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

Know the facts.

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.

Compiled by GCAC staff from the following sources:
Texas Commission on the Arts
South Dakotans for the Arts
ArtServe Michigan 
Missouri Citizens for the Arts
Americans for the Arts