With the end of the summer rapidly approaching, it is time to start thinking about the new school year. Even though I have been living on an academic calendar most of my life, I never get tired of the excitement and exhilaration that accompanies new beginnings. As a college professor, the new year provides a time to develop an artistic and educational vision for the future and determine how I will guide students in their learning. As we wrap up summer looking forward into the fall, it is time to consider what should be on our back-to-school checklist. In addition to planning curriculum, it is necessary to consider the arts education advocacy agenda for the year ahead and our role in supporting its continued benefits to students around the country.
We all know that under Federal law, the arts are a considered core subject area. However, we have to continue to advocate on behalf of arts education in order to keep it viable for future generations. As you enter the year, make sure that you are approaching arts education as a NECESSARY part of every child’s (and adult’s) education. In order to approach advocating for arts education in the most effective manner, know the issues, the resources available, and how to ensure that your message is heard!
I get the impression that sometimes people feel overwhelmed by advocacy work. However, most of the information you need is already compiled. Locate it! Make it personal based upon your work and/or geographic location! And, network, network, network! See the list below for your back-to-school arts advocacy checklist.
- Find data that supports arts education, and use it to your advantage.
Whether you are a parent, teacher, administrator, and/or any other interested party, knowing the current landscape of Arts Education in the United States can help you advocate for arts education. Data is power, and it is easy to find. For example, the website for Americans for the Arts always contains helpful information on Arts Education Policy and Funding and other resources such as the Arts Education Navigator Series, which provides data that demonstrate the benefit of arts education and helpful tips on how to advocate. Some additional recent reports that you might find of interest are Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999-2000 and 2009-10 published by the National Center for Education Statistics and Arts Education in the South: Phase I by South Arts. Use what you need to make your case. People have already done the heavy lifting by supplying you with the data. All you have to do is use it!
- Know the stakeholders who impact arts education in your area.
See the Arts Education Navigator Series on the Americans for the Arts website to understand the various “spheres of influence” that play a part in the success of arts education in this country. Who are the stakeholders in your area? How do they influence policy and education? How can you appeal to their interests when presenting the benefits of arts education? Whose interests do they represent? Find your audience and share your story.
- Join and continue to Build Advocacy Networks.
What advocacy networks already exist in your area? How are your professional associations involved in advocacy networks and partnerships? Advocacy networks are a powerful way to make your message heard and garner support for your ask. Joining the advocacy networks in your area can provide you with the most current information regarding arts education in your state. In addition, you can sign up for email alerts that directly notify you when issues relating to the arts arise. The Arts Action Fund is a great network that keeps advocates informed of the latest developments relating to arts education policy and funding. No research necessary as messages come right into your inbox! Encourage your colleagues to be knowledgeable of arts education agendas as well. Remember, there is power in numbers!
The best way to build an arts education/advocacy network is to collaborate with others. There are different models of collaboration that provide opportunities for short and long-term partnerships. Does it make sense to share resources with another organization and/or educational institution? Are there projects that you could work on together that would be mutually beneficial? Are there grants programs that fund collaborative projects that could provide both the financial support for your work as well as continuing professional relationships?
- Gather your own data
What work are you doing that matters? How does it align with the current data used to advocate on behalf of arts education now? How can you use current data to shape the arts education work that you do?
Be patient. It takes time! The arts are a long term investment. The capital gains we see through the benefits of arts education outweigh the minimal amount of time it takes to advocate. Continued efforts do make a difference. Keep vigilant, and begin the school year by determining how to support arts education in your daily life.