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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

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Executive Director's Column

What Do I Say? Tips for Advocacy Meetings

NASAA Executive Director Jonathan Katz

NASAA staff have conversations year round with state arts agency leaders and their colleague advocates who are preparing for meetings with elected and appointed officials. I'll share with you some of the most common questions we're asked and I'll offer responses.

Question: I have a meeting scheduled with a legislator. What should I say?

Response: Montana Arts Council Executive Director Arlynn Fishbaugh points out that effective advocacy in her state is based on relationships, relevance, and return on investment. This provides a useful principle for organizing your approach.

Question: We know we are going to be asked why government should fund the arts when schools, health care and food programs are being cut. How can we best communicate that the arts are worthy of a public investment even in hard times?

Response: Investments in the arts yield returns in jobs and tax revenues that increase a state's capacity to address the challenges of economic recovery, education, health care and poverty. In other words, the arts don't diminish a state's resources to address these other issuesthey contribute resources to the cause. Here are three reasons:

Question: How can we be sure to get our message across?

Response: The setting may be unfamiliar, but you are planning a purposeful conversation during which you will ask perfectly reasonable questions, so rehearse your pitch until its sequence feels natural and the words feel comfortable.

Also consider bringing a team. One very effective configuration (again with acknowledgment to Arlynn) is a three-person approach:

This provides a powerful context in which to request support. If the official has been supportive, this is a good time to say thank you and communicate that the support has been noticed. If the official has not yet been supportive, it is constructive to communicate that this has been noticed, but that you are hopeful that what you have to say, any questions you can answer and any information you can provide will lead to a favorable response. This experience gives an official a good opportunity to understand why constituents are making this specific request, what public benefits are involved, that an active and organized constituency for this request exists, and that there is an occasion at hand to gain support from that constituency.

The Advocacy section of the NASAA website is the gateway to a broad range of experienced advice, information and materials. Members tell us they find the Why Should Government Support the Arts? and Taking Charge of Change features, along with the Arts Advocacy Checklists (for state arts agenciesNASAA member-only content and for arts organizations and advocates), especially useful. On the topic of effective approaches to advocacy, your questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome.


1 Overall, not-for-profit arts and culture activity totals $166 billion annually, which includes $63 billion spent by organizations and $103 billion spent by audiences. The average audience member spends about $28 in food, refreshments, travel and lodging in addition to any admission fee. Travelers from another county spend twice as much as locals. This activity supports more than 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs—for artists and other workers. (From Arts and Economic Prosperity III, Americans for the Arts, referenced in NASAA's website feature, Facts and Figures on the Creative Economy.) return to article

2 See NASAA's National Governors Association Arts Policy Publications—and stay tuned for a new report in just a few weeks that will discuss how the arts, culture and design offer solutions to states' most pressing economic problems. return to article

3 See NASAA's Creative Economic Development Resource Center. return to article

4 See the Arts Education section of NASAA's website. return to article

5 Dr. Gene Cohen's Creativity and Aging Study at George Washington University documented that participation by older people in professionally led arts activities resulted in less medication, fewer doctor visits, increases in the level of independent functioning and number of activities, and better scores on depression, loneliness and morale scales—all of which have major implications for public health savings. return to article

6 Studies since the 1980s have demonstrated the humanitarian and cost-effective results of arts programs in reducing disciplinary incident rates and recidivism rates. One study showed that participation for at least six months in California's Arts in Corrections program reduced the parolee return rate by 51%. (See Art in Other Places: Artists at Work in America's Community and Social Institutions, by William Cleveland, and williamjamesassociation.org.) return to article