Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A New Year's Resolution for Advocates: Focus on the Local

Support Your Local Art Gallery by LikeMindedStudio.com. via Flickr

Happy New Year! Last time I wrote here, I had food on the brain...and though we're now in post-holiday detox time, I'm still thinking about food. (Honestly, I'm ALWAYS thinking about food...) The concept of eating locally - purchasing food produced or harvested nearby your respective home - has gained a lot of traction in the last few years. This idea has spread beyond food to other realms - like Small Business Saturday, which took place during the holiday shopping season and encouraged consumers to buy at local business. So what does this local movement have to do with art advocacy? Whether you are a brand-new or a seasoned arts advocate, it's never a bad idea to focus on the local....or even the hyper-local.

Staying Informed
     When I first became interested in arts advocacy I found it easiest to focus on the big picture - like how much money the NEA received and the state of, er, state arts councils across the country. Those issues are important because of their broad impact on the field- whether you work in a school or at a non-profit arts organization. But it's important not to neglect the issues going on close to home.
     That's where this post from ARTSblog's Tim Mikulski comes in. Mikulski points to hyper-local journalism and blogs as a valuable resource for advocacy information, since sites like Patch and the Examiner (which have local editions all over the US) frequently cover local politics. "The information coming through my alerts from sites like Patch includes coverage of events and information vital to the arts community," Mikulski says. (I've noticed the same thing, and it's definitely reflected in my arts education round ups - many of the stories come from Patch and Examiner sites!)

Getting The Word Out
     In his blog post, Mikulski urges advocates to utilize hyper-local sites and blogs as resource for local issues where answers can be hard to track down. But what about using Patch and similar sites as a way to get the word out? I propose a New Year's resolution for art teachers and arts advocates: utilize hyper-local news outlets or blogs in your advocacy efforts. Op-eds are a great way to advocate for your program, and when your audience is located in your surrounding community, you have the advantage of making super-specific local references that might not have the same impact if writing to a broader group. This editorial by a Florida music teacher is a great example.
     No time to write an op-ed? You could even go more informal just by letting your local bloggers and journos know what's going on in your art room, through email, local connections, or even social networking - Mikulski notes that hyper-local reporters are often active on Twitter. After all, advocacy is all about relationships. Only have a few minutes? In a world where blog comments can get really nasty, and really grammatically incorrect, coherent and articulate comments could help garner some positive attention.
     The most seasoned arts advocate I know has a mantra: "You can't make friends when you need friends." Getting the positive word out through hyper-local press could come back to help you later when you need to garner support - rather than knocking on doors when push has already come to shove. Making friends and allies now - in person or virtually - is a good strategy particularly in this politically contentious climate.

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