The following modules are advanced training to help you achieve your goals:
1. Gather Information
We’re starting here because by the time you’re done with this, you’ll be well on your way to having the relationships you need and the preparation you want.
First, make a list of decision-makers in your region. These could be principals, school board members, business leaders, community leaders, parents—you never know where your allies will come from.
Use our Arts Education Field Guide to brainstorm the various decision-makers that can support arts education.
Keep adding to the list. Over the years, people move around professionally. One day, your biggest roadblock could become your fast lane.
Next, conduct regional research. We’ve assembled these 15 Questions to Ask which can help you build your case. Remember, you’re gathering information. This is not a time point fingers, lay blame, or make accusations.
Many people find that the battle is not as tough as they thought when they get answers to these questions. Not all of these questions will apply to your situation specifically—these are the most commonly asked. Use the ones that will assist you the most.
You’ll find even more great information in the e-book Getting Started, and more tools and resources throughout our website.
2. Present at a School Board Meeting
There are two ways to be heard at a School Board meeting. The first is to be scheduled on the agenda, the second is to sign up for public comment.
To be added to the agenda:
- Look at your school district’s website and get the contact information for your Superintendent.
- You can contact the Superintendent directly or look for the district Arts Coordinator or Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. (They may have another title so keep your eyes peeled.) A guide to the network of decision-makers for our field can be found in the Arts Education Field Guide.
- Get dates for future Board Meetings. Find out when they’re doing curricula presentations. If there isn’t already a time for these kinds of presentations, ask the Superintendent for some time on the agenda. These meetings are scheduled and the agendas are built far in advance—don’t expect to be placed on the agenda 24 hours or even one week in advance—expect to be planning further down the road.
Be fully prepared for a range of responses. The Superintendent’s office might say:
"Sorry, we can’t help you. We don’t have sway on what goes on the agenda." They may route you to school board members. If this is the case, please see the section below on making public comment at school board meetings.
Alternately, the Superintendent’s office may have the power to add you to the agenda, but they may still say, "No." In this case, you may need to meet with administrators directly to educate them on your issue. This will actually help you get conversant on the talking points, and help you win champions. Feel free to use the handout 15 Questions to Ask to start a conversation with your leaders.
If the Superintendent’s office says, "Yes," it is time to prepare your presentation for the School Board—see the section below on Preparing Your Presentation.
- Once you are on the agenda, ask the Superintendent’s office if there is audio/visual capability. If so, you can include one of our videos to connect the audience to the message both logically and emotionally. Make sure to the get the exact location of the room where the meeting is to be held. If at all possible, see if you can do a run-through the day before. It’s rare, but it can set you apart.
- Leave behind our handouts (there's one for School Leaders/Principals, one for Teachers, one for Students/Parents, one for Elected Officials/Policymakers, and one for Local Funders/Business Leaders) so people remember your main talking points. Stick around after the meeting. Make friends. You’ll be glad you did.
To make public comment:
- Go to the district’s website and find out when the next School Board Meeting is on the calendar.
- Invite fellow arts supporters. Again, there is strength in numbers.
- Show up to the meeting early and sign up for "Public Comment."
- You’ll be limited to two minutes. This means they’ll cut you off if/when you reach your time. Sorta like The Oscars.
- Usually there won’t be time for audio/visual presentations, so bring lots of handouts (there's one for School Leaders/Principals, one for Teachers, one for Students/Parents, one for Elected Officials/Policymakers, and one for Local Funders/Business Leaders) so people remember your main talking points.
- When it is your turn for comment you can say, "I’m here on behalf of our arts program," and ask everyone else there who supports the arts to also stand up. (This is where your friends/guests come in.) You could also ask students to say a couple of words. Just remember: not too young, not scripted, and clear it with their parents so the student is emotionally and physically ready.
- Framing the issue is important here as well. You want to forge alliances. Present your case as a solution to the district’s problems. For example, is the district having an attendance issue? Present research that says that the arts can be a solution because they increase student engagement.
- Stick around after the meeting to make connections with people. Bring a clipboard to gather contact information and ask people why the issue matters to them.
