As our last installment of Arts Advocacy week, Heather Koslov discusses her experience at Virginia’s Arts Advocacy Day and her preparation for representing Wolf Trap at DC’s national Arts Advocacy Day.
Arts Advocacy Day. This day can be synonymous with energy, excitement, and enthusiasm. However, for many first time arts advocates this can also be a day of stress, confusion, and overwhelming information. This semester I have the pleasure of working with Wolf Trap’s Planning and Initiative team to advocate at the state and federal level for arts funding. As someone with a great deal of experience working in the arts, but very little experience connecting my work to the realm of politics, this opportunity has been an informative exercise in learning how to share my passion for the arts with others. Through my experience attending Virginia’s Arts Advocacy Day and my preparations to represent Wolf Trap at the upcoming national Arts Advocacy Day in DC on March 24-25, I have learned the importance of translating my love of the arts into concise, impact driven statements that can be easily shared with a broad range of legislators. The steps below provide a useful guide for anyone interested in navigating the advocacy process at all levels of government. Through the power of our actions and the strength of our voices, we can each play an important role in advocating for legislative arts support.
1) Find out who your legislative representatives are using AFTA’s Action Center. (https://www.votervoice.net/ARTSUSA/address). This online tool will not only tell you who your federal and state level representatives are, but will also give you a brief dossier of committees and caucuses that each serves on.
2) Once you know who your legislative representatives are, take a few minutes to find out what issues they care about. Visit their websites to learn what committees they serve on, what bills they have sponsored, and their voting history.
3) Set up an appointment to visit your legislator or another person in their office. If your legislator is unavailable, indicate that you would be pleased to meet with the staffer handling Arts/Education issues. You can also check in with your local arts agency to see if you can join a group of people already scheduled to meet with your specific legislator. Plan for your meeting to last between 10 – 20 minutes. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time between scheduled appointments, as many offices are far away from each other.
4) Know what you are asking for – do you want support for a specific bill or funding initiative? If so, know who is sponsoring the legislation, associated costs, and key facts/figures. Prepare clear, concise talking points that let your representatives know how they can best support you and your organization – if you are lobbying on the federal level, talking points for various issues can be found on AFTA’s webpage (http://www.americansforthearts.org/advocate). State and local arts agencies also offer prepared talking points and advocacy “toolkits” online prior to major arts advocacy days. Below are links to useful advocacy information for MD and VA:
5) Craft your talking points. It is important to remember that legislators and their respective aides and assistants receive huge volumes of information on a wide variety of topics every day. The goal is to make sure that your cause leaves a lasting impression. The best way to do this is to prepare no more than two or three discussion points that are clear, concise, and illustrate impact. For example, if you are asking a state representative to support a bill that increases funding for arts education, be sure to state how many new programs will be created, or how many schools or children in their district will benefit from the proposed increase in funding. If you are advocating for support of NEA funding, be sure to let your legislators know how NEA funding received by your organization impacted the scope of your programming. Many NEA grants require that organizations provide matching funds from donors or other organizations – sharing numbers that illustrate how your organization uses NEA grants to leverage additional fundraising activity is another powerful way to show the “ripple effect” that federal arts funding has on local communities.
6) Find connections between the work of your organization and your legislator’s constituency – Showing legislators how their support will directly impact the constituents they represent makes your argument especially memorable. Dig deeper with your research – What connections might their constituents have to your organization’s work? Has your legislator or people in their network supported your organization or other arts organizations in the area? You can also share a personal story – if you are interning with a local organization, it is possible that state or federal dollars help to make your organization’s education programs possible, thereby directly impacting your personal learning experience. This is always a great story to share.
7) Understand the legislative process – it is helpful to let legislators know how they can best serve you – let them know what specific actions they can make through their position in the legislative process to support your cause. You can refer to the legislative flow chart below to pinpoint where the legislation you are lobbying for is in the political process.
8) Begin with a thank you and prepare information to leave behind. Legislators and their assistants meet with lots of people and receive hundreds of pieces of information each day, so it is helpful to show them you are grateful for their time and give them something that can serve as a reminder of your conversation. Many advocacy organizations will prepare materials on basic legislative issues that you can sign up to bring to specific legislators. If you are advocating on behalf of a more specific piece of legislation for your organization, consider creating a short documents that speaks to the specifics of your cause.
9) Don’t forget to dress for your audience. Studies have shown that people respond well to those they can relate to, even on a subconscious level. Dress to match the attire of your legislator’s workplace to establish yourself as a peer with shared “common ground”. Keep in mind that you may be visiting several legislators or locations throughout the day so wear clothes that are both professional and comfortable! Also, it is a good idea to have pockets or carry a purse, so that you easily distribute and collect business cards.
10) Finally, go forward with passion, enthusiasm and confidence! Arts Advocacy day is an excellent opportunity to become involved in the political process and develop meaningful relationships with those who represent you on the hill. Be sure to steward these relationships throughout the year by occasionally sending updates or invitations to events at your organization. Especially for those of us residing and working in DC, National Arts Advocacy Day is most effective as the beginning of a conversation, rather than an isolated event. You can arm yourself with additional information through the resources below:
Additional Prep resources:
AFTA’s Legislative Info Center:
Chart of State Arts Appropriations, FY13 – FY14
AFTA’s Congressional Arts Handbook:
(Note: this is last year’s handbook, but has lots of info and legislative history for a variety of arts issues, in addition to useful maps and basic info.)
Wolf Trap Foundation Fellow Carmen Samuels and I being recognized in the Virginia House of Delegates by Del. Barbara Comstock on Virginia’s Arts Advocacy Day 2014.
– Heather Koslov – EALS Event Coordinator