NASAA Notes: January 2015

January 10, 2015

Five Aspirations for 2015

In January our in-boxes bulge with articles from futurists defining the essential trends that will emerge in the new year. Thus far I’ve seen a prediction for the most popular colors of 2015 (how did I get on that mailing list?), two forecasts for the global economy, auguries from three marketing gurus and more dispatches than I can count confidently proclaiming the “Top 10 Tech Trends of 2015.” None of which, I notice, mention any of the same trends.

I’ll resist the temptation to offer my own prediction of what will happen for state arts agencies in 2015. But I will take this opportunity to articulate some things I’d like to see happen—actions that are within the practical grasp of every state arts agency, and that NASAA can help you achieve.

  1. First, let’s write an obituary for this old myth: “I’m not allowed to advocate.” It’s true that some council members face real or perceived pressures to support their governor’s budget recommendations, and that some personnel laws restrict lobbying by state employees. But these limitations are like the staff paper we use to compose a melody—they give structure to our work, but they don’t prevent us from writing a compelling advocacy tune. Nearly every state arts agency has a legislative directive to encourage the public interest in the culture of its state and to expand the state’s cultural resources. Through this lens, the central question isn’t whether a state arts agency is allowed to advocate, but rather how it can best fulfill its advocacy obligations. For the scoop on strategies a variety of states have used, give me a call at 202-347-6352. Or browse the notes from November’s Joint Advocacy Forum, or sample these tried-and-true Forty Action Strategies.
  2. Next, how about making every day Arts Advocacy Day? Annual gatherings at the capitol are great, but effective advocacy embeds case making into communications, event management, networking and information-collection decisions year-round. An essential first step is to make early connections with newly elected officials and key committee members before we need their votes. This month’s Legislative Update contains great outreach tips to use with state legislators and members of Congress alike.
  3. It’s always inspiring to see volunteer council members give full voice to their passion for the arts, their connections and their influence, and hopefully we’ll see a lot of this in 2015. A few of my favorite recent examples include the Montana Arts Council’s self-directed marketing plan, the Nevada Arts Council board’s 2014-2015 biennium advocacy platform, the New Leaders Arts Council in Michigan and op-eds like this one from Florida Division of Cultural Affairs board member Brenda Shoffner. NASAA is a clearinghouse for council work of all kinds, so be sure to share your own examples with us.
  4. Data visualization can become a more integral part of research and reporting about the arts. State arts agencies get many benefits from data visualization: it helps us to better understand our own numbers, it makes information accessible to people with diverse learning styles and it can make our content distinctive—a needed edge in our info-saturated world. State arts agencies have some ground to gain in this arena, and NASAA can be a great resource. Check out the notes from our Awesome Data Visualizations session at Assembly 2014 and contact NASAA Research Director Ryan Stubbs for customized help.
  5. While we’re telling our stories, perhaps it’s also time to express pride in being part of state government. In an era when politicians and citizens blame government for many of society’s problems, it’s tactically tempting to hide our lights under a bushel. But minimizing our fundamental identity as government agencies—or trying to emulate foundations or corporations—can dilute the distinct public value that government arts agencies produce. I’m not suggesting that we defend the status quo, nor that we pretend not to have red tape. I am suggesting that we show off the superior work we do to serve all citizens efficiently, equitably and accountably. We’re lean, with staffs and budgets a fraction the size of other state departments. Our agencies’ planning and decision-making practices epitomize government of the people, for the people and by the people. And public-private partnerships were part of our business model long before they became fashionable to mention in New Year’s trend forecasts. Just sayin’.

Good luck with the start of your 2015 legislative sessions. As always, the NASAA staff and board are at your service during the year ahead.

In this Issue

State to State

Legislative Update

Announcements and Resources

Executive Director's Column

Research on Demand




To receive information regarding updates to our newslettter. Please fill out the form below.