Be a Champion of the Arts
By Brian D. Taylor, Project Editor, Pioneer Drama Service
Brian Taylor Brian D. Taylor is a former middle school drama teacher and the newest addition to the Pioneer Drama editorial staff. Working with K-12, college and community theatre groups, he has a theatrical background with experience in directing, acting and technical theatre. When he’s not working on a production, Brian writes children’s and young adult fiction.
It’s spring! That means spring productions are in full swing, auditions and rehearsals for summer look promising, and your arts program is touching the lives of students, parents and community members in memorable and important ways.
Spring also means that budgeting and planning for the next school year or theatrical season is probably already beginning. What’s in store for your performing arts program next year? Are you planning massive growth? We hope so! However, the stark reality of this day and age means that some of you may be facing program cuts, which no one, including those making the tough decisions, wants to happen. How will you advocate for your theatre program? Do you have a plan in mind?
We all know that involvement in the arts and arts education is important for so many reasons. Performing arts build skills across and beyond the curriculum. Performing arts build cultural and social awareness in our students and communities. Performing arts improve learning and improve the needed skills for the 21st century workforce. Performing arts give students a sense of belonging, which increases school attendance and lowers the dropout rate. So how do you communicate all this to the decision makers? Whether you are seeking expanded programming, grants, or extra funding — or you are fighting to save your program from cuts or even elimination — the advice that follows will help you construct a strong message to deliver.
- Identify your goals — Before you begin, make sure you know what it is you need or want to accomplish. Is it to save a program from budget cuts? Are you seeking additional funds for your program? Perhaps you want to implement new programs or increase community, staff or parent involvement in your program. Be specific! The more precise you are in clarifying what you’re asking for, the more likely you are to get it. Whatever it is, put it in writing and keep it in a place where you will see it every day. This will help you keep your mission focused.
- Know your audience — You’ll want to be sure to know who will be receiving your message. Are you addressing the school board? Are you preparing to apply for grants to support your organization? Perhaps your aim is to persuade an administrator, city council, local representatives or other leadership to support your arts program. Who are these individuals and what are their goals? Consider what is important to them and what values they hold dear. When you have done this, you can craft your message and ideas to suit their needs and values while pursuing your own goals.
- Consider compromising — When it comes to budget cuts and spending plans, some compromise may be necessary. Are you willing to make compromises, and if so, where? Ideally, you won’t have to do this, but reality may force you to figure out what you can offer to give up. Be prepared for this. As you are focusing your goals, it is also a good plan to consider areas where you can be flexible. This preparation allows you to come to the table with potential solutions to budget problems. While you certainly want to defend your arts programs, it is also important to acknowledge the budget challenges your organization is facing.
- Collect facts — The benefits of education in the performing arts are well documented, so of course you’ll include statistics and facts form national studies and surveys. (We’ve provided several links below to help you!) But it’s just as important, if not even more so, to also collect data or anecdotal evidence from your own school or organization. How has your arts program helped improve the lives of your students or the community at large? Be prepared also to explain what your arts program offers, as your administration may not be aware what specifically goes on in classes, rehearsals or even productions. Identify the positive benefits — both academic and social — in every activity offered by your arts programs and make sure you constantly communicate these to anyone who is not involved on a daily basis. While data from national studies is certainly powerful and credible, information about the positive benefits your particular program provides will be even more convincing.
- Find support — The arts do matter to your community, and many people are willing to assist you in your efforts; you just have to find them. Reach out for support from those involved in your program. If you’re a teacher, find students who are willing to speak up or write a letter stating how the arts have changed their lives. Parents may also be a powerful resource. The community at large might have something to offer too, whether it be volunteering to speak to the board, letter writing, fund raising or campaigning for your program in other ways. This networking should be an ongoing practice. Build long term relationships with your community as they can be useful partners for years to come.
Performing arts programs are of great value to our schools and communities and you, the teachers, mentors, directors and designers, are valuable champions for the arts. Your involvement in the arts makes an important difference in so many ways and we value your hard work. With preparation and passion, we know you can achieve your goals for next year and all the years to come!
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