Devil’s Advocate: Why I Hate Arts Advocacy Day

fight or give upDon’t jump all over me. I didn’t say I hate the Arts, or advocacy, or even Arts advocacy. I am all for those things. But Arts Advocacy Day, not so much. (Though I do have to say, this poster is, frankly, pretty marvy.)

I suppose I should qualify my statement a little bit. It’s not so much that I hate the idea of Arts Advocacy Day. Often, people go into it with the wrong mindset, and that bugs me. I used to be one of those people. I would arrive home from a day in Albany, NY (our state capital, and a four-hour round trip) frustrated and tired because I didn’t feel like I had even made a dent. It’s easy to get discouraged as a young professional who is passionate about your cause. You’ll rarely find a representative that is as passionate about it, but it’s (usually) not because they don’t care.

I used to be an advocate for environmental causes in college, and I worked as a canvasser for Citizens Campaign for the Environment for a time. I get it, I do. I know what advocacy accomplishes and why we do it.

There is a fine line between solidarity and white noise. If you go to Advocacy Day to tell your reps anything about your own organization, you can almost guarantee it will get drowned out by the sheer volume of stories that they are hearing that day. Representatives and their assistants (the good ones, anyway, of which the ones in my district fortunately are) do listen and want to help, but they’re not superhuman.

I would love to attend Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., but aside from the money and time it would entail, I don’t feel that I could do any more there than I could do setting up and appointment with my Congressman or my U.S. Senators. No matter how much I love to watch Alec Baldwin, Melina Kanakaredes, Kevin Spacey or Hill Harper go to bat for us, I know that their high profile earns them the luxury of being heard and standing out. Fortunately, there are also a handful of elected representatives that will stick their necks out for the arts. (We’re fortunate in our region. Our two U.S. Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Shumer, earned A+ and B+, respectively, for their record of supporting the arts in 2010. Our Congressman, Richard Hanna, also earned an A+ for 2012. You can check your own Congressman’s 2012 arts voting record here.) Those people are doing the good work for us, and have the individual clout to do it on a very public and far-reaching stage.

However, at the national level especially, if you go into it with the idea that you will garner any further awareness of your organization, you’ll probably be disappointed. In order to accomplish that end, you should be meeting with our representatives and communicating with them regularly, outside of the once-a-year, strength in numbers. You should know their faces, their assistants, their schedulers. You should be cultivating them like you cultivate all of your donors. And what’s more, they should know you. Your impact, your numbers, your major projects and initiatives.

If your goal at any Arts Advocacy Day is to show your support for the Arts, the jobs that our industry creates, and want to argue for its support, I’m all for that. Heck, even I can go into Advocacy Day with that goal in mind and feel good at it at the end of the day. One of the most common things that I hear from elected representatives, in meetings and at regional roundtables, is that they can only help if they have the right information. Give them specifics. Tell them how they can help your causes. Give them the ammunition that they need to support the arts in the legislature.

If your goal is more specific than advocating for the arts industry, pick up the phone and call the office of one of your representatives. Set up a meeting. Bring a colleague or co-worker with you if you like. Use the opportunity to put forth a clear message, not just about the arts in general terms, but about your organization and what it does for your community. You can even use some of the industry talking points that you received at the most recent Arts Advocacy Day to support your own arguments. Again, specific, actionable points are key. Do you homework and come prepared. Bring some information that you can leave with them. Work your specific talking points; respect their time, their schedule and their staff; leave them some ammunition; and be sure to thank them for any help that they’ve given you in previous years (monetary or otherwise). With that first meeting under your belt, you’ll be on the right path.

After you’ve earned a rapport with your reps, you can go to Arts Advocacy Day feeling confident that they will listen to you. They’ve seen your face, they know your work, and they understand that you engage with them regularly as a constituent.

Advocacy, like everything else, is both an art and science. Break a leg!

For more information on Arts Advocacy, including how to identify your representatives, contact them and check their voting records, visit the Americans for the Arts Action Fund Action Center. The Action Center on their main website also has some helpful resources to get you started.

I would love to hear about your own Arts Advocacy Day experiences. You can even disagree with me! Let’s discuss.


Posted on March 5, 2013, in Advocacy, Developing Relationships, Devil's Advocate, Resources and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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