Better Together in the Arts

May 1, 2013

Public Advocacy

Individual artists enrich our communities, which is why the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition works to support artists throughout the state.
At the same time, OVAC seeks to connect artists actively because we recognize artists need supportive relationships with other artists and should engage with their communities. 
We know flourishing artists and cultural organizations do not work in isolation.
Oklahoma’s 2nd Arts Advocacy Day takes over the State Capitol next Wednesday, May 8, 2013. On that day, the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition and many other cultural organizations, individual artists and community leaders strive to remind our elected officials that the arts are important in our state. 
You too can sign up to participate in person or follow the Oklahomans for the Arts so you can send letters, make calls or write emails to support the campaign.
I learned (or relearned!) a few things at National Arts Advocacy Day that I think make our work in Oklahoma super relevant and timely. 

Oklahoma representatives at Arts Advocacy Day:
Julia Kirt & 
Ken Fergeson
1. Advocacy is about solidarity.
As we decide on our shared agenda, we define what we are working for and the scope of shared outcomes we’re seeking. Maybe we can only agree on one issue, but even one issue of agreement helps us have a bigger impact on our communities.
At National Arts Advocacy Day, the tent is large.  Americans for the Arts convenes many types of national, regional and local groups– from statewide associations of arts organizations to groups of lawyers that support the arts.
An outsider might think these groups all have the same interests, but within the field we know there are many different facets to arts and culture. While the American Art Therapy Association may be focused on healthcare-related issues, the League of American Orchestras may prioritize   visas for international musicians and The Association of American Cultures may speak out to encourage multicultural leadership.
Together, they can agree to advocate for focused things. This year’s priorities at Arts Advocacy Day were growing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, encouraging charitable gifts to arts and culture, increasing arts in education through grants and curriculum and more. These issues provided some of the shared vision that make advocacy stronger.

Cheering by state at the energetic kick off to
Arts Advocacy Day in DC
2. Advocacy is about strengthening networks.
Yes, expressing the importance of art to our society to our elected officials is important. Perhaps it is even more important that we align our work and collaborate more. Heck, if we can’t get along or know what each other are doing, why should public policy favor us?
At Arts Advocacy Day, the big, vocal groups had a lot of fun and built teamwork and confidence together. The Minnesotans cheered loudly when their Representative Rep. Betty McCollum spoke about the importance of the arts. The educators clapped extra when Yo Yo Ma talked about art education as essential. 
Meanwhile, all the advocates were getting to know each other, talking about their work and encouraging each other. That kind of supportive network cannot be underestimated.
The official advocacy with political leaders certainly is important, but just the process of advocating moves us much closer to our desired result: a better society with and through the arts.