Advocacy in Tough Times

Building strong support for the arts and arts education is what you do every day.  Yet resources continue to dwindle, as the state economic forecast affirms that fiscal recovery is slow for California.  This means that counties, cities and school districts will continue to grapple with insurmountable budget deficits, short falls and cuts to essential city services.

How then do we make the case for the arts and arts education in these difficult financial times?  Is advocating to not have the arts or arts education singled out a viable strategy?  How do we build, expand and inspire our vast networks to voice their commitment, not just to the arts, but to the future vitality and economic prosperity of our region?  

Unlike years past, we now have strong economic data backing our claim that creativity is a driving force in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.  New reports illustrate the direct connection between the arts and civic engagement, workforce readiness and arts education.

Our collective efforts over the past three years have created a strong presence with policymakers.  We now have the ability to engage in very targeted e-advocacy.  A policy platform vetted by the field has been created to guide us as we work together toward greater support for the arts.  

This month I have more questions than answers.  I want to hear from you on the best way for our field to collectively tackle the challenges facing our sector.  What do you need to take action, to take a stand and actively advocate for the arts and arts education in your community?

You are a valued part of this unprecedented advocacy effort.  Use the comment section below to share you thoughts with your colleagues about how the work you do is part of our region's solution.

Small arts providers another casualty of fiscal crisis?

Our organization does all sorts of things besides provide direct arts education services to schools. We do a lot of advocacy work, too.

Our Annual Valley Wide Student Art Show features over 600 kids from throughout the San Fernando Valley in an all day family arts festival (over 3,000 people attended last year). We do this every year in March to commemorate Youth Art Month, while drawing attention to the need for arts education programs in schools. We publish a quarterly newspaper and maintain a website that keeps people informed about what's going on with arts education. We started an Arts Parent Leadership Council 18 months ago to train parents on how to advocate for arts education.

Three weeks ago, LAUSD school board members Tamar Galatzan and Steve Zimmer spoke at our quarterly meeting, as well as Robin Lithgow, the new head of the Arts Ed Branch. The school board members were very, very honest with us about their fiscal situation. We didn't like what we heard, but we appreciated their honesty. They didn't give us any district propaganda or double talk. We may have disliked hearing the bad news, but at the same time, we didn't feel like we wasted any of our precious time (or gas) to drive out to yet one more meeting to hear a lot of hopeful rhetoric. So we didn't like the message, but we trusted the messengers. And when we can trust the messengers, arts education advocates can be more willing to give of themselves (remember that for many of the smaller organizations, their time and resources are even more precious now because they have less of both).

We have to know that our time and talents won't be wasted. Apathy, wasted time, and a lack of trust and respect will be what destroys the advancement of the cause, not just the lack of $$$$. Those of us who are in it for all of the right reasons will prevail. We trust each other, so we're holding each other up right now. Not the funders, not the bureaucracies or big institutions, not the stars of arts education, just the soldiers - the little guys who work tirelessly (many times without compensation), who show up again and again and again.......and again. We need to be valued, just as much as the overall cause.

Don't forget about the soldiers in this fight. Without them, the arts education community could turn into a cookie cutter monopoly. We can't let the Walmartization of Arts Education be the result of this fiscal crisis. The small arts providers of Los Angeles are the mom and pop businesses of LA's Creative Economy. We can't let them be driven out of business.

Allied Partners

I hear you spike.  We are all soldiers in this fight.  Although times are pretty tough right now. I do believe progress is being made.  At this moment, it seems school districts are trying to keep their lights on and their doors open. 

In many ways, it feels like public education is on the brink. I'm curious because I think this is something we at Arts for LA need to think about.  How does the Arts & Education Aid Council partner with other value aligned partners in the valley? 

Can the arts, and arts education afford to not work with allied partners?  

Allied Partners?

I hear you spike.  We are all soldiers in this fight.  Although times are pretty tough right now. I do believe progress is being made.  At this moment, it seems school districts are trying to keep their lights on and their doors open. 

In many ways, it feels like public education is on the brink. I'm curious because I think this is something we at Arts for LA need to think about.  How does the Arts & Education Aid Council partner with other value aligned partners in the valley? 

Can the arts, and arts education afford to not work with allied partners?  

We now have the tools; let's use them!

Yes -- the arts education field is facing unprecedented challenges right now. But compared to 10 years, 5 years, even 2 years ago, I believe we're smarter and we now have strategic, organizing powers--thanks in large part to Arts for LA--to help us.

The recently-dismantled Arts Community Partnership Network, an initiative of LAUSD's Arts Education Branch, has been meeting with the hope of somehow leveraging its collective power to restore organizations' active, systemic involvement in public education.

To make the most of resources that already exist, of the hard "collectivizing" work already done, do you think there's some way that Arts for LA and this consortium could work together? The group is ready to spring into action--but what should it do?

On a different, tactical note, I've been thinking about some kind of "adopt a political leader" campaign that students, teachers, or arts organizations could use. Instead of a letter, how about a wacky sculpture or creative documentation of art working in classrooms? A sculpture would be hard to ignore on someone's desk, and also rather touching, I would think.

