Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On the Role of Humor in Advocacy

Image from Detroit's College for Creative Studies Ad Campaign. via Facebook

"Doodling is a gateway drug to illustration." "One in five teenagers will experiment with art." This catchy and hilarious ad campaign that apes teen PSA tropes has been making the social media rounds over the last couple of days. Though it's an ad for Detroit's College of Creative Studies, a post from the Philbrook Museum of Art's Facebook page is really what helped the campaign go viral. (Please check out the full ad there- it's really hysterical.) As of this morning, the original post by the Philbrook has been shared over 13,000 times and has over 12,000 likes- making it Facebook's most engaged museum for the day it was posted. Though the social media trajectory is fascinating, I'm interested in how this campaign can help inform our arts advocacy tactics.

Engaging, funny...and true
     Though it's an advertisement, not an advocacy program, the wild success and strong resonance of the "One in Five Teenagers" campaign got me thinking about the role of humor in advocacy. Is humor a strategy we can use to get our message across effectively? The CCS ads are engaging and funny. (I think Don Draper would approve.) What makes them especially great is the element of truth - if you check out the original post on the Philbrook's facebook page, many artists and art teachers are chiming in with comments about how they are indeed addicted to art (or in recovery). I also noticed art teachers clamoring for copies of the ads for their art rooms. (FYI, if you are interested in getting one yourself go to the College of Creative Studies- not sure they have them, but they would be the ones to ask.)

Good for arts addicts- and arts skeptics?
     Obviously this campaign resonates with the proverbial choir who are already art addicts. And I doubt that even something this clever and funny could reach the naysayers - it takes more than that, of course. But the campaign certainly sticks with you, and even if you aren't an art addict you've got to admit it's pretty darn funny. I think humor has the ability not just to draw attention to your product (or in this case, cause), but also humanize it and give it personality. It also shows that you don't take yourself TOO seriously. 

Let's Go Viral
     Americans for the Arts has used humor in their "Arts: Ask For More" campaign by creating arts mascots that parody branding of popular products (think "Raisin Brahms" and "Elizabeth Barrett Brownlees"). Can arts advocates make a funny viral video campaign? Something similarly catchy and thought provoking that really makes you think about arts support? It's a tall order but I bet someone out there is up for the job. After all, I the arts advocacy community has some of the best creative minds out there - I'm looking at you, artists and art teachers! Any ideas? 

If we're successful enough maybe we can get the next generation saying "I learned it by watching you" about arts advocacy! (Maybe I just wanted an excuse to include one of the most parodied PSAs of all time.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Art Advocado's Pre-Thanksgiving Art Education Roundup

Turkey on the Road
Turkey on the Road by flicker user tomswift46.
(It's almost Thanksgiving, guy...might want to put a little spring in your step.)
I've blabbed before about my Google Reader and Google Alert addictions. As my day job has ramped up I don't have time to cull through the dozens of articles constantly being sent my way by these services- and I'm always afraid a terrific story might fall through the cracks. So what does that mean? Time for me to slog through the backlog, pick out the best news, and put it all together for...the Art Advocado pre-Thanksgiving Art Ed Links Roundup! Read on to find out about art on the back of your car, Magritte meets the iPad, a 24-hour draw-a-thon, art education in Egypt, and one lucky teacher who hit the jackpot for her art room.

Art teachers (and their students!) in the news
  • Art ed advocacy, Egypt-style: from Almasry Alyoum, an interesting perspective on art education in Egypt. The piece speaks to several art teachers in Egypt as well as a social psychologist who emphasizes how art can boost confidence and help children express themselves.
  • Bearden, Tennessee high school student may get some major visibility for her artwork, in her state and beyond. Sixteen year old Sarah Byrd entered a competition to design Tennessee's "Support the Arts" license plate, and her design has made it to the top ten. The other nine finalists are all professional artists at least a decade her senior. If Byrd wins, she'll have her art teacher to thank (at least in part) - she entered the competition for an assignment in her art class. You can vote for Sarah's design at through November 23.
  • In New Orleans, art teacher Susan Gisleson is organizing her sixth annual 24 hour Draw-a-thon, which will take place this coming Saturday, November 19. Some participants drop in while others, like Gisleson, embrace the challenge of a full day coffee-fueled day spent drawing. Last year's draw-a-thon hosted over 800 participants at all skill levels. Gisleson told The Times-Picayune, “A lot of people have hang-ups about drawing. They think they can’t do it. At the Draw-a-thon, we tell everyone: If you can write your name, you can draw. ”
  • Meet Canada's Art Teacher of the Year, as deemed by the Canadian Society for Education through Art: Bonny Hill of Sussex, New Brunswick. The secret to success in her 25-year career as an art teacher? Hard work ("I'm barely at home") and allowing students to explore the media of their choice - whether it's painting or computer graphics. She's humble, too. "These things are so random...I can think of lots of people I should be nominating who are amazing teachers." Congratulations Bonny!
  • Lucky! Florida art teacher Jill Hallauer hit the jackpot, bigtime. Her art room will undergo a $25,000 makeover from HGTV design program Home by NovogratzHallauer and her principal, Judy Cosh, admit they are extremely lucky, but hope the end result will inspire other teachers to make creative changes to their own classroom. Students are psyched too. Nine-year-old Josefa Torres said she's glad her art room is getting the makeover because "It's the most best thing in the whole world." Spoken like a budding arts advocate!