3. Work with a Principal
As before, the following works best when you have an existing relationship and some affinity with the principal. If you haven’t met in person, do that first. Perhaps use some of the 15 Questions to Ask to break the ice and gather information, or send them a copy of our handout that's specifically for School Leaders/Principals. Let them know you’ll be sending along some information on the topic and follow up with a version of the e-mail below.
After that, it’s up to you to schedule time with the Principal. Send the below e-mail in advance so they have some reference point.
Schedule your meeting with the principal, or mention in your e-mail that you’ll be scheduling a meeting with them.
Here is a sample email:
Dear [Principal’s Name],
It was great meeting you and speaking with you the other day. Here’s a video that shows why I am passionate about arts education. I thought you’d like it. It’s [insert length here] long, and I’d love to discuss it with you at our meeting.
[pick one video from this playlist and use that direct link]
[If you don’t have a meeting scheduled, mention in the e-mail that you’re scheduling a meeting with their office.]
I’m excited to share my thoughts with you about how the arts can help ensure that our students are successful in school, work, and life!
The important thing to accomplish with the Principal is a relationship of support and understanding. If they see you as an adversary, everything you stand for will be lumped into that category. If they recognize you as an ally and source of solution, they will learn to lean on you and partner with you.
And as always, you can reach out to our team and we can coach you.
4. Work with Elected Officials
Working with elected officials could include talking with a mayor, city council member, county official, or someone similar. Bear in mind, arts education is just one topic of many that this elected official is facing. Remember that you’re on their team, and that if you make their job easier, your results will in turn be better.
- Research ways that elected officials can generally support arts education in our Arts Education Field Guide. Then, research your elected official’s own history on the topic—have they voted to increase the budget for arts education? Did they play in their high school band?
- Call their office, schedule a meeting. (Alternately, you could try speaking first with their staff member or deputy assigned to arts & culture or education.) Or, you could invite them to an event that will build a bridge—this could be a student performance, a gallery opening, etc.
- Let their office know who you are (parent, arts administrator, concerned citizen, etc.), and what you’d like to discuss.
- Prepare your talking points. Be sure to combine data about arts education along with a compelling story. Remember: warm & fuzzy anecdote + hard hitting data = effective messaging. Your message should always conclude with an “ask.” The ask should be clear, simple, and action-oriented. Our Facts and Figures e-book has a great sample message on page 25 that you can use as a guide.
- At the meeting, bring a tablet or laptop to show one of the Encourage Creativity videos as a way to set the stage with your conversation. Then deliver your message. These are busy people who respect it when you value their time. Leave behind our handout that's specifically for Elected Officials/Policymakers so they remember your main talking points.
- Follow up in a day or two by e-mail or by phone. If you’ve invited them to a community conversation, you can follow these suggestions below for a productive event.
- Remain in contact and continue to build the relationship. Don’t contact them only when you need something or when a crisis arises.
You’ll be surprised by what a little preparation and polish can do for your relationship over time.
5. Prepare Your Presentation
This is it! You’ve got a presentation at the school board; you’ve scheduled a meeting with a principal; or you’ve invited an elected official to your students’ final performance. The big day is here, well, it’s on the calendar. Now what?
It’s time to prepare.
- Review Facts & Figures and jot down the talking points that hit home for you.
- Use page 25 from Facts & Figures to build your personal story for your presentation. Remember: warm & fuzzy anecdote + hard hitting data = effective messaging.
Decide what you’d like to leave people with. This includes several things:
Have a clear request (a.k.a “the ask.”). People want to know what action to take next. Make sure the ask is clear, simple, and action-oriented.
Leave behind a think-piece. You want to stay top-of-mind. You can print out these handouts (there's one for School Leaders/Principals, one for Teachers, one for Students/Parents, one for Elected Officials/Policymakers, and one for Local Funders/Business Leaders) on glossy paper and really impress people.
Schedule or host a community conversation and invite them to it.
- Bring friends and allies. There is strength in numbers. If you’re representing a large portion of the community who feel the same way, decision-makers will see this is connected to a movement based on urgency.
