Guiding principles for advocacy

Advocacy in a complicated environment (or really, in any environment) is not linear, quick, easy or painless. Systemic change is messy, slow, multi-layered, dynamic, fluid, and often confusing, because personalities, politics and power shape human interaction and outcomes. There’s not much that can be done to speed things up or make it easier, but that applies to life in general, right? The Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” defines the way we live now. The good and inspiring news is that the passion and can-do spirit that I see throughout the state means that people are paying attention and working as advocates for the arts and creativity in their communities.

These principles guide Arts Wisconsin’s work to encourage strategic thinking and action locally and globally:

• The 21st century world demands new ways of thinking and doing. With great change comes great opportunity. It’s a very exciting time, because if there ever was a time that we needed the arts and creativity, it’s now. Creativity, innovation, imagination, and entrepreneurship–all qualities inherent to the arts—are what we need to move our economy, educational systems, and civic infrastructure forward. The arts are important because creative expression is fundamental to the human condition. And the arts are important because creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship will move us, locally and globally, to grow the economy; create locally-based, sustainable jobs; educate our children for the 21st century world and workforce; enliven our communities large and small and bring diverse communities together; enhance and strengthen a community’s competitive edge. The arts and creativity should be recognized in strategic economic, educational, and civic plans.
• Don’t assume that leaders already know about and support the ways in which the arts are a force for their communities. Even if they are supportive, they are faced with difficult budget and civic choices every minute of the day. It’s critically important to build and sustain relationships on all levels. You can and should provide ongoing information about your work, and about the public value of the arts, arts education, and creative economy locally and globally. Remember that budgets and viewpoints can be changed if enough people speak up and show that they care.
• Say thank you, if you’ve received public funding in any form. For that matter, say thank you if anyone or any institution supports you and your work. Make sure decision makers know that investment in the arts is an investment in human and civic infrastructure.
• The number of people involved in a cause speaks volumes about value, and success is directly proportional to the numbers of persons involved. The more people speaking up for the arts in your state, the more it will be understood that the arts are valued in and important to everyone, everywhere. If you don’t speak up for your cause, then others will speak up for their causes. Those are the causes that will get attention and resources…and then you will wonder why no one cares about or invests in your cause.
• Involvement and leadership will help get others involved. Patrons, audiences, parents of your students, business community, educators, and the public at large will only be as committed as you are. Don’t expect others to do the work for you. Advocacy doesn’t happen by itself. Commitment, persistence, and passion inspire others.
• None of us can sit back and stay uninvolved. If you care at all about your community’s future, it is your duty and your opportunity, and in your best interest, to speak up for the arts and creativity and believe that change can happen.