The first opera I ever saw was Carmen at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion during a dress rehearsal. I went with hoity-toity charlatans who told me repeatedly that this was a ‘good introductory opera’ with an air of disgust for my lack of exposure to the art form. Now, I hate that opera and everything it personally stood for (not to mention if I hear the music in another commercial I might just take up arms). I digress, opera is meant to be shared, explored, and enjoyed with a company of feelers rather than judgers. My first experience was less than extraordinary; yes, Milena Kitic was stunning, and yes, the spectacle was more than I imagined; but the taint of others is still palpable.
Since then, I have been to many operas during their actual runs, and enjoyed some more than others. What sticks in my craw; however, is the lack of diversity of the audience. As a college student who received free tickets through a generous donation to my university, my ‘kind’ was outnumbered. The audience was a veritable sea of pink and purple hair (if you don’t know what that means, it’s the color of elder women’s hair).
The last opera I went to was over two years ago, when I was still in LA. This time I was with a friend at Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, a far cry from Carmen. It was exquisite. Thus was the end of my opera going days, with Opera Pacific shuttered and difficulty in affording a ticket to the LA Opera.
My path back to the opera took an unexpected turn this weekend in the most unusual of venues with the most unusual of audiences seeing one of the greatest operas ever written. Opera in the Outfield at National’s Stadium streamed the live performance of Don Giovanni from WNO‘s performance at the Kennedy Center. The crowd assembled was massive, the entire outfield covered in blankets and the sweater-clad. Up into the stadium near half the lower level was filled with people of all ages and creeds. Children were running around or like the little one next to me, positing questions about the show to his parents. The entire audience on a whole was a good 30-40 years or so younger on average than the crowd inside the Kennedy Center. For once, my age group was the majority.
We were free to talk and comment, free to check our phones for everything from the score of the Orioles/Red Sox game to information on the opera itself, free to eat M&M’s and drink coffee, free to sit wherever we pleased, and free to enjoy the way we wanted to enjoy. I didn’t have to pay for a ticket (although I would have happily paid up to $20 – it was chilly, outside, and the seats weren’t super comfy). I’m sure thousands of others (for indeed, it was in the thousands) who attended would have paid as well; but we were not asked, nor were we solicited for donations. Instead, we were simply expected to see and hear.
WNO brought the opera to the masses, in an old custom akin to the Opera Buffa days of Mozart. People still love opera. The current problem is the delivery system, but by focusing on social aspects rather than financial and puritanical artistic facets, opera succeeds.
Why start from scratch? Every organization begins its life as a start-up fueled by an idea for something great. But how does it grow, change and morph into a giant performing arts venue or an intimate gallery space? When you decide to take the plunge and create something new, how do you defend that decision when there are already hundreds of thousands of incredible arts organizations that currently exist today? With the fierce competition for funding, is there more value in forming partnerships or exploring alternative funding options like micro-financing? What happens when you rework the start-up?
Since joining Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT) in 2005, Snider has reinvigorated the company’s vision and mission, raising the company’s local and national profile while improving the company’s fiscal health and expanding YPT’s infrastructure through several capacity-building projects. Under his leadership, YPT has been awarded commissions from the White House, the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institution, while establishing the company’s first-ever resident acting company and an advisory panel of nationally-recognized playwrights, including: Paula Vogel, Anna Deavere Smith, Sarah Ruhl, Nilo Cruz and Charles Randolph Wright.
Snider has taught master classes in text, directing, acting, voice and Shakespeare in performance as a guest lecturer at the Kennedy Center, the University of Virginia, University of Maryland, Howard University, Dickinson College and as a member of the faculty at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Snider received his master of fine arts from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and his bachelor of arts in English literature and Russian language from Dickinson College, where he graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa.
Executive Director and Founder of World Arts Focus at Joe’s Movement Emporium
As a recent graduate of American University’s MA in Dance Education, Brooke Kidd founded World Arts Focus in 1992 providing educational and cultural programs integrating dance, movement and performing arts traditions from around the world. In 1995, the organization opened a storefront space in Mount Rainier called Joe’s Movement Emporium. Joe’s serves as a professional space for a diverse range of artists by providing rehearsal and performance space throughout the year. Over the past sixteen years, Kidd has provided the community with access to a wide array of learning opportunities that include job training for at-risk teens and year-round arts experiences for low to moderate-income families. Under Kidd’s leadership, in 2007, the new Joe’s opened, expanding to 20,000 square feet and renovating an abandoned direct mail facility to create a new performing arts center.
Executive Director and Co-founder of Listen Local First, D.C.
