In a financial climate that calls for prioritization, sacrifice and often a day to day fight to keep our heads above water, interesting (yet entirely explainable) contradictions appear: Sales of $50 video games remain strong if not increase. The price of gold continues to rise. It seems that while historically America has seen, understood and persevered through hardship, we today are unwilling to let go of the things we find entertaining and beautiful. The contradiction: why do the arts suffer so deeply when they are arguably the biggest bang for our beautiful entertainment buck? This article will offer direction with regards to who in your community can offer the loudest voices of advocacy. It may seem like preaching to the choir but, in times like these, the choir must be inspired to sing louder and stronger than ever.
It is unfortunately true that the unified voice of parents as advocates for the arts usually comes when the crisis is at it’s peak. By the time they are knocking at a superintendents door or phoning school board members, pro-action has turned to reaction and decisions have already been made at very public yet thinly attended meetings. In order to build the capacity to pro-act, activate parents not only to engage in conversation regarding present issues, but build a strong organization that can keep their finger on the pulse of the arts in order to foresee future struggles. Establish leadership within the organization (it is important that you, the arts educator, are not the leader). Keep the organization informed and focused through consultation and guidance. It may take a year or more to form this body, but it’s impact could be tremendous.
Make no mistake that each family that attends an arts show goes home with their own struggles to contend with. However, the bigger mistake is to assume that they will not join and even prioritize arts advocacy. Use the time you have with a captive audience to clearly state your struggle and the REAL implications it has on the budding artists you serve. (I stress real because: 1. over-emotional propaganda is best left to mass media, 2. the truth is poignant enough on it’s own and 3. if your new found advocacy group ever feels misused or misguided, you’ll lose them faster than you got them).
All areas of the arts enjoy advocacy at the national level through organizations that, among other things, help to establish rigorous performance standards, best teaching practices and resources to support both. Ask your local arts educators if they are affiliated with these organizations (and/or the similar state level entity). Whether they are or not, it may be the gentle reminder they need to activate wider resources. You could also call any one of these organizations and they can put you in touch with a local representative. The talents realized by the connectedness of these individuals is surely backed by passion, zeal and realistic ideas for promoting the arts.
- http://schooltheatre.org/ – Educational Theatre Association
- http://www.menc.org/ – National Association for Music Education
- http://www.arteducators.org/ – National Art Education Association
- http://www.ndeo.org/ – National Dance Education Organization
Keep your eyes and ears open for the results of your efforts as they don’t always appear as financial or political support for large scale programs. I knew a kid in high school who didn’t quite fit the mold our, in many ways, antiquated education system created. I remember him clearly telling me of a conversation he had with our chorus teacher explaining that, if not for the music program, he would surely drop out of school. Sometime success must be measured one kid at a time.