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Making Arts Advocacy A Way of Life

Maddie Orton

Madeline Orton

On a recent visit to a community arts center, I was struck by the effortless inclusion of advocacy in the director’s curtain speech.

Plugs for the city rolled off her tongue like: “Don’t forget to check out our wonderful restaurants,” and my favorite, “If you’re looking for a new place, you should buy here—it’s a great time to buy!”

As someone who works for an arts advocacy organization (ArtPride New Jersey) nothing makes me happier.

Before I get on my soapbox about why you should be permanently stationed on yours, I want to point out two things: 1) neither of these comments is directly about the arts center and 2) the director is in her mid-20s.

When I have conversations about advocacy I receive a small range of reactions. Some people are thankful for the work advocacy groups do on their behalf, but don’t think they have the time to get involved. Others believe in the importance of advocating annually to their elected officials to protect funding.

Finally, some, like this community arts center director, build advocacy into everything they do all year long. Their advocacy efforts do not end at preserving funding, but extend to maintaining close contact with elected officials, the board of education, businesses, and other community organizations to ensure continued investment in their organization’s success.

I know that when this director calls for a visit during budget season, decision makers will not only know who she is, but will also have a clear understanding of the impact her organization has on the community—because she never stops telling them.

The economic climate, paired with advertising and social media overload, presents a challenge for advocates. For this reason, it is important to make your voice heard year-round—a habit I believe will become more widespread and automatic in the years to come.

A co-worker once told me that arts advocacy is not a job, it’s a way of life, and that is a mindset that serves us well. There should be no “off switch” for advocacy because opportunities are everywhere.

This does not just include meeting with elected officials, it also means talking about your organization’s city as a destination (creative placemaking presents a great opportunity for this), inviting decision makers to all major events, and arming all members of your staff and volunteers with the information they need to be ambassadors for the organization.

Finally, I mention the director’s age because, while an organization may have specific spokespeople, everyone can be an advocate.

I have learned that many early-career arts administrators don’t get involved for fear of not being taken seriously, feeling it is not their place, or simply believing it does not relate to their job.

Involvement in advocacy efforts can provide leadership opportunities for emerging leaders and develop a vital skill that will serve them, and the community, well for years to come.

Now is a great time to get started on making arts advocacy not just a part of the job, but a way of life.

See you at Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, DC (or on Twitter: #AAD12), and happy advocating!

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