Chris Naoum is an attorney who specializes in copyright, media and telecom law and policy. Chris has previously worked as the Deputy Editor for Broadbandbreakfast.com and as Policy Counsel for the Future of Music Coalition. Chris has been a long time advocate of independent musicians focusing on licensing and copyright reform for the past two years. He has focused much of his work on artist development and proposing policy reforms that benefit local creative communities. Chris co-founded Listen Local First, D.C. as part of the Think Local First initiative, bringing together local musicians and businesses to promote and expand the local music scene in Washington. Listen Local First features artists every month ranging from folk to funk, hosts music panels, and showcases artists in local venues throughout the District.
Two major Arts Education studies were released this past week, the FRSS 10-year comparison and the Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth a 12-year longitudinal study. When these studies are married, their effectiveness as a tool for advocacy becomes undeniably clear. While the FRSS will get much of the press because Secretary Duncan presented it, the study is of little consequence to the progression of arts education other then outright stating of significant declines in the amount of offerings across the board. On the other hand, move over Charlie Bucket, the longitudinal study is the golden ticket arts education advocators have been praying for.
The longitudinal study gives the data for students of Low Socioeconomic Status (low SES) with both high and low arts exposure and their counterparts in the High Socioeconomic Status (high SES). The matrixes measured for each of the four categories include high school graduation rates, civic involvement, recorded GPA, college graduation rates, average test scores, volunteer rates, other extracurricular activities, and labor market outcomes. The results are startling, not because they affirm what advocates have said for years, but because of the achievement gap between low SES/low arts and low SES/high arts.
Looking at graduation rates alone, low SES/low arts had a dropout rate of 22%, compare that to low SES/high arts with a dropout rate of 4%. The low SES/high arts students are even below the overall sample average of 7%. For the mindset of these low SES/high arts students, we need only to look at the percentage of 8th graders planning to earn a bachelor’s degree 74% compared to 43%. These are motivated students and compared to their low arts counterparts they are 14% more likely to vote in a national election or local election, 21% more like to volunteer, and 29% more likely to read the newspaper. Looking at grades and curriculum, the high arts students have an average GPA of .39 points above low arts and were 10% more likely to enroll in calculus while in high school.
It should be noted that the high arts students are inherently involved individuals, as they are participants in athletics and service organizations. However, students who are involved in other activities but are low arts do not have as high of GPA or curriculum gains as high arts students.
This is all fine and dandy, but why am I saying that this is hugely important when combined with the FRSS data? Because in secondary school music alone there was a drop of 19% of offered programs for students in the low SES, but the high SES saw an increase of 6% between 2000-2010. In affect, the advantage is going to the advantaged, while the disadvantaged are becoming disenfranchised. But there’s more: of the high SES, 62% of schools offered 5 or more courses in the music, while low SES only measured 32%.
One area the low SES has dominated though is in collaboration and integration. Music teachers in low SES are 14% more likely to consult with other teaches to incorporate units of study from other subject areas into the music curriculum and 17% more likely to utilize an integrated music instructional program with other academic subjects and 18% with other arts subjects.
Like music, visual arts have rather similar data (in secondary schools): a drop in offering for the low SES of 13% and only 22% of the remaining programs offering 5 or more courses. Compare that to the 95% of high SES schools of which 56% offer 5 or more visual arts classes. The unexpected number in all this comes from the consulting with other teachers to incorporate units of study from other subject areas into the visual arts curriculum indicator for low SES, which stands a staggering 17% above high SES.
So what’s the conclusion? The students who benefit most from high exposure to the arts are receiving less of it then they did 10 years prior. Granted we had the Great Recession and states have to balance their budgets, as a native Californian (and boy, did we get hit hard in 2008) I understand. That does not mean we are off the hook. As Secretary Duncan has said time and again, “we’re either going to invest in education or not, it comes down to the values. Everyone has to step up or we’re going to struggle.” (March 2, 2012)
Welcome to Washington, DC the center of policy, politics, and protesters. Learn how to make your case for the arts at Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium (EALS) on April 15, 2012. Organized by American University Arts Management students, EALS provides you with professional collaboration and leading discussion on today’s arts management trends including arts advocacy.
EALS Panel discussion, Arts Advocacy 101: Learn the Language, features DC’s leading experts in research, policy, and communication. Learn the potential effects of research and policy on arts organizations. Know your role as an arts advocate to build and maintain successful civic and government relationships. Apply your knowledge and experience to current and available data to distinguish your organization’s public message.
Professor of Arts Management at American University
Moderator Anne L’Ecuyer is a writer and a consultant who stays closely connected to an international network of city leaders, cultural professionals, and working artists. She is an expert in creative industries and cultural tourism in the United States, as well as the contributions of the arts toward educational, social, and environmental goals. L’Ecuyer’s experience producing seven national conferences and leadership events for cultural professionals and their allies in government, business, and education guides this panel with a perspective from across the board.
