To Bolster Support for the Arts, Move Hearts and Minds

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

To Bolster Support for the Arts, Move Hearts and Minds

By Salem Tsegaye, Program Associate, New York City Cultural Agenda Fund in The New York Community Trust

Successful advocacy efforts start with strong communications, which is why the New York City Cultural Agenda Fund made a grant to The Opportunity Agenda. The group trained arts and cultural advocates to craft narratives, target messages, and learn how to move New Yorkers’ hearts and minds to build public will for arts and culture in the City.

You might wonder: How is it possible to develop unified narratives and messages among a group of 49? Truthfully, it’s not—at least not in a day’s training.

Negotiating differences within the City’s vast arts and culture landscape is hard. And our cohort (a tiny segment of the City’s nearly 1,000 nonprofit cultural groups) spanned neighborhoods, artistic disciplines, services, and more. Nonetheless, The Opportunity Agenda offered an excellent starting point: identifying shared values and visions.

Trainers encouraged advocates to step back from their organizations’ immediate needs to think about why arts and culture is important to them. And to do that as individual artists, arts administrators, cultural workers, and as New Yorkers. Advocates’ identified the following values and visions:

  • Engagement: cultural participation should be perceived as a right, not a privilege;
  • Creativity: creative problem-solving and innovation should be fostered in any context (work, school, play);
  • Education: arts and culture should be embedded in life-long learning, allowing generations to continually transcend and inspire;
  • Community: arts and culture should remain integral to the sanctity and vitality of neighborhoods;
  • Sustainability: artists and cultural producers should be legitimized as workers, ensuring their long-term survival;
  • Voice: all voices should be recognized and validated, and those on the periphery should be amplified; and
  • Equity: all cultural traditions should be affirmed, respected, and preserved, and all of the City’s cultural assets should be valued, including those that have been historically disinvested in.

Before the training, The Opportunity Agenda conducted research to understand how the media portrays arts and culture in the City. We learned that quite a lot of coverage has a narrow focus on sector benefits to the economy, as well as government’s role in financing arts and culture. Arts and culture’s contributions to community revitalization and other areas received minimal attention.

We need new narratives.

Stories supporting arts and culture should be grounded in values that build and sustain movements. They help us to engage in proactive advocacy. If we have a strong, consistent narrative, we can portray crises, when they arise, not as momentary threats to an individual organization’s survival, but instead as a threat to our fundamental values.   

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