Expanding Arts Education Advocacy in Santa Barbara


The Challenge: How to expand arts education advocacy efforts in your district and beyond


The Strategy: Host a countywide event to build visibility and leverage new support


The Story: Established in May of 2014, the Santa Barbara County Alliance for Arts Education (SBCAAE) hit the ground running. Just days after launching, they went before the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) board to advocate for a Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Director position – and succeeded! Building on that accomplishment, SBCAAE wanted to increase their presence and continue the conversation of arts advocacy around their county. Their goals were to engage key community stakeholders countywide, recruit new members to their arts education advocacy efforts, and keep people engaged by participating in a subcommittee.

SBCAAE’s strategy to leverage new support and build visibility for arts education advocacy was to organize, host and participate in countywide convenings, to grow their membership and consistently re-energize their cause in the community. Kelli Forman, SBCAAE’s local organizer, provides the following recommendations for hosting a successful event.

Using Events to Clarify Advocacy Goals

  1. Invite stakeholders from all different areas of education, business, community organizations and the arts.
    “We had 80 attendees for the 2nd Annual SBCAAE Convening, including community leaders, parents, teachers, district employees, school board members, arts non-profit leaders, and artists.”
  2. Bring in 2-3 people to speak on topics that are important in your area, and be clear about advocacy goals.
    “We discussed the importance of equity in all of the visual and performing arts across the county for all students. Dr. David Cash, the SBUSD Superintendent, spoke on the importance of arts education as a tool towards equity and parent engagement.”
  3. Discuss the ways people can get involved, and have a table with sign up sheets at the entrance and exit.
    “Out of the 80 attendees, 20 signed up to help our efforts on a weekly basis by joining subcommittees or our steering committee.”
  4. In addition to major annual gatherings, create less formal networking and social gatherings to share information and progress reports. SBCAAE’s first event of this kind in May 2016 drew over 30 attendees and included speakers representing another county school district.
  5. Provide attendees with a flyer or paper takeaway, as well as a mental takeaway.
    “The goal is that the audience leaves feeling that they too can advocate for the arts in our community.”

Checklist of Key Elements for Events:

  • Partner with a local organization or business to hold the event in a beautiful space.
  • Send out eye-catching invitations via email, and personal follow up emails. (Over 1000 online designs at Paperless Post can be sent for free!)
  • Have an artist (preferably youth artists!) perform at the event to inspire the audience.
  • Provide coffee and food (e.g. a continental breakfast) for attendees.
  • Have a team the day of to take on various tasks.
  • Photograph the event and utilize social media. Check out SBCAAE’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SantaBarbaraCAAE

SBCAAE played an important role in creating a new context for arts education funding allocations within SBUSD. As a result, the response was encouraging when iCAN, the Incredible Children’s Art Network, initiated discussions with the district to co-invest in the elementary visual arts program in the spring of 2016, which iCAN had been providing at no cost to the district for over ten years. In 2016-2017, and for the first time ever, SBUSD has committed $525,000 to an expansion of elementary visual arts education. In partnership, iCAN has committed $250,000 plus additional gifts of equipment and supplies at 8 school campuses valued at approximately $150,000.

Says Kelli, “What I enjoy most about our coalition is the various expertise that each individual brings. Everyone knows what piece of the puzzle they are and they know when and where to fit in. We are still finding our footing as an organization, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t making a huge impact in arts education in our county!”

The Santa Barbara County Alliance for Arts Education (SBCAAE) is comprised of a diverse group of community leaders, arts groups and arts venues, individual artists, members of the business community, agency representatives, foundations, educators, and parent-advocates. http://www.sbcaae.org