Young Leaders are the Arts' Best Advocates
Abe Flores blogs about why young leaders are your best advocates.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” - John Quincy Adams
Last month, I had the privilege to participate in two Arts Advocacy events, Arts Day, organized by Arts for LA in LA City Hall, and Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, DC, organized by Americans for the Arts. Both days brought arts advocates together to brush up on their advocacy skills and to meet with their respective representatives. The events were a great exercise in civic engagement and a great opportunity for emerging arts leaders to hone their leadership skills. I saw several great examples of young arts advocates speaking personally, passionately and effectively of the power of the arts. All arts non-profits should look at the youth they serve as their best advocates.
As I walked Capitol Hill, admiring the architecture, fighting jetlag, with my head full of arts facts, stories and asks, it dawned on me that advocating in DC was not very different than advocating at LA City Hall. In both cases, I was communicating the value of public investment in the arts, sharing stories of the effects of the arts and making a firm ask (continue arts investment at the proposed levels). In both cases, we were also creating new arts advocates and connecting them with their public officials. In DC, I had the honor of advocating with a contingency of young arts advocates from the Berkeley Rep’s Teen Council. In LA, I had the privilege of advocating with a young woman from Homegirl Café who is now in the Cornerstone Theatre production Café Vida.
After talking to public officials and their staff, it was easy to see the difficulty of their job: myriad issues, opinions and people vying for their limited time but only so much they could do to create change. Therefore, we must not only partner with our elected leaders but also catalyze leadership in order to achieve the change we seek. Arts nonprofits must cultivate their young leaders to become more civically engaged and demonstrate firsthand the power of the arts by their words and actions.
In both arts advocacy events, the power of these young arts advocates was clear: they were the connection between arts involvement, positive youth engagement and healthy & safe communities. More youth involved in the arts means less youth involved in deliquent behavior (read the studies that makes the connection here) thus safer communities. The youth I advocated with were the success stories, the realized mission of the organizations they represented. When some argue against public investment in the arts, youth saved by the arts invalidate any notion that the arts are a frill. Healthy and safe communities are made possible when youth are given the opportunities and infrastructure to succeed. In many cases the arts become the vehicle for youth to learn and find confidence. Public safety should not start and end with policing but should encompass the important work arts nonprofits are doing with youth. As Frederick Douglass said, "it is easier to build strong children than repair broken men."
One of the most satisfying things I am doing this is year is organizing an Art Club in Lennox Academy in partnership with the Lennox School Board, New Visions and the arts teachers. This is a group of High School students who are involved in the arts and seek to use the arts to engage and improve their community as well as “spread happiness.” One of the main tasks of these youth leaders is to enable others to become leaders as well. They are currently planning a family instrument making workshop and jam session for the Lennox Family Festival. These emerging leaders will become the best arts advocates in all of Lennox because their actions will show not tell the value of the arts in our communities and schools.