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What it Means to be an Arts Advocate

The arts exist not only for social, cultural or entertainment value. They also have major impact on the economy and education and serve as a primary way for communities to preserve and celebrate our culture and heritage. We must strive to keep the arts strong and vibrant.  Community support is more important now than ever.

Educating both the public and legislators on the true impact of the arts must be a primary goal for any arts advocate. Arts advocacy involves sharing your views and opinions with the elected officials who make decisions impacting your arts community or organization. Effective advocacy hinges on continuous education and communication among your supporters, their decision makers at the local, state and federal levels, and the public.

It is crucial to know the facts as you build your case for the arts. We’ve created these pages to help you or your organization develop key objectives and talking points and increase the power and effectiveness of your message.

Why the Arts Matter

In 2004 the average household expenditure was $30.72 per month for arts and cultural activities.Source: Economic Benefit of Michigan’s Arts and Cultural Activities, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, commissioned by the Michigan Nonprofit Research Program.

Every dollar granted to arts and culture in Michigan generates a return of $10 and has a ripple effect of $34. Sources: Role of the Arts in Economic Development, National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices; and The Impact of the Arts, ArtServe Michigan.

The arts employ a significant workforce, and purchase goods and services from local businesses.  In the greater Lansing region the arts conservatively employ 750 direct full-time jobs, and impact more than 1,700 indirect full-time jobs. Sources: Americans for the Arts’Economic Prosperity III Calculator; and the Arts Council of Greater Lansing.

Purchases made by the greater Lansing arts and cultural sector, together with its attendees, provide the region with $58 million in economic impact, and $3.1 million in state tax revenue annually. Sources: Americans for the Arts’ Economic Prosperity III Calculator; and the Arts Council of Greater Lansing.

The major festivals in Lansing and East Lansing alone draw 450,000 each year, providing $13.5 million in regional economic impact, nearly 80 direct jobs, and more than 400 indirect jobs.Source: Americans for the Arts’ Economic Prosperity III Calculator; and the Arts Council of Greater Lansing.

According to the Travel Industry Association, cultural tourists stay longer, spend more, and are more likely to spend $1,000+ more than the average traveler.

All students deserve the opportunity to take part in the arts, both in school and in the community. The arts can positively affect entire school culture-especially student motivation, attitudes, and attendance.

With cuts to K-12 education, the arts and cultural sector steps in as an educational partner by providing positive, quality educational programming and free programs for children, low income families, and at-risk youth. Source: the Arts Council of Greater Lansing

Students who participate in the arts have better grade point averages, score better on standardized tests, have lower dropout rates, and have a measurable impact in deterring delinquent behavior. Sources: Americans for the Arts; and Dr. James S. Catterall, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, UCLA

A poll conducted by Harris Interactive reports that 93% of Americans believe that the arts are vital to providing a well-rounded education.

According to the 2008 10-Point Plan published by the United States Conference of Mayors, the arts are noted as being critical to the quality of life and the vibrancy of America’s cities.

Corporate leaders continue to stress the importance of a strong cultural environment to attract and retain a skilled and educated workforce. Source: ArtServe Michigan

In a recent report prepared by Michigan Future, Inc. the report concluded that, “What distinguishes successful places are their concentrations of talent, where talent is defined as a combination of knowledge, creativity and entrepreneurship. In a flattening world, the places with the greatest concentrations of talent win. States and regions without concentrations of talent will have great difficulty retaining or attracting knowledge-based enterprises, nor are they likely to be the place where new knowledge-based enterprises are created.”

Want to be an arts advocate? Here's how:

Know the Facts

Stay informed about the issues, both locally and nationally.

Join Creative Many and other discipline-specific arts advocacy networks.

Define the role of local, state and federal dollars in relation to your local arts activities and be prepared with the facts. Appeal to reason; an emotional appeal is not enough. Back your arguments with facts and substance.

know the system

Find out who your elected officials are at the local, county, state and federal levels. Get to know the decision makers and be sure they are familiar with your activities.

Find out which organizations, government units and agencies set policies that could affect arts and cultural development. Learn how each works, how policies and decisions are made and who or what influences decision makers. Getting to the right people with facts and information about who will be affected, how they will be affected, and who cares can influence opinions, attitudes, decisions and votes.

Create a log with contact and background info and correspondence history for elected officials so you can document your progress with them.