iArt on an iPad: Technology in Art Class

I'm always looking for new stories for roundups and for posts, so if you've got something let me know! You can post a comment here, email me at, or get me on Davis Publications' Twitter page. (I don't have to tell you to follow Davis on Twitter because you already are. Right? RIGHT?)

On a programming note there won't be a new Art Advocado post next week. I'll be giving thanks for my readers and for the art educators and advocates everywhere. And, of course, for mashed potatoes.  Thanks for reading and see you in December!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Beyond Preaching to the Choir: How Can We Convince the Naysayers?

Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Red Rocks.
The proverbial choir (Actually, it's the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). CC image via Flickr user tracy out west
This week I want to talk about the power of the arts- and how we, as arts advocates, convey this power. Since I started writing this blog in April I've tried to touch on the myriad arguments we use to advocate for the arts, from the instrumental (job creation, economic driver, creative workforce driver) to the intrinsic (an artwork that gives you the chills or makes you laugh or cry or think).  But preaching to the choir is an easy trap to fall into as an arts advocate. It’s hard to know how all these arguments sound on the receiving when so frequently the only response we get is not “that’s not true” but rather “there’s not enough money.” Read on to find out what some advocates are saying about how to go beyond the proverbial choir to convey effective messages about the power of the arts. 

What works?
     Here’s an example of the kind of unconstructive negative feedback I’m describing: the director of the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, KS, recently wrote an eloquent op-ed in favor of public funding for the arts, in response to the demise of the arts commission in her state (read my coverage of that event here). Most of the negative comments on piece amount to “that’s all well and good but we don’t have the public money” or, more simply, “then you write the check.”
     Aside from the fact that these public funding antagonists aren’t up on the issues (lest we not forget that the shuttering of the arts commission in Kansas actually cost the state $1.3 million in matching funds—more than the budget of the entire arts commission itself), what kind of message will reach these folks? It may be unrealistic to reach the real antagonists, but the “on-the-fencers” may be a group we can convince – with help from the right messages.

With apologies to McLuhan, the ripple effect is the message
    That’s where this terrific piece from Santa Cruz's Museum of Art & History director and participatory guru Nina Simon comes in. In a recent blog post, Nina highlighted the relevant points from a report conducted (pdf, 10MB) by Cincinnati-based group ArtsWave. The report studies just what I’m talking about above- how do our messages sound to those who haven’t drunk the arts Kool-Aid? ArtsWave surveyed Cincinnati-ans who are not part of the proverbial "choir" and found that what doesn’t work are the arguments about health benefits, stress reduction, civic boosterism/local pride. In other words, the arguments that often fall into the "intrinsic" category.
     So if those arguments aren’t effective, which ones are? ArtsWave found the effective arguments involved an "arts ripple effect:"

The arts ripple effect creates at least two kinds of benefits:
1. A vibrant, thriving economy: Neighborhoods are more lively, communities are revitalized, tourists and residents are attracted to the area, etc.

2. A more connected population: Diverse groups share common experiences, hear new perspectives, understand each other better, etc.