Jonathan Katz, Ph.D., is CEO of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), which was created by the 50 state and six jurisdictional arts agencies of the United States as their primary vehicle for arts policy development, advocacy, leadership development, research, information and communication. Dr. Katz consults globally on cultural policy, leadership development, strategic planningand effective advocacy. A former member of the U.S. Commission on UNESCO, hehas advised the International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies on its corporate development and facilitated its CEO Seminarfor heads of national arts and cultural agencies at World Summits in England, SouthAfrica and Australia.
Most recently, he has advised the governments of Korea andCanada and led a session on problem solving for Grantmakers in the Arts in Chicago. Heis a founder of the Arts Education Partnership, the nation’s coalition of more than 100organizations for the advancement of learning in the arts, and of the Cultural AdvocacyGroup, which is the forum through which the national cultural service organizationsof the U.S. develop their united federal agenda. For the U.S. Department ofState, he has conducted planning and professional development sessions with culturalagencies in five cities in Mexico.
Whether we aspire to be a curator, producer, or director, lobbying and advocating is a normal practice for all to share our knowledge and personal testimonies of the importance and value of the arts. I can’t tell you how to dodge motorcades or avoid mobs of protestors while in DC but I will share with you a few tricks of the trade from one Emerging Arts Leader to another. Take note of these 4 tips to focus your craft of arts lobbying on the hill.
4. Caution: Don’t Climb Alone!
Nonprofits (with 501c3 status) often limit their lobbying because lobbying limits aren’t clearly defined by the law. Get informed of the laws and common misconceptions of nonprofit lobbying but don’t stress; there’s a good chance you won’t have to climb The Hill alone and your interest group/professional association will guide your visit according to IRS rules.
You’re only as good as your networks and knowledge. Professional associations, partnerships, working groups, and coalitions all share resources to increase knowledge, define effective policy agendas, and present influential data representing a policy maker’s constituents. Not to say that your voice won’t be heard but joining forces maximizes a policy maker’s time and your influence.
An organization’s capacity is viewed as an investment for government research. Not only do regional and national networks assist local nonprofits to participate in federal conversations but they also are continually the go-to organizations when government seeks info.
3. For the Novice Navigator
Okay so the hill isn’t that steep but prepare for a climb. Arrive at your building’s location 1hr prior to your meeting. Consider transportation delays and walking distances from parking lots/metro stations. Arrive at your congressman’s office 30min prior to your meeting. Consider security checkpoints and the labyrinth of matching office doors. Download a map and find a common meeting place to survey the land with your fellow climbers.
After hours of planning, travel, and productive conversation with your congressman, debrief (as appropriate) at these favorite eateries and cafes recommended by staffers and friends on the hill: Sonoma, Bistro Bis, Johnny’s Half Shell, Pound the Hill, & Ebenezers Coffeehouse.
2. Reaching the Summit
Keep your cool and don’t let the impressive marble and memorials intimidate. Remember whom your voice represents and your goal of delivering a clear and concise message. Start your conversation (not lecture) with a pleasant greeting and state your intentions and positions but don’t beat around the bush.
Don’t derail on impassioned issues, follow talking points to progress conversation and maximize your time. Prepare various lengths of dialogue from elevator speech to deep discussion; be confident. Also, practiced discourse with people of varying knowledge on your issue helps prepare you to communicate your message with the best tactics.
Stop the rhetoric and jargon. Clearly define the true problem and recommend a course of action that policy makers should take according to your interests. Provide analogies or examples of people your policy maker values the most: his/her voters. Policy options or alternatives should be included in your agenda.
Info = power but with information overload in Washington, no lobbyist expects a staff to read more than a 1-2 page brief or memo. Share new research to increase opportunities to schedule an appointment but keep it simple.
1. Repelling 101
As DC Advocates for the Arts reminds us “Advocacy is an ongoing process. Legislators face so many competing causes that just one visit or one letter won’t make much of an impact.” Repel from your meeting on the hill but keep your rope tight and attached. Follow up with staffers on your meeting even if it’s cancelled. Staffers have a great influence on a policy maker’s decision and developing a relationship here is key to getting back in the door.
Did your meeting get bumped or shorten by a celebrity gallivanting around the hill? Don’t fret, hill staffers and especially Congressmen have extremely tight schedules and often work around the clock. If you had a successful conversation (or not), it is appropriate to follow up with a personal thank you note timed just right for an extra reminder before they vote.
I hope these tips ease your climb on Arts Advocacy Day! For further info…
Contact your state arts advocacy organization to learn more about how you can stay informed and engaged in the public policy process.
Visit websites of your favorite national associations to see how your local- and state-level issues relate to federal issues. It’s not uncommon for small and local organizations to participate in a larger network/coalition/legislative-working group to ensure their voice is represented on the hill.