What do you ask a candidate?

Suggestions for participating in candidate forums

Arts for LA encourages all arts supporters to attend candidate forums, whether they're for local neighborhood councils, school boards or city government elections.  Not only is it a great opportunity for all citizens to participate in the democratic process, it's an effective way to let your candidates know about the issues, concerns and challenges you care about.

Most candidate forums begin with a moderated discussion where the candidates are asked a series of pre-prepared questions.  These usually address the election's "big ticket" items and allow both candidates to showcase their platform positions.

After the moderated discussion, the forum often opens up to allow for audience questions.  Usually, these questions are collected on index cards during the moderated session.  The cards are then handed to the moderator, who chooses additional questions to ask the candidates.  Alternatively, a microphone can be passed through the audience or held by a volunteer, or a line will form in front of a standing microphone.

Arts for LA provides briefing kits to many candidates running for public office in Los Angeles County.  Briefing kits include a copy of Arts for LA's Advocacy Platform, information about Los Angeles County's Creative Industries and overviews of the arts and cultural activity in that candidate's area.

A few ground rules for participation in candidate forums:

  • Be concise. This is not "public comment" or a chance for you to complain about policies you don't like.  Write down your question and state it clearly and succinctly.
  • Be respectful.  Avoid questions that require knowledge the candidates may not have, such as asking about a specific issue within a small community ("What do you think about Organization X having to close its doors last year?") or attack questions ("You've never been to a play in our city.  How can you represent us if you don't care about the arts?").  Embarrassing or angering a candidate will not promote a good working relationship.
  • Speak from experience.  If you're a resident, parent, business owner, or if you're new to the area, that gives you a certain lens that other constituents might not have.  You'll engage a candidate by letting him or her know who you are and why you care ("I have two kids at Garfield Middle School, and I'm concerned about the lack of band and choir electives.  I'm an avid guitarist and believe arts education is an essential part of learning.  Can you talk about your position on arts education in our city?"). 
  • Actually ask a question.  If you want to air a grievance or give a candidate information, you can contact their campaign or speak to them after the forum.  During the question portion of the forum, however, you should only speak if you genuinely want to hear both candidates' responses to a specific question.
  • Do your research.  Investigate whether a candidate has an arts policy or has made public statements on the arts or arts education.  
  • What do you ask a candidate? Your questions should be tailored to the type and location of the election (whether it's a city position, county position, school board, etc.).  Arts for LA has provided sample questions drawing from our Advocacy Platform Goals and current arts and cultural issues in Los Angeles County.  If you have questions or would like more information, you can always email us at advocate-at-artsforla-dot-org.

Sample Arts Education Questions:

  • The state recently released the restrictions on the Arts and Music Block Grant, so school districts can now choose to use the money for non-arts programs.  Do you believe the Arts and Music Block Grant should be used exclusively for arts education, or do you support the re-allocation of categorical funds during the current budget crisis?
  • Our school district is/is not* a part of Arts for All, the regional blueprint to restore quality, sequential arts education to every student in Los Angeles County.  What are your thoughts on Arts for All's goal to provide each child with standards-based arts education?  How will you support this goal?
  • Did you have any experiences with arts education?  If so, did those experiences affect you?
  • What is your position on arts education? What, if any, are its benefits for students?

*To find out whether your school district has already signed on to LA County's Arts Ed Collective, visit https://www.lacountyartsedcollective.org and click on School Districts.

Sample Arts & Cultural Policy Questions:

  • Do you have an arts & culture policy or public platform?  If so, can you speak about it? 
  • 1% of Los Angeles' Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) used to support the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.  Do you support restoring the full 1% of the TOT to fund the Department of Cultural Affairs?
  • The City of LA has a "Quimby" program requiring all major developments to allocate a small percentage of development monies to the Quimby fund, intended to be used for parks, recreation and civic art programs.  However, there is no plan for allocation of these funds and there is a large backlog of unspent Quimby money.  What would you like to see happen with the Quimby fund in terms of allocations and projects? 

We encourage all citizens to participate in the democratic process by attending and participating in candidate forums.  One of Arts for LA's primary goals is to integrate arts and culture into every aspect of civic life, and encouraging elected officials to think and speak about the arts is a tremendous step toward this important goal.