     Simon’s piece focuses on advocating for specific institutions (as director of the Museum of Art and History, this perspective is obviously important to her.) But I think the arguments she presents apply to the arts as a whole, beyond the institutional level. And I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but the effective arguments highlighted in the report – thriving economies, thriving communities – are exactly what ArtPlace is striving for.
     The arts community is not as divided as maybe some other advocacy communities are (though I’m sure hair splitting goes on somewhere). But it’s still great to see a consensus around efficacy of both arts messaging and arts initiatives. In other words, look at what the arts can do - and in ArtPlace's case, they are doing it here, here, and here!
     This feeds even more into ArtPlace director Carol Coletta’s argument that I mentioned last week - the more effective ArtPlace (and other arts ripple effect programs) are, the more likely it is that we can get more funding for arts and culture- whether public or private.

Simon also notes that what works to advocate for the arts in Cincinnati or Santa Cruz may not work somewhere else. What have you found is an effective arts advocacy in your community?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why ArtPlace Matters: One Consortium, Three Takeaways, Millions of Dollars

Screengrab from
Well, October has come and gone- and aside from a freak snowstorm for the northeast and a bumper crop of sale Halloween candy, that means the end of Art Advocado's month-long series on creative placemaking consortium ArtPlace. We looked at the urban and the rural, from Detroit to South Dakota to New York City. There are so many terrifically diverse ArtPlace projects, I wish we could have explored more - from the public-art based projects in Indianapolis and Wilson, NC to artist housing in Hawaii, to the entire category of projects that ArtPlace calls "magic moments." Perhaps these will resurface down the road. But since hindsight is 20/20, let's wrap up with a few points that demonstrate why ArtPlace has such strong potential for effective change in such diverse circumstances. Read on for three takeaways from ArtPlace director Carol Coletta.

Takeaway one: Partnerships beget partnerships, or 1+1=3
      In this PhilanTopic interview, Coletta notes that not only is ArtPlace a partnership, but that they look to fund pre-existing partnerships and collaborations to maximize return on investment. "We're looking for places where there are...real partnerships among artists and other organizations. So when you look at the outcomes, you can imagine one plus one equaling three." Or how about a 24x return on investment? ArtPlace provided NYC's PS109, which I wrote about last week, with $1 million in funding. That sounds like quite a bundle, right? Not compared to the $24 million in tax credits that PS109 received from New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. I noted this huge amount last week, but according to the Artspace, the developer behind PS109, it's unlikely they would have received this amount without ArtPlace's backing. (Note: Thanks to Ian David Moss at Createquity for linking to the PhilanTopic interview and for noting the massive return on investment at PS109.)
      Not only does this example already speak to the huge potential for success in ArtPlace's model but it also confirms an argument arts advocates have long made in favor of government arts funding- it's so highly leveraged because of matching grants that the return on investment is astronomical. For example, according to Americans for the Arts, NEA dollars leverage, on average, at least seven dollars for every dollar in a grant - a terrific return on investment for federal money.

Takeaway two: ArtPlace strives to be essential to its communities
      "I think what makes creative placemaking and ArtPlace so important is that it's not an add-on. It's not a nice to-do. It really becomes an essential part of a community's economic success." Here's another quote from Coletta that speaks to why ArtPlace is unusually exciting in the realm of arts funding and economic development. Like STEAM, ArtPlace is not a well intended, nice initiative that might help create a few jobs here or there, or bring a few more dollars to a severely impoverished community. Because it leverages funds and reinforces pre-existing projects to maximize impact, and because it is based on proven economic methods (Coletta is the former director of CEOs for Cities- she knows her stuff) there is real potential for change. Considering their funding as essential to a community is not just a financial investment but a commitment to success as well.

Takeaway three: ArtPlace could be a boon to arts and cultural funding
     Finally, Coletta also told PhilanTopic that if ArtPlace is widely successful it could help encourage more funding of arts and culture across the board.  "We believe that if we can demonstrate that investing in the arts in this way actually does contribute to vibrancy and to changing the trajectory of a place, that will result in a whole lot more money for arts and culture." Of course it's too early to tell, but PS109's early success bodes well for ArtPlace's ability to generate more dollars, and more culture, in its grantee communities. The idea that it could attract more arts funding too is an exciting bonus!

All of this is a long way of stating the obvious - I believe in ArtPlace's potential to change places for the better, and I can't wait to see what they can accomplish down the line, in New York, Detroit, South Dakota, and beyond!

For further reading check out the terrific PhilanTopic interview with Coletta as well as her post on the NEA's Art Works blog.

Do you have any further questions about ArtPlace- or projects you'd like to see explored down the road? Let me know in the comments!