Thursday, February 10, 2011
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Guest author: Tim Jones, chair, Nevada Arts Council, and member, NASAA Advocacy Advisory Group
This month Tim Jones, Nevada Arts Council chair and arts advocate, shares his perspectives on effective advocacy strategies state arts agencies need to undertake as state legislatures get to work on their fiscal year 2012 budgets. Tim's column demonstrates the importance of state arts agency council members taking a leadership role in advocacy and offers concrete advice and tactics on how to fulfill that responsibility. —Jonathan Katz, NASAA CEO
Prior to NASAA's Assembly 2010 in Austin, Texas, I'd not heard much about "advocacy exhaustion." For those of us dedicated to increasing and/or preserving public funding for states' arts industries, advocacy is instinctive. But as multiyear struggles continue, the exhaustion factor does set in. NASAA's Kelly Barsdate led an Assembly session about navigating "budget firestorms" (Postcards from the Inferno dialogue session). We discussed how, as state governments sharpen their budget scalpels, we must sharpen our advocacy strategies. I believe that means being vigilant, thus discovering and harnessing new advocate voices for these challenging months ahead.
When Nevada's 2011 legislature convenes this month, lawmakers will face what many concede is the worst budget crisis in its history. We know fully one-third of legislators are new to the process. We'll certainly hear the chorus of "no new taxes" as well as voices from those who advocate raising more revenue. We know the legislature will consider the new governor's budget, its proposed consolidation of many state agencies and the corresponding effect on current services, such as those provided by the Nevada Arts Council (NAC). And, we know further budget cuts will be sought from NAC—a small yet effective and efficient agency with significant statewide impact that already suffered a 43% cut in 2009.
Our strategy will involve Arts4Nevada.org (A4N), the statewide on-line communication and advocacy tool that's been active since 2007. A4N kicks into high gear during every legislature. Prior to the November 2010 election, all legislators were surveyed about public funding for the arts. Their replies were posted on A4N, providing an informative one-stop shop for citizens concerned about the state's arts industry. I've also asked our NAC board to take the lead in establishing one-on-one liaisons with legislators. Still other key grass-tops advocates volunteered to assume similar roles with legislators from their districts. The goal? A pairing of each legislator with an arts advocate—a point person on matters of arts and culture prior to and throughout the four-month session.
Each NAC board member is mindful of being nimble when it comes to advocacy opportunities. Prior to the curtain going up for an inaugural arts showcase in the state capitol last month, I spoke with a group of high school jazz players who were on the program. I asked how music education affects their other coursework. They all agreed it helps. One young man described how jazz and improvisation (read: spontaneous innovation and creativity) help him create new formulas for work in math and English. Since I was emceeing the event, I quickly took his words and worked them into my prepared introduction of the quintet in front of an audience of 250 (including many parents).
As state arts agency representatives, we often quote research on this topic—those widespread studies and reports linking arts education with overall classroom performance. This data is still useful. However, as the stakes become higher with state, county and city funders, it may be wise to incorporate the very voices of those who benefit most. When proof positive comes directly from the mouths of students, it can be no purer, nor more powerful. I'm convinced that similar advocacy connections are awaiting discovery, such as arts and healing. I'm following a lead on young war veterans whose emotional recovery is aided by the power of art therapy. The voices are out there.
I've asked NAC board members to track on-line newspapers, keeping a watchful eye for letters written by potential arts advocates. All of us are listening for new voices in public meetings or casual gatherings. We're also exploring opportunities for shared advocacy with K-12 parent groups on matters of arts education.
This constant evaluation and modification of advocacy strategy is fundamental to any state arts agency's success. It requires agility, but may ultimately reveal, for example, how on-line advocacy may be more effective, as well as how best to approach those precious minutes of personal testimony before various legislative committees. The voices who may have the best impact in those settings must be carefully chosen.
Is advocacy exhausting? Occasionally, and perhaps increasingly so. We know it also can be exhilarating at times. Regardless, it is always necessary—and certainly critical in these months ahead. 2011's legislative challenges will require state arts agencies and their boards to be as creative and innovative as the artists we support. This means forging new alliances and engaging new voices capable of bringing fresh clarity to what we already know to be true: the arts are essential to healthy economies, education and quality of life—and are worthy of public funding.