions, conferences and events. He is also actively engaged in 200Columbus planning for the city’s bicentennial in 2012 and a wide variety of local festivals and arts events.
Brown said that in his 11 years working at City Hall, he became an expert at saying “no” because of the extreme demand for attention and face-to-face time with City officials.
“I have three words for you: relationships, relevance and perseverance,” said Brown. “If you have to send that invitation five times, do it. Follow up with phone calls. Get someone on your board to make the right calls. Lobbyists—not all organizations can afford to hire one. Use your board, your employees—and we’re talking about promoting the value of your organization.”
Brown said that networking relationships and lobbying are important, but it’s essential to focus on how to do these things most effectively. Experience Columbus is about marketing Columbus to the outside world, bringing in new business, new residents and tourism.
“Experience Columbus is not an arts group. But we depend on our arts groups to strengthen our message and increase tourism” said Brown. “Civic alignment is critical when talking about your audience,” said Brown. “Find out what they want. Ask yourself—what is your value to the big picture; how can you use relationships or board members to go out knock on doors and get your voice heard?”
“You’ve got to be more than a pretty picture. You can’t assume you are validated because of a history,” Brown stressed. “There are some young, aggressive people coming in and promoting their mission in a whole new way and bringing a challenge to the established arts institutions. It’s not enough to be an institution anymore. It’s about performance and accountability and about how strongly you make your case.”
And whether marketing a whole city or advocating for an arts group, you must look at your economic value.
“Especially with the Bicentennial next year—Experience Columbus has a big opportunity to market our story to the world right now; to build civic pride,” said Brown. “But there’s a price tag attached. Get people to endorse you.”
The arts and culture of a city can make it a more attractive place to live or visit or build a business, but to stand out, arts and community organizations must have a well crafted message, with the facts and data to back it up.
As the director of government affairs and communication of the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association, Evans manages numerous legislative programs, prepares and offers testimony, drafts amendments to legislation, initiates grassroots campaigns and assists in PAC strategy development. Her government affairs experience stems from state legislative campaigns, lobbying in the executive, state and local branches and trade association management.
“We’re the fourth largest industry in state,” said Evans. “We’ve had consecutively increasing numbers in jobs; some are seasonal but it’s a major industry and one of the major economic drivers in state.”
As a state lobbyist for hotels and other parts of hospitality industry, Evans understands how critical the arts are to the city of Columbus. “When we talk about quality of life—what brings people and companies in to the city to live or visit—we’re talking about the extracurricular activities, the arts scene and quality of lodging and restaurants in the area.”
To be a successful for whatever it is you’re advocating, Evans offered her own three key words of advice: identify, educate and activate. “And you can be sure that ‘activate’ will fall on its face if you’ve not done the first two right.”
Evans said that there are always fence sitters when it comes to important issues and that every group interested in advocating has this problem. Whether you’re a business, an arts organization or an artist looking to drum up excitement about an arts exhibition, you need to use the same techniques to reach people.
“And people don’t always realize that this is really lobbying and networking,” said Evans.
Evans said you need to identify and target the group you want to engage and build a list of contacts as if you were working on a strategic development process. Identify your grass tops, and your natural and unnatural allies.
“Write these lists down and think about how they can translate to generating excitement for an arts show,” said Evans. She also recommended getting a hold of the local voter registration from the board of elections so you can cross-reference with your list to see if you can find more people who may be interested in your projects.
A big part of advocacy is building and cultivating relationships, especially through online social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and other new technologies where there is an opportunity to reach a large number of people.
“Let the general managers and legislators know about what’s going on that’s good, not just the bad stuff. If you see other groups being supportive of community individuals or events, say thank you to them. Share those thank yous on your Facebook page or on a legislator’s page.” Evans said if something happens like a chance meeting and nice conversation with a political or public figure, don’t be afraid to send them a message on Facebook to say thank you and remind them of your discussion.
In addition to overseeing marketing, public relations, branding and events at GCAC, Jami’s role includes increasing national awareness of the city’s abundant creative capital and cultural assets, assisting with the implementation of 200Columbus, the city's bicentennial celebration, and strengthening and expanding partnerships within and outside the community.
Earlier this year, GCAC hired lobbyist Christie Angel to help advocate for GCAC and the local arts community on a county and state level. “Lobbying occurs when someone attempts to influence certain officials on issues,” said Goldstein. “But to be successful, you have to stay informed with the right facts and figures and be prepared when you run into someone or have a meeting. Organizations like OCA and GCAC have resources at your disposal. And the OAC has developed great talking points for statewide arts advocacy.”
Goldstein said it’s important to have the data to back up your own stance, but also know your opponents stance and to be prepared to address their arguments.
“You need to be armed with the facts and figures, but the information needs to be qualitative as well as quantitative. You really need the stories. You need to touch their head and their hearts. Be sure to collect an arsenal of stories—about the kids you’ve impacted in your programming or how the work your organization does has affected people’s lives.”
Goldstein stressed the importance of building networks and staying in contact with legislators year-round. “Add them to your mailing list and invite them to events. Make them aware of your organization and keep your messages focused on the positive, showing the results your organization can achieve.”
“Make sure that you follow up with your legislators, and not just with a thank you,” said Goldstein. “It’s important to let them know how you feel about the issues they’ve supported or not supported. Let your voice be heard.”
Les Wexner, Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and Mayor Coleman are joining together on Monday, September 19 at 4 p.m. at the Wexner Center for the Arts’ Mershon Auditorium for a discussion entitled, A Way Forward: Arts and Economic Development. This provocative conversation on the value of the creative sector in building attractive and competitive cities represents a unique and important opportunity for the arts and creative sector in our community to show its enthusiasm for the prioritization of the arts in the mainstream planning of the future of our community.
A big turnout for this event is vitally important in order to continue to build on the momentum the arts have gained in the past year; please do everything you can to be there, and encourage staff members, board members and supporters to be there, as well.
RESOURCES: Following are some helpful sites suggested by the panel for general information, action alert sign-ups and tool kits that will help you start advocating for the arts today.