[This post originally appeared on the Americans for the Arts Blog at http://blog.artsusa.org/2010/09/14/testify-for-arts-education/.] The answer given to most people who want to help increase arts education in our community’s public schools is, “Write to your elected representatives.” Yes, it’s a good idea. It increases the buzz that the official’s constituents think arts education is an important thing, but I don’t think it accomplishes much. I don’t mean to be cynical, but realistically, think of the path that letter takes. The elected official probably never sees the letter. A staffer reads it and the subject matter is noted in a database with the topics of all the other letters that the elected official receives. The second popular answer is, “Donate to organizations that advocate for arts education.” In other words, hire your own lobbyist through donations. A lobbyist knows the internal processes of the lobbied officials. Nonprofits have a political calculation to make. When an organization wants to partner with a school system, they need to work as partners. In this case, “partnership” is a euphemism for a vendor relationship. Nonprofits receive funding from the school system to implement arts programming. It is difficult, as a partner organization, to criticize the system that’s paying your salaries. That said, donating to arts education organizations is a fantastic investment. Their access to policy makers and schools makes big things happen. If you want to do more and you want to take direct action, consider this: In honor of Arts in Education Week, I, Joan Weber, pledge that I will testify before the Carroll County, Maryland Board of Education on behalf of arts education at their March, 2011 meeting. I pledge to recruit people across the country to do the same. I pledge to support this effort by participating a social networking site called Testify for Arts Education. I pledge to upload resources to help anyone prepare to testify. I pledge to post meeting dates for boards of education meetings across my region. Will you make the same pledge? Just take the following steps: 1. Join Testify for Arts Education. (www.testifyforsartsed.ning.com) 2. Look up and enter March date(s) for your local board of education meeting(s). 3. Recruit friends to join Testify for Arts Education and contribute information. 4. Research the issues in your school system. (Search through the local newspaper coverage, talk to people in the system, etc.) Post this information to Testify for Arts Education. 5. Form or join a group that will organize in your state. 6. Prepare your remarks for the presentation. (We’re working with Edutopia.com to create a PowerPoint template that can be modified to fit local issues.) 7. Practice. Practice. Practice. 8. Recruit your friends. 9. Testify and see what happens. Document. 10. Assess This project depends on the sum of its parts. If you put what you know on Testify for Arts Education, then it is shared: research, videos, photos, your testimony, etc. Let’s also use this as an experiment to see if we few, we happy few, we band of grassroots arts education advocates can make a real difference. I look forward to seeing you online.
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