Local Advocacy

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Pandemic-related District-level Concerns about Arts Education Increases the Importance of Community/School Advocacy Connections

 
Community Advocacy Meeting in Bridgton hosted by Gallery 302, October 2017

With the concern about the impact of state and town budget reductions on next year’s school budgets, as well as how changes in class sizes and other safety-related changes might impact school arts programs, arts advocacy at the district level has acquired a new urgency.

The MAAE-led Arts are Basic Coalition ABC, which hosted the Arts Education Summit on May 20, has not only sent out a call for individual federal funding advocacy and prepared media statewide campaigns; it is also directing its combined membership representing the community-inclusive MAAE alliance and the four arts teacher organizations, to organize local community/school alliances to prepare for advocacy action in their districts.

MAAE, whose own alliance includes parents, artists, arts organizations and community arts supporters, has always promoted the community’s connection with the arts education in their schools. But while MAAE has long been eager to see its community/schools alliance locally replicated and has been a promoter of local arts education advocacy, those two priorities weren’t always connected. Thus, while MAAE’s Imagination Intensive Community (IIC) program in 2010 stressed the community/school arts connection, following MAAE’s statewide arts education census, IIC was primarily about collaboration on arts programming. The Bath pilot of the MAAE Creative Communities initiative in 2012-2013 did seek to provide a collaborative model for all Maine communities that included advocacy, but.it was paradoxically MAAE’s 2016 statewide Arts Education Advocacy Day in Augusta that initiated MAAE’s sustained focus on advocacy in the community/schools connection.

That focus was reflected in the organization of the Hall of Flags exhibit tables at the State House. Instead of inviting arts organizations at large to host display tables as previously, MAAE’s Advocacy Day in 2016 and again in 2017 organized the tables to represent each of Maine’s counties and invited county community arts organizations not only to host their county’s table, but also to invite their county’s arts teachers to bring their students. Apart from the connections forged between community arts organizations and their schools, the relationship forged between MAAE itself and those arts organizations led MAAE in 2017-18 to bring the community/schools advocacy model back into the community, when it invited those same arts organizations that had hosted county tables to host community advocacy meetings. Entitled “The Arts in our Schools K-12,” six meetings were held: in Bridgton, Winter Harbor, Eastport, Buxton, Augusta and Madison. While one of the purposes was to introduce stakeholders to the potential impact of ESSA on the arts, the meetings also showed the benefits of bringing local stakeholder groups together to learn about and discuss local arts education advocacy concerns. Community arts supporters and arts-makers began to identify themselves not only as fundraisers for school arts or as providers of arts programs, field trips or teaching artists…. but as advocates as well.

INFO, TIPS AND RESOURCES

Ongoing Local Advocacy

Advocacy can and should be an ongoing communication with those who may not realize the importance of the arts – the process as well as the product. Next year especially, when performances and exhibits may be difficult, will be an opportunity to communicate about the art-making process. That includes not only your own as educator. Your students’ self-reflection and communication about what and how they’re learning and how it’s impacting them is not only powerful advocacy, but also helpful for the students themselves. (See “Ongoing Advocacy to School Boards” below.)

Issue Focused Advocacy

Advocacy about specific issues in your district that need to be addressed, such as reduction or addition of arts teaching positions or teaching time –  may not be necessary all the time, but when it is, it is important to be organized and familiar with your district’s decision-making process. Those preparatory steps can take time, so it is never too soon to start.

Initiating the Coalition

While an issue requiring advocacy is usually, though not always recognized first by arts educators, an advocacy coalition iitself can also be initiated by community members, parents, or even students. if you aren’t an arts educator yourself contact your district’s arts educator/s to find out as much as you can about their situation and their thoughts about proceeding with forming an advocacy coalition.

Stakeholder Organizing –

  1. Identify the stakeholder groups in your district besides the arts educators: (parent arts supporters, community artists and arts organizations, other arts supporters you may know).
  2. Build your local network… start with two or three of you… keep expanding via personal networking, use arts events or other ways to find and recruit people outside of your loop who might be interested.
  3. Learn as much as you can about the school board in your district. Who is on it, when do they meet? (See below for arts supporter representation on the school board)
  4. Find out as much as you can from someone with experience in your district about what advocacy strategy (about any subject) has worked in the past (letters to SB? to local paper?, presentations at SB meetings,etc) and when these need to be begun to be most effective. Each district will need its own strategy…. this isn’t one-size fits all.
  5. Set up a full coalition meeting, if you have the time, to introduce everyone to each other, to hear from arts educators and from their students and to discuss whatever issues you may have or need to be prepared for.

Advocacy to School Boards

Since it is the school board and administrators in each district that will be ultimately responsible for the decisions that impact the quality of arts education in our schools, it is crucial that those decision makers in each district recognize the importance of arts education itself. This means they – like the parents and the public – need to be informed about the good work that you all are doing… beyond seeing the exhibits and performances. They need to know what is going on behind the curtain, and need to hear directly from you  – and your students! –  how important the arts are to those students.

 
Many arts educators are already doing this, signing up to be on the school board meeting agendas and bringing their students with them to present at those meetings. This needs to happen in districts throughout our state. If you’re a community arts supporter you may need to encourage the arts educators in your schools to present at a school board meeting, and then attend yourself and encourage your friends to join you!  You’ll also want to make sure there is at least one voice for the arts on the school board itself – and that voice might be yours!*
 
If you’re an arts educator, we hope to also post voices from you and your students describing your experiences and whatever advice you may want to impart. If you’re a community arts supporter we want to hear your advocacy thoughts and experiences as well. Contact us at spotters@maineartsed.org.
 

*Step by Step – to a Voice for the Arts on your School Board

  1. Go to a meeting or two to get the feel of it and learn more about what happens and who’s on it.
  2. Learn more about what the issues have been and who supports what.
  3. Get an arts ed supporter on the board…

a. Find out if there’s an arts supporter running that you can support or

b. Run yourself or

c. Organize some parents/others… and find someone who’s willing to run