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It's the Season for Advocating: We Need Your Voice
By Stephanie L Milling
Posted on 1/23/2019 12:22 PM

This is the first post in the Advocacy Blog Series, a new blog feature which will explain more about advocating for the arts on the local, state, and national levels. In this series, members of NDEO’s Advocacy Committee, led by Advisory Director of Advocacy Stephanie Milling, will provide updates on the ways that NDEO is advocating for dance education, as well as tools and resources for dance educators to use in their own advocacy efforts. This post focuses on The National Arts Action Summit, a multi-day event bringing together arts advocates from across the country. The 2019 summit consists of a full day of training on March 4th, followed by the The Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and concludes with Arts Advocacy Day on March 5th when advocates meet with their congressional leaders. NDEO is proud to be a partner of the National Arts Action Summit.

It’s The Season for Advocating: We Need Your Voice!

By Stephanie Milling, NDEO Advisory Director of Advocacy

With the new year brings the new advocacy season. Politicians on Capitol Hill are negotiating over the federal budget and bills. It is vital that NDEO members and all dance educators make their support for the arts and arts education known to their Congressional representatives. The best way to do this, if you are able, is to attend The National Arts Action Summit in Washington D.C.. During this two-day event, arts advocates from all over the country come to meet with their respective members of the House and Senate, and demonstrate how decisions in D.C. impact the arts and arts education at the state and local levels. While it is both easy and important to become immersed in the activities of state and local government, focusing at the national level can provide an opportunity to impact the federal policy and funding pipelines, be an empowering and rewarding experience, and result in greater awareness about how the activities in D.C. shape opportunities in the arts and arts education in our communities.

So, if are interested in participating in advocacy at the national level but don’t know where to start, your first stop is the Arts Mobilization Center on the Americans for the Arts website where you will also find the Arts Advocacy Toolkit for Individuals. In order to locate some of the most pertinent information that you might need, I will discuss specific resources and reports that will provide you with some advice that will enable you to jump in feet first.

While participating at the national level can feel extremely daunting and overwhelming, the great thing about advocacy is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Effective advocacy simply requires: 1) developing a little preliminary foundational knowledge that will support your efforts; 2) locating appropriate research and resources that will support your requests; and 3) knowing how to craft a persuasive message for your respective audience. In “Considering the Pedagogy of Advocacy”, an article that was published in Dance Education in Practice, I detailed three levels of understanding that enable novice advocates to be effective their first time in the field. My discussion below will describe each level of understanding and how to locate the appropriate resources that will assist you in your preparations.

First, building some foundational knowledge about how federal bills and funding decisions are made will prepare you for your visit to Capitol Hill. You will want to know what issues will be discussed at advocacy day. There are many areas, and it would be impossible to address all of them in your visit during the short period of time that you will have with Senate and House members and/or their legislative aids. Also, not all of the areas will be relevant in your community or in your own individual practice.

The Legislative Issue Center will help you determine what issues would be most important to address at your meeting. This resource is revised each year, but you can look at drafts of issue briefs from previous years to gain a preliminary understanding of the requests that advocates will make on Capitol Hill in March. These briefs are organized so you can recognize the difference between the issues, the requests, and the research that will support your request. Now that you know where to find the information that you need to address, how do you craft your ask?

An ask is the formal request an advocate makes to a stakeholder. In order to craft it effectively, you will need to use the information described above and determine its relevance within your community. For example, how does a specific funding level for the National Endowment for the Arts impact a grant received by an organization in your state and the services provided by it? Or, how has implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act within a specific school district enhanced arts education, and what are the positive benefits from this support? By making the information tangible, you are able to demonstrate empirical evidence about how communicates benefit from the decisions made at the Federal level.

Sometimes, this requires doing a little digging at the state and local level to determine how federal funding and policy manifest in our communities. However, the information can be found. If you need help in this area, each state has a state arts advocacy network and captain that can be of assistance. You will also be able to consult with team members from your state at the briefing sessions at the Summit, where participants prep for the meetings with their representatives prior to marching up to Capitol Hill the next day. Also, it is easy to locate reports that will help you contextualize this information at the state and local levels. The Creative Industries Reports, which are also updated each year, provide specific information on the number of jobs within the arts in your state. Americans for the Arts also publishes an index of National Endowment for the Arts grants received by state arts agencies in various counties across the United States each year. By making connections among these various sources, you will be able to bring your message into a real-life context.

And finally, of course, the delivery of your message is just as important as gathering all of the information that will support your request. Crafting and delivering an effective message are the output of all of your efforts. Your message needs to be succinct and direct while maintaining how policy decisions have human impact. While human interaction can rarely be planned, it is a good idea to rehearse and determine what types of answers you will have to questions asked by your respective Senator or House member or their legislative aids. During training at the National Arts Action Summit, leaders perform role plays for the advocates to learn how to respond to these moments. There is also valuable information on how to craft and deliver an effective message in Making the Case, a resource from the Arts Education Navigator Ebook Series on the Americans for the Arts website. One can prepare for likely questions and situations, and learning how to participate in such meetings improves over time. It is a little like rehearsing for a performance: it will not improve just by thinking about it. It requires action!

Can’t go to D.C. to advocate? It does not mean that you cannot have an impact and presence in advocacy related matters. By joining the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, which is free, you can receive regular updates on issues that need to be considered throughout the year. The website also has a section where you can find your members of congress and send pre-written letters to them about specific issues. When advocacy is made that easy, it is a crime not to participate! Advocacy is only powerful when participation occurs at many levels in many contexts. The number of voices in this endeavor is what makes the difference.

If you have questions about the National Arts Action Summit refer to the events section of the Americans for the Arts website. On this site, you will find information including the schedule for the conference, travel information, and other tips for first time participants. Or, if you would like to ask more personalized questions, please post your questions on the NDEO Advocacy Forum. FAQ’s made public will only increase our knowledge and potential impact.

Wishing you a successful advocacy season. Happy Advocating!   

 Stephanie Milling is the Associate Chair and Undergraduate Director of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of South Carolina, as well as the Head of Dance Education and Interim Administrative Coordinator for Dance. Dr. Milling is an active arts advocate in the state and nation and received the South Carolina Dance Association’s Advocacy Award in 2012 and currently serves as the Advocacy Director for the National Dance Education Organization. In 2012, she was elected to serve as a Board Member for the South Carolina Arts Alliance and currently occupies the role of President for the organization. Dr. Milling’s creative and scholarly work revolves around the intersections of Women’s Studies and Dance, assessment, advocacy, and pedagogy. Her work has appeared in venues such as the Joyce Soho in New York City, the D.U.M.B.O. Dance Festival in Brooklyn, N.Y., Piccolo Spoleto, the annual conference for the National Dance Education Organization, and the Journal of Dance Education, Dance Education in Practice, and other national and international publications. Dr. Milling holds a Ph.D. in Dance and M.A. in Women’s Studies from Texas Woman’s University, an M.A in Dance Education from New York University, and a B.A. in French from Texas Christian University.

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