This is the second post in the Arts Advocacy 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 resources available to advocates that highlight important issues for consideration, as well as research and data to help support your “ask” of elected officials.
There is no Need to Reinvent the Wheel in Advocacy
By Stephanie Milling, NDEO Advisory Director of Advocacy
University of South Carolina students on Capitol Hill
Sometimes when people desire to advocate, they are overwhelmed by what they need to know in order to act. I have good news for you: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel! While you need to know the advocacy basics that I discussed in my last blog post, It's the Season for Advocating: We Need Your Voice, you do not need to do independent research to be armed with the facts that will appeal to your advocacy target(s). All of the compelling data that you need to make your case is already compiled for you. All you need to do is read it and determine how it relates to your own community. Below is a guide on locating resources that outline current issues and advice on how to use them to support your advocacy efforts.
In order to become familiar with the issues that advocates are addressing on Capitol Hill, look for the Congressional Arts Handbook on the Americans for the Arts website. This handbook outlines all federal issues for the fiscal year into digestible chunks of information that only requires you to read, as opposed to researching, the compelling data that demonstrates the benefits of the arts in society and education. The organization of each brief is easy to follow. First, each brief begins with the “asks”. If you remember from my last post, the “ask” is your formal request to a politician or another stakeholder. Following the ask, you will find a variety of facts and figures that will help you support that ask.
While all of the issues outlined in the Congressional Arts Handbook are federal policy issues, many of them also have state and local impact. As I discuss a couple of the briefs in more detail below, I will indicate how to determine how a federal issue can have impact at the state and local levels. While there are many issues discussed in the handbook, due to the composition of the NDEO membership, I will primarily focus on arts education and funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. However, feel free to read all of the issue briefs as they demonstrate the wide range of influence of the arts across the United States.
Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is a request that is made every year on the Hill. While you might not personally benefit from grants from the NEA in your own work, you likely have attended a performance or participated in a program in your community that was partially funded by an NEA grant. You can find a list of NEA grants awarded in each state underneath other links of Facts and Figures to Make Your Case on the Americans for the Arts website. Recognizing the peripheral impact of these policies in our communities helps contextualize how support for policy and funding decisions that do not directly impact our work are just as important as those that do.
In regard to arts education, there are always two issue briefs that individuals in K-12 dance education should review. First, the request for funding the Assistance for Arts Education Grant Program at the U.S. Department of Education involves the request and appropriation of $40 million dollars for Assistance for Arts Education Programs. There are two grants supported by this program: the Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Grants and the Professional Development for Arts Educators grants. Again, knowing how these awards may have impacted learners in your state can help you develop your “elevator speech” to persuade your advocacy target into supporting this appropriation and describing how these have contributed to quality arts education experiences in your state.
The second education issue brief that K-12 educators should focus on is strengthening equitable access to arts education through the well-rounded education provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2015, indicates that the arts are a part of a well-rounded education. Each state has an ESSA plan, which is easily located online. This legislation makes it way to the local level because each state and district is able to determine how to demonstrate accountability under this policy. ESSA provided states and school districts with more flexibility to determine how to meet federal guidelines for education. In researching the ESSA plan in your state and district, see if you can determine its impact on your practice as an educator and how funding at the local level is being allocated in your schools.
For members in Higher Education, there is an issue brief on strengthening the arts in higher education. This brief focuses on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. For professionals in the arts in Higher Education, this brief is important as it makes recommendations that increase access to quality education in the arts including: more options for financial assistance for students in the arts in higher education; loan forgiveness for students who work in public service positions after graduation; and oversight of for-profit colleges and universities that offer degrees in the arts.
Advocating on the hill is a wonderful way to show your support for the arts across the country, and demonstrates to our representatives that our work should be considered a mandatory part of society and education. However, even if you cannot attend the National Arts Action Summit, you can get involved. The Americans for the Arts Action Fund provides a forum for individuals to stay current with the issues by signing up for arts action alerts that detail the progress of legislation. You can also locate your legislators and send messages to them directly through the website. Membership is FREE, and it is a great way to stay abreast of current issues and how to respond.
By following the steps above, you can make the connection between policy and its impact on your local community to present a compelling case to politicians at all levels. Also, by understanding the various levels of control over policy that trickles down from federal to state and local levels you, might find some of the information discussed useful in appealing to other stakeholders such as school boards, superintendents, other school administrators, and others. I encourage you to become involved and act. There is power in numbers, and remember that you do not have to reinvent the wheel in order to advocate!
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.