To advocate, or not to advocate--wait, that wasn't the question....

By Chris Mackie, Principal, Covelly Strategies

Yolanda, I'm not the policy Philistine you seem to think :-)

I was suggesting that we (participants in this blog) stop talking about direct-advocacy strategies that would take years to mature, if ever, given the present-focused scope of the topic Doug set for us. I wasn't dissing advocacy in general, much less suggesting that we (those currently engaged in advocacy) should disengage. If you look back, I even included an indirect plea for those involved in advocacy to work harder to make their activities cumulative, rather than scattergun. That would be a valuable step, and one that I hope some funders would encourage.

Advocacy is important work, and it's important that many types of arts service institutions (perhaps not all) be dedicated to advocating for the arts as part of their missions. It's not easy work, in part because artists are so hard to organize for all the reasons that others have highlighted, in part because arts organizations aren't any easier to organize than are their constituents, and in part because, even when organized, the arts operate at a financial disadvantage as major political players, especially when compared to the competing interests against which they are presently arrayed. As you know even better than I, the difficulties that arts advocates face in securing reliable, large-scale constituent or financial support put a severe crimp in the outcomes they can realistically hope to achieve. But the fact that it's hard work doesn't mean it's worthless.

I'll stand by my point about the marginal dollar, though. Precisely because advocacy is such hard work, it's imperative that arts advocacy be rigorously, even ruthlessly scrutinized for both value and feasibility. Limited resources should be concentrated in places where they can accomplish something. When something else generates greater returns-on-mission than advocacy, we should take the money out of advocacy and put it there. Anything less is irresponsible to those who provide the funds and unfaithful to the missions of the arts and the artists that advocacy is intended to serve.

Advocates should continue to make the most effective cases they can to their sponsors regarding why their work should be supported. But those who hold the purse-strings should be equally diligent in making sure that they're spending each dollar where its impact will be the greatest. Tactically wise spending on advocacy is imperative, but most of the time, I suspect, the best location for the next marginal dollar will be nowhere near advocacy.

That's why I wanted to talk about something else: I want someone (who isn't already a policy wonk) reading this conversation to go away thinking about something she or he can do today to bring about a more arts-friendly world. To that end, I do think it's more valuable for an artist or nonprofit leader to read more here about changing architecture and norms than about changing legislative markup.If we want to have a conversation about how to help advocacy organizations become more effective, I'm game for that, too--but I suspect that conversation has a much more limited audience.

July 22, 2010 5:59 AM | | Comments (0) |

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