More generally, how can we use the ARTS to fight for the arts? I think we also need to promote and circulate some sound bites/talking points that anyone could use to advocate for arts education. Lots of good, new research coming out -- what can be pulled to widely circulate?

Thanks for your blog thread!

Jeanne, you are so correct:

Jeanne, you are so correct: we need to work together to voice support for arts education.  There is so much information already out there. We need to connect these threads and do our part. 

The message is simple: Don't disproportionally cut arts education. 

Communicating to school districts to ensure that school districts don't single out the arts, is a critical statewide strategy.  California Alliance for Arts Eduaction has a fanstic toolkit - check it out

When the state released restrictios on the arts and music block grants last year, it gave school districts a much needed source of reveue that they could be used for deficit reduction. Actively advocating at the school district level (and lets remember, ther are 81 of them in Los Angeles County alone) is imperative. 

Arts for LA, Advocacy Manager, Tara Stafford is currently building advocacy teams in five pilot school districts.  By the end of the year, each team will have an advocacy plan in place.  At the top of each list is alinged with the statewide effort to advocate for the Block Grants to be used in the manner in which they were intended.  This is happening now and it's open to stakeholders throughout the region.  To learn more and join a team go to:

As advocates our job is going to get a whole lot more demanding over the next year.  Take action when prompted, write letters to the editor and join an advocacy team, if you have the time.  The impact of a community aligned will send the resounding message that arts and arts education is a critical component to California's economic recovery.  



You Made All The Difference Today!

Your call today inspired this blog post. Your question about what are some tangible tactics that can be employed to advocate at the school district level to support arts education.

Aside from the recliner e-advocacy opportunity, speaking out for the arts, or arts education is a skill we've got to master. We also have to carve additional time out of our already busy day to make the special appearance at the school board, committee or board meeting.

Active voices are critical, but active voices singing the same chorus in the whopping 81 school districts throughout our vast region is what its going to take just to ensure that cuts are on par with cuts in every other core subject.

The reality is, the fiscal crisis has put insurmountable pressure on already tight budgets for everyone. We've got to the force that is compassionate on the decision maker, but tough on the issue.


Thank you, Danielle.

I am feeling more and more like this is a time for leadership - at every level. Many of us can take the lead, even in small ways - to write a letter, attend a meeting, or even talk with co-workers and colleagues to inform and inspire.

I have a feeling that even rougher times are ahead economically for this region and this sector.

When I read that libraries are closing their doors to lack of funds, I got a knot in my stomach. "This is bad. Really bad." I don't want arts funding to take away other necessary services. I just know that LA is the entertainment capitol and it makes me wonder - where is all that "capital"? What "investment" is more important than our children?

That Sign on the Hill

While LA is the "entertainment capitol" many of those companies are headquartered outside of Los Angeles.  Hollywood is a sign on the hill that attracts tourists.

Our creative industry, as illustrated in the Otis Report on the Creative Economy is rooted in design, manufacturing and a small percentage of the performing arts that make the big salaries. What's pretty exciting is that 1 in very 6 jobs, is in the creative sector.  

There is no doubt that creativity is a driving economic force in our region. Reports such as Otis or Americans for the Arts Creative Industries research, give us the hard facts.  We now need to meet with policy makers and deliver the message. This strategy is going to take all of us: arts managers, teaching artists, parents, students, our collective voice adds up.  

But we need to be careful as well.  We need to be seen as a team player in these tough economic times.  Otherwise we risk alienating public officials who are really trying to make the best decisions in extremely difficult circumstances.

So, how do we remain tough on the issue, but compassionate for the individual?

How do we, Arts for LA and other advocacy organizations mobilize you - our most trusted, informed and allied partner?

Oh, if you haven't had a chance to look at the 2009 Otis Report on the Creative Economy - do check it out:

Americans for the Arts Creative Industries reserach can be accessed at:


I understand your point, Danielle. It really IS a matter of "compasionate proportions" (just made that one up right now, but I think it fits).

What you say makes sense as it feels strange to say its okay to cut service in senior centers and libraries, but not in our field, but I think we just need to keep reminding policy makers that cutting service in our sector has real social implications - at risk students that get tipped to the other side (skipping school due to lack of engagement). And that is just one issue on the table.

As a person working in this field AND as an active citizen, I get overwhelmed at times. But I am reminded that even a few voices can be heard. I have to trust, on some level, that we ALL have a collective goal to get through this together and, like you said, to keep the lights on and the doors open.

I guess my main point is that we don't want the public to forget about the true social services the arts bring to students, schools and the community.

Advocacy in Action

Thank you, Danielle, for this blog and this invitation to rally the community to think about how we can be a part of a better future for the arts. I believe there are many "good soldiers" that can tell those stories that make the difference - with funders, policy makers, and the public. If you think about it, most of us are very passionate about what we do. That's why we work in this field. Perhaps that passion can help fuel us taking "right action".