Discussing Arts Education in a State of Siege!

As protesters flooded the state capital in Wisconsin protesting the loss of collective bargaining options for teachers and other public employees Trudel MacPherson principals, working with the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education network, coached representatives of the Wisconsin Arts Alliance and other arts education advocates from across the country including attendees from Florida, Oklahoma, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Washington. All shared similar issues — how to build support for education in and through the arts in a time of fiscal tug-of-wars?

We believe the key to mobilizing support is to re-frame the conversation around issues and priorities important to all citizens. T M offered a planning tool — Developing Your Value Proposition (download here)– to help groups communicate the pivotal role learning in and through the arts plays in improving education outcomes. We developed a simple message path – to help groups communicate how communities benefit from arts education.

Sample Message Path: 

Representatives from the Oklahoma Alliance for Arts Education put the tool to use immediately when visiting congressmen from their state on February 17th. Rather than asking their policymakers for money or support, they started with a simple question — “What do you think makes a thriving community?” Two congressmen were nonplussed and had no answer but another started to list the aspects of community he values most: football, vital business infrastructure, solid tax base, good education for all.

Brad N. Bensen and Shan Glandon from the Alliance were able to take that opening to connect learning in and through the arts to education that works — creating more employable citizens — who pay taxes — leading to vibrant communities and improved quality of life for all.

We believe this is a promising approach which moves arts education advocates from being yet another interest group asking for funding to an important strategic ally in producing public value for the community at large. When asked why she favors arts, Mary Suhm, city manager of Dallas, puts it this way, “Better students, better workforce, better tax-base.”

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