Individual Advocacy

In his createquity blog, Ian David Moss wrote “of fostering a sense of shared responsibility among arts advocates in every state for what happens to the arts in every other state.” Of course we need to do so.  But, we also need to start telling a different story and telling it in different ways.  Politicians love stories, they tell stories, and they will (maybe) listen to stories.  We need to drill down deeper than the state level, deeper than the municipal level, down to the individual level.  As Jaime Dempsey wrote in a comment here, “Governments invest in that which benefits the individuals and families within their jurisdictions.”  When we take our discourse out of the realm of the state and into the realm of the individual, we make support for the arts about people rather than about institutions, and therefore make it more palatable to those politicians who can see themselves supporting schoolchildren and their families, but not necessarily theatre companies or dancers.

So, here is an idea: write to your representative, assembly person, senator, and governor, but write from your perspective as an individual, as a neighbor, as a parent.  Sending a letter pre-written by an advocacy group to your representative is akin to the representative delivering a robo-call to your cell phone – and he or she pays it about as much attention.  Instead, tell your representative an interesting, and hopefully true, story about how some publicly funded art program or institution actually affected your life, your family, your neighborhood for the better.  Talk to your neighbors — not other arts advocates – but to the physical therapist or business owner or teacher who lives next door and find out how some experience with the arts affected them.  Help them tell their story to their representatives.  Ask them this: What would happen if young Ethan didn’t have orchestra in middle school? And then help them write that in a letter to their representative.

Yes, states advocating on behalf of states is critically important, institutions advocating on behalf of institutions is critically important, but ultimately, politicians listen to people.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
This entry was posted in Arts funding, arts infrastructure, Arts policy, Culture and democracy, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Individual Advocacy

  1. Jaime Dempsey says:

    Linda, thank you for quoting me – it makes me feel very useful, and cogent! – and thank you for your perseverance related to advocating for arts support, who is (or can/should be) an advocate, and how we share the responsibility for building a broad base of support.

    As I’ve said to you before, either in person or on your blog – who can keep track anymore? – while I think the arguments in support of public funding for the arts need to be reframed, recalibrated for new realities, I think we have to be careful not to buy the hype that there are magic bullet arguments or unarticulated arguments lying just beneath the surface, just yet unexcavated. We’ve paraded out myriad arguments for myriad audiences, and will continue to do so. We have to.

    Barry Hessenius of Barry’s Blog ( said recently, and I’m paraphrasing, that the arts sector doesn’t have the luxury of using one argument, nor is there one rationale that will transform the most rabid opponents of public funding to Arts Supporters – because every person is moved by different data, and elected officials have diverse agendas, pressures and world views. For me, Barry is spot on.

    I realize that I’m circling back on myself here… that we need to reframe, while still using everything in our arsenal… but what strikes me as the most obvious gap in our efforts, nationwide, is leadership in *advancing the conversation about what we as Americans want from our American Cultural Life.* And that is something that can’t be tackled in silos. Individuals and groups can contribute, and will likely be compelled to contribute, but leadership is key.

    We have to develop a broader understanding about the sector’s impact and potential, or we remain caught up in the culture wars’ net. Opponents of public funding for the arts, elected officials and the general public, are still talking about “Piss Christ,” Mapplethorpe, and locally, “the pots on the 51.” This reveals important information to me: The public has a long memory for scandal, and the sector – while it might produce great work – has done nothing to ADVANCE THE CONVERSATION about our collective cultural life in at least 20 years. It is a failure at multiple levels, and compounded with current political and economic realities, has the potential to do significant long-term damage to the infrastructure we’ve built, frail as it might be.

    Barry also said once, and I’ll never forget this, about how the American arts lobby is seen by politicians: “No one is afraid of us, and no one wants to be associated with us.” This statement gave birth to one of my primary career goals, should I be lucky enough to continue working in the arts: I want the arts lobby to have as much support and heft as the NRA on a national level, and be as politically effective as the Center for Arizona Policy in my home state. I want politicians to be proud of listing Arts Supporter among their top priorities and affiliations, and fear the consequences of actively opposing the sector.

    So I’ll be working on that. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Individual Advocacy | Creative Infrastructure --

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s