The simple fact is that funding for arts education advocacy has been fractional. The state alliances have historically been funded on a marginal basis and local advocacy has for the most part been nascent. Underdeveloped advocacy efforts and little funding to support anything better. That’s arts education in 2011.
Think good ideas for an engine, but little gas in the tank.
The vast majority of arts and arts education funders don’t fund advocacy and remain leery of it. Side-by-side with the discomfort remains a lack of understanding of what is allowed by law and what is not. The fact of the matter is that the law allows for just about everything, except partisan politics. You cannot campaign for a candidate. Otherwise, you can lobby, print materials, train, communicate, organize, pursue judicial solutions, and more. And, while there are legal limits to some of this work, particularly lobbying, that limit has a fair amount of head room.
The trepidation here is certainly not limited to the funders. Endemic to the non-profit arts sector is a fear of advocacy. It’s okay with most boards as long as it’s a soft email campaign or soft public service campaign, maybe.
I guess the skepticism is understandable, after all, since much of what makes for the stuff of fundraising is about making nice to people. Tough advocacy, the sort we see relatively little of, usually involves some sort of tension. The act of speaking out raises conflict, as a matter of course, and that has been difficult to incorporate into the identity most organizations have developed appropriate to the need to raise substantial amounts of money.
That being said, I do believe that if funders were to put more money out there for advocacy, that more would be done, a lot more.
So, it was with great interest, and a bit of sadness that I read this piece in The New York Times: Behind Grass Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates.
This past year, I watched in amazement as a brand spanking new advocacy organization emerged in New York City: Educators 4 Excellence. Here, a small group of young New York City school teachers create an advocacy organization around “education reform” issues such as seniority and “choice,” and the next thing you know, they have a campaign on local TV and are accorded a sort of elite status among many of the local education reporters.
It was one of those head scratching moments. How do a few relatively young teachers come from out of nowhere and then launch a very expensive TV campaign promoting their vision of “school reform”?
Well, the answer, in essence, is in the the Times piece. Funding, and plenty of it. And Educators 4 Excellence is just the tip of the iceberg.
The foundation spent $373 million on education in 2009, the latest year
for which its tax returns are available, and devoted $78 million to
advocacy — quadruple the amount spent on advocacy in 2005. Over the next
five or six years, Mr. Golston said, the foundation expects to pour
$3.5 billion more into education, up to 15 percent of it on advocacy.
Unfortunately, arts education does not appear to be on the Gates Foundation, nor many of the other big-league school reform funder agendas. So, it is up to the many smaller foundations and individuals that support arts education
While arts and arts education funders debate whether or not they want to take any money away from direct service funding, and whether or not they are comfortable with funding advocacy, Gates will flood advocacy organizations they like with $3.5 billion of the next five years. And guess what else, much of what the flood of money will bring will do little to nothing about whether or not kids get the arts. In fact, I predict it will have a negative effect on the arts, as more and more of the public debate will be about charters, unions, and value-added measurements, throwing in a turnaround school here and there.
Many in arts education still think that program equals policy. In other words, there is still a lot of confusion between the definition of practice and that of policy.
In The Center for Arts Education’s 2006 strategic plan, advocacy was pushed to the forefront. After 130 whole school partnership, $40 million in direct funding of schools, helping to establish a $75 million a year categorical funding line in the local school district budget that returned over 1,000 arts teachers to the schools, and more, the organization recognized that programs is not policy and programs do not make policy.
I will say it again: programs do not equal policy.
I know that we need more support to do advocacy the right way, and I know that we are not alone.
I hope that the funding community is reading the article mentioned above, and while they do not have the resources of Gates, that they will recognize the fundamental nature of advocacy. It is not peripheral. It is not secondary to direct service. It is something which this field has been attempting to undertake for a number of years while being woefully under-capitalized.
The time is now.
And, here are two interesting resources, from the Atlantic Philanthropies, which urge foundations to become engaged in supporting advocacy and what some of that support could target: