This fall, the California Alliance undertook its first ever arts education survey of candidates for the November 2010 election. Members of our Local Advocacy Network secured the participation of school board candidates in over forty school districts. Candidates answered questions about policy as well as their personal experiences with the arts. The results were posted in early October, but the positive impact of this work is ongoing. Members of our Local Advocacy Network share some of the continuing benefits of the survey.
Increased Visibility Make the Arts Matter
Pat Wayne, Director of Programs and Education for Arts Orange County and the Orange County Organizer for the Local Advocacy Network: In the twenty-nine districts we surveyed in Orange County, we saw a clear advantage for districts that participated in the Local Advocacy Network. These had a better rate of participation among candidates (70%, as opposed to 59%) and even more striking, in these Local Advocacy Network districts, 88% of candidates who were elected had participated in the survey, as opposed to 53%, in districts that were not a part of the Local Advocacy Network. This shows us that the advocacy work we’ve done has momentum, and going forward, the impact of the arts education candidate survey will continue to grow.
Cathy Hamilton, Local organizer for the Escondido Alliance for Arts Education: Because we surveyed candidates early in the election season, we had several opportunities to continue the discussion. In the midst of a “hot” and highly debated election for school board, there were debates with open discussions afterwards, local activities with school board members present, and of course school board meetings themselves.
I was able to attend one of these heated debates and took the opportunity to let some of the candidates know that I had not received their survey and had hoped to include it with all of the other candidate’s surveys, as the results would be shared with our local arts and education community; and I would hate to have them excluded. One candidate went home and had the survey returned to me within an hour of our discussion! Not only did he return the survey, but also offered to forgo his stipend as school board member to pay for an art teacher for the district! He thanked me for giving him the opportunity to share his feelings and thoughts on the arts in education and for taking the time to talk with him.
Pat Wayne: When we put together the questions for the survey, we thought it was important to invite the candidates to reflect on how the arts had personally impacted their lives as children or parents. Not only did this give candidates a chance to reflect on the value of the arts, it also provides advocates with a way to understand how personal experience may have shaped their policy ideas. Knowing that a candidate played percussion in a school marching band, or enjoys attending the Pacific Symphony could provide some common ground, or a way to win their support. The answers we received give us a place to start a relationship with them.
Cathy Hamilton: We have one school board member who has joined our local coalition and is attending all of our follow up meetings. She has become much more vocal at our school board meetings regarding the arts and budget cuts to the arts at our local schools and in our district. We now have an open door to continue the discussion with these new school board members.
Best Practices We Can Share
Alliance: When we published the results, we invited arts education supporters to write us if they’d like to get involved in the next election. A few days before the election, a blog from Santa Clara County Arts Initiative announced: “Next election – count us in!” We are now working with advocates there to support arts education advocacy in their community. Let us know if your community wants to get involved. Make arts education matter in the next election cycle.