In a few weeks, many of us will descend upon Washington, D.C. as part of Arts Advocacy Day.
The agenda is simple and powerful; first, everyone learns the talking points, the compelling arguments, and statistics, and then practices on legislators and/or their staff. We return home knowing we’ve made a positive impression upon those who make decisions that can have significant and long-lasting impact upon the arts in America.
For some of us, that’s it! That’s our contribution to the future of the arts. We return home and pick up our work where we left off, seeing little connection to our day-to-day activities, managing our budgets, developing programs, expanding audiences, and raising money.
Realistically, I suspect most of us would say that we think of our national effort and our local effort as mutually exclusive events with the consequence of each seeing little, if any, relevance to the other.
The fact is that “advocacy” in its broadest sense, is the same as branding. Through whatever efforts and means we select, the goals are the same—to cause others to hold views and find values that are in line with our views and values.
Arts Advocacy Day is only one point along a continuum of efforts that will culminate in moving others toward our view of the world, and the strategies recommended should serve as a blueprint for what we do locally.
Consider, for instance, why Americans for the Arts provides certain facts and not others. Why some arguments and stories are recommended and others are not. The answer is not found in the validity of the research, or the power of data, or even the in the manner in which we present ourselves to others. Rather, the answer is found in our effectiveness to “read” the values of those we are trying to persuade, in our ability to shape an argument, select the right story that will resonate with the needs and values of those to whom we are directing our efforts.
The “real” success of our efforts is based upon how we and our arguments and presentations are received by others. Americans for the Arts has crafted strategies designed to “play” to legislator’s interests and support their values and aspirations. Obviously, the extent to which our values fit and contribute to the realization of their values is the extent to which we are successful.
Put simply, and just like marketing in general, our message has to be strategic and customized to our target audience.
We all know politics are local. We’ve heard that all of our lives and we know it is true. So why is a trip to D.C. and Arts Advocacy Day of value?
My view is it serves one very powerful role and that is to impress upon our individual legislators and their staff the fact that there is a national dimension and voice for what is (or should be) the local valuing of the arts. Left at that, however, is to fall short of our goal.
We must return to our communities and identify those local circles of influence to which our legislators respond. We must create strategies to influence the local “influencers.” We must make it clear that the national force felt on Arts Advocacy Day is, in fact, also a local force that is valued by those circles of influence. We must demonstrate daily that we hold a set of values consistent with what we advocate and impress upon everyone the integrity of what we do and the special values the arts reinforce.
Arts Advocacy Day is only a first step in a process that requires each of us to establish a brand that compels others to embrace our noble efforts. And that requires more than a trip to the Capitol’s steps, more than a local news release; it requires that we recognize that advocacy is a 365-day opportunity for us to make a difference.