- During your presentation, it is important to frame the issue. Speak in a way administrators care about. Focus talking points as solutions for existing problems. Show your concern for their challenges, show how you’ve thought it through and believe this is an answer for them.
- Ask the person who got you on the agenda, "Where is the meeting? Does it have the capacity to show a video with suitable audio?" (If not, ask how you can provide that on your own). Explain that you have a brief video as part of your presentation.
- After the meeting, send a thank you note. You can even print out one of our one-sheets [link] to include in a handwritten note. Or, you can follow up by e-mail and attach the handouts (there's one for School Leaders/Principals, one for Teachers, one for Students/Parents, one for Elected Officials/Policymakers, and one for Local Funders/Business Leaders) along with the link to the Encourage Creativity video you showed in the meeting.
- As always, you can call Americans for the Arts and we can walk you through it even more. We’re always happy to hear from you. Just ask for anyone on the Arts Education Team.
You’ve come a long way and we’re all very proud of you. Keep on keepin’ on!
6. Host a Community Conversation
Gathering a group of people in a Town Hall fashion can be a really effective way to create lasting change.
As with any event, you need to prepare the 5Ws--Who? What? Where? When? Why?
Let’s start with the "Why?" Perhaps there is a vote coming up, or there are budget amendments, or new federal mandates being enacted, or you’re raising funds for school supplies. Get clear on the purpose of the meeting.
Next let’s move to "Who?" This would be community members, parents, students, teachers, administrators, business leaders, elected officials—essentially as many kinds of voices as you can. There are a lot of potential supporters. You can use the Arts Education Field Guide to help identify all the players. Start inviting early, and ideally at least three weeks prior to the event. Public flyers can work. E-mails can work. Social media can be very helpful. And for those people who absolutely have to be there, traditional invitations combined with phone calls will work best.
So now, “What?” is it? The basic event outline is:
- Thank people for coming. Introduce yourself and other notables. Introduce the agenda.
- Show the Encourage Creativity documentary as a thought-piece opener. Share the purpose of the evening. (Set up your “ask”.)
- Now everyone is on the same page. It’s time for the event. You can host a panel, introduce a keynote speaker, or facilitate a Creative Conversation. If you’re not certain what to focus on, give us a call and we’ll help you sort it out.
- This is a great time to highlight student performers from your school or district. Or you might want to have a teaching artist on hand to walk everyone through an arts exercise. That can be a lot of fun and make a lasting experience of creating art.
- Ask people to support your mission. Give them a clear way to do it. They can sign a petition, sign letters to representatives, come to the next school board meeting with you, make a donation. There are numerous ways to direct their passion. Just be clear.
- Thank people for coming and give them our handouts (there's one for School Leaders/Principals, one for Teachers, one for Students/Parents, one for Elected Officials/Policymakers, and one for Local Funders/Business Leaders) so they have the main talking points from the evening.
- Have a way to gather people’s contact information and their stories about why arts education is important to them.
- End on time. Especially if you are in a rented or borrowed space.
From here, the “When?” and “Where?” will become clear. You’ll know what size space you need and what date you’re hosting. (Sometimes those come first, and that’s okay.) But here are a few tips:
- When: This seems obvious, but if you want to include parents, teachers, and/or students, host an evening or weekend event.
- Keep in mind that you might need to pay for maintenance staff to open/close/cleanup a venue.
- Where: Ask the school if you can use the gymnasium. Ask a local arts organization, like a gallery, if you can use their space. Ask a nonprofit if you can use their conference or board room. If you’re starting small, think about hosting a dinner party in your home!
- If you plan to host or organize multiple events over time, it is simplest to be planning at least two at a time. That way you can promote the second event at the first event, and so on.
- Here is a generic tip sheet for event planning logistics.
Here are some suggestions that will set your event apart, and make it simpler to double your attendance:
- Offer food — approach local restaurants about sponsoring or discounting a meal for mention at the event, or make it a potluck.
- Provide childcare — you’d be amazed how many parents out there will love you for this.
- Provide interpretive services (if needed).
If you’re not interested in hosting a community event yourself, but you’d like to be involved in community events, visit the ArtsMeet National Calendar to find something in your area.