Be sure your state and national legislative representatives regularly receive information from you or your group – and get on their mailing lists, too.

Provide elected officials with opportunities at your public events. If you’re a member of an arts organization, invite public officials to talk to your board, staff and volunteers about the importance of your organization to the community.

Design your campaign

Put together a plan of action with priorities, strategies and timelines.  Consider these factors when building your plan:

Is this issue critical to my organization/community?

When will the issue be discussed/decided and by whom?

Is there time to call or write to my supporters? To launch a letter-writing campaign? To meet directly with the decision makers?

Who are the decision makers you want to reach?

Who should contact those decision makers and how?

state your case

Your key messages are a critical part of the way you build understanding and motivate people to respond. Be clear and concise. Provide alternatives. Don’t just point to the problem; offer solutions. Shape your key messages in the very early stages of preparing your advocacy plan.

Know your target audiences and the vehicles that will help get your message to them. Clearly state the action you endorse and ask decision makers for their support.

Show how proposed policy or legislation would affect the community and/or your organization. Telling the right stories and backing them up with statistics will increase the impact of your case and establish credibility.

Keep your message focused on positive results and mutual benefits. For instance, use local statistics to show that the arts successfully educate children, attract tourists, stimulate business and generate local and regional partnerships – all of which benefit the entire community.

anticipate questions and opposition

Research who opposes your position, why, and what they are saying about the issue. Assume that opponents will also contact decision makers and their staff. Assume that you will get requests to explain your facts.

Be prepared for questions driven by a different position or perspective on the issue. You and your supporters should identify these potential questions and how you will address them.

Encourage others to advocate

Find others in your community to join you in delivering your message. A business owner makes a meaningful case about arts and economic development and community partnerships. A school principal brings additional credibility to your case for arts in the schools. Request action from your supporters but make sure the expectations of your advocates are clear and specific. Provide your organization’s key messages, talking points and contact information for individuals and organizations your supporters should contact if necessary. Make it easy for people to contribute their time and energy.

For organizations, make advocacy part of everyone’s job description, including board members, staff and volunteers.

Continually monitor the policies and decisions that could affect you and communicate your interests.

Keep in regular communication with your advocates so they feel connected with your cause and ready to act on your behalf.

Establish communication with other organizations and coalitions that are working on related issues or toward compatible goals.

Create an advocacy e-mail list or phone tree, so you can mobilize quickly as issues come up.

Share your success stories

Most arts organizations keep testimonials from constituents on file for various purposes, and those who have been positively affected by an arts experience often want to share their story. For example, participants in GCAC-led children’s art programming who are now adults continue to contact us to share how their experiences in our programming have positively affected their lives and/or careers. These success stories not only serve as positive reinforcement for the organizations/individuals who have offered a service but can also serve as powerful tools in gaining support for causes and promoting your organization.

Post these success stories on your Web site and social media networks. Share them with your elected officials so they can see the impact your organization has made in the community.

Ask your constituents to record their experiences

Allow those who are compelled to share their stories with you to be active in helping to promote your organization and advocate for arts issues.

openly credit your public funding sources

Placards in the lobby, credit lines in programs, press releases in newspapers are all tools that take little time to create but make an enormous impact. It is a good practice to publicly recognize officials and other decision makers for their support – and don’t overlook key support staff.

Act regularly and promptly

Don’t wait for someone else to take charge. Make a commitment to do what you are able to do, no matter how small it may seem.

Track issues. Organizations can designate board members as liaisons to key commissions and agencies. Monitoring such things as the budget development process or the availability of an underutilized funding source is important in preparing you and your organization to act immediately and effectively.

Follow up

Thank your elected officials as often as possible. If you don’t have time to write, make a call. Never let them forget you are out there and that their support is not only appreciated, but crucial.

Get feedback. Ask advocates to report back immediately after they’ve made contact with officials. Ask them to report conversations with decision makers, especially if they indicate a concern or position held by the decision maker.

Keep records on all communications. Report to advocates on the results of their efforts. Keep them positively and actively engaged by showing them that they are making a difference.

This list was compiled by the Greater Columbus Arts Council staff from the following sources:
Texas Commission on the Arts
Arts South Dakota
Creative Many Michigan
Missouri Citizens for the Arts
Americans for the Arts