Consider the basics

By Helen DeMichiel, Co-Director, National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture

It is astonishing to watch all the idea sparklers twirl around the AJ blog.  As a filmmaker and arts organization leader, I am amazed at how much I continue to learn from my own simple, but fascinating real life experience around policy issues and advocacy in the public interest domain. I never thought an experience like going on a variety of Capitol Hill visits to congressional/senate offices, and meeting with aides to talk about the kind of work artists are doing in their districts would be so interesting and meaningful.   


And they were interested too!  They want to hear from us about how artist/innovators are working in communities, using new technologies and experimenting with new modes of communication.  In one instance, I talked to Congresswoman Doris Matsui's aide about a beautiful and deeply resonant multimedia-internet project created in her district called Saving the Sierra and how the project connected to net neutrality and the National Broadband Plan.  The aide lit up and took copious notes.  They hear so much from industry lobbyists smoothly performing their talking points, that when they meet an actual creator who can articulate a connection to their districts or state, it is so powerful and memorable.  Time and again, we hear that we need to visit legislators and explain how the work we do fits into policy and "workforce development" objectives - so, why not make it into an intentional inquiry and project? This kind of approach could shift the dialogue space and open it up to the first steps towards a "win."


And we can work locally.  John Killacky writes movingly in NAMAC's latest publication, Leading Creatively , how important it was for him to become involved on behalf of the arts, in Minneapolis city politics during the 90s culture wars era when his programming was being directly attacked. Sometimes it is hard to remember that we can build powerful relationships with local congressional offices, and just to stay connected with them around a few key issues that matter to us.


My own creative and organizational work is being transformed by participating in media and cultural policy activities on the ground -- walking the corridors of Capitol Hill, talking to people who work in totally different arenas than me, but who want to know more about my work in media and the arts and how it relates to the larger issues they are struggling with -- health care, the economy, jobs/national service, energy/the environment, the future of media, etc.  In this populist moment I find it is really important to turn our values into grounded and strategic actions.


From my experience now I see it is critical to: Collect stories.  Get a cluster of arts people together, meet to figure out the agenda for a local district meeting with your congressional representative's staff, do the meeting, blog to your social network about it, and plan a follow-up visit.  Collect more stories and report to potential funders about what you are doing.  Put together a local group that can request travel and training grants from funders to visit representatives on Capital Hill.  Stay connected to local, regional and national arts organizations and lobby them to find more funding to bring artists and new arts leaders to Washington to visit Congress. Make a case for why artists and arts leaders need to be trained to become effective spokespeople and become involved in policy education and advocacy. These may be first steps, simple steps, but they are ones so many artists have yet to experience, and it is one of many ways to start Hacking the Policy Space.

July 21, 2010 1:09 PM | | Comments (0) |

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This Blog Arts and culture are a cornerstone of American society. But arts and culture workers are often left out of important policy conversations concerning technology and creative rights even though the outcomes will have a profound impact on our world. Is it benign neglect? Or did we... more

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