Monday, March 23, 2015

Stakeholder Support Essential for Effective Advocacy

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on……………"

Lots of talk in the past two weeks on arts advocacy - and indirectly a conversation about using the 'instrumental' v the 'intrinsic' argument.  I am less concerned with this fundamental philosophical debate than with the practical tactics we employ to achieve whatever it is that is our ultimate goal (and I am assuming arguendo, that one of our principal overarching goals is to increase public funding).

We (the arts) lack massive and sophisticated lobbying machines, or the ability to fund that kind of political apparatus, and we also lack a highly motivated and mobilized public in support of what we want.  One of the things that interest groups in our situation can do is to leverage support of other groups of stakeholders who have an interest (direct or tangential) in our success, and who have more power and clout than we do, to help us to make our case in advocating for what we want.  Having powerful friends is a very good way to be treated the way you want.

Once upon a time, the arts had a link with the Chamber of Commerce and were quasi successful in getting the Chamber to carry our message to government decision makers. Unquestionably, the Chamber (national, state and local chapters) have access to, and clout with, those decision makers.  The arts are, like most Chamber members, small businesses. And many arts organizations are members of their local Chamber chapters. Moreover, arts organizations are interested in many of the issues most businesses are interested in: jobs, costs, regulations, and insurance among them.  Thus the relationship between the arts and the Chamber is a natural one; not contrived or artificial.

But something happened a decade or more ago that led to the arts and the Chamber moving away from each other.  I'm not sure how or why that happened, though it may have been a part of a larger political transition of the Chamber to align itself more closely with the governing faction of the Republican party -- which, at the time, began to cast the arts as an area that should not be receiving government support.  But move away from each other we did.

I took a look this past week at the national Chamber's 2015 Policy Priorities - a detailed list (31 pages) of the areas the Chamber thinks important to its membership and which it is on the record of supporting.  Generally, the Chamber is concerned with over-regulation of business (everything from energy and the environment to bidding for government contracts requirements);  government costs of programs (health care, social security, et. al) immigration reform; and other government things that are financed in large part by business (through taxes and fees including payroll taxes et. al) or which the Chamber feels may impact its business membership.   Their goals are to "advance jobs, growth and opportunity" that will "help revitalize the American economy, create jobs, spur growth and lift incomes."

Nowhere, of course, is there any mention of the arts - as a means to help achieve the stated goals and thus worthy in itself of support.  There is mention, in detail, of the goal of protecting American Intellectual Property - framed largely as part of the high tech and entertainment industries.  And there is a lengthy section on educational goals - with a mention of STEM but not STEAM.  The arts aren't otherwise mentioned directly or by inference (and to be fair, virtually no one industry or interest area is singled out specifically).  All of this would be ok, if the Chamber was visibly and vocally supportive of its' nonprofit arts membership - as that support would go a long way locally, statewide and federally in making our case to legislatures and legislators. But we don't have that.  Chamber lobbyists may or may not bend the ear of legislators for various interests within their membership when they lobby at the local, state and federal levels, but they don't do that for the arts - even though a lot of us might be their members.

I argued some time ago, that if half of all the arts organizations in the country would join their local Chamber of Commerce and assign somebody from the organization to be active in the chapter's committees, then in the aggregate (by virtue of our sheer numbers and our activity) the arts would be one of the major forces in the Chamber nationally.  And that would mean that when priorities are drafted we would have a much better chance to be included.  And more importantly, it would mean we would have the juice (voting power over Chamber leadership) to move the Chamber - as a stakeholder in our success because we too are small businesses - to lobby for us on our issues.  That's how politics works, and that's how to get us closer to our goals.  (And if you look closely as the above referenced Chamber 2015 Priority document under the Intellectual Property section (page 15), it isn't hard to see the efforts of Silicon Valley and the Entertainment Industry in lobbying the Chamber to include this section.)  The question is why don't we do this too?  And not just with the Chamber of Commerce but with a range of organizations - from those on our side - like the PTA,  to those coming to our side - like the AMA and various academic institutions.  Active stakeholder support may just be more important to our success than whether we use an intrinsic or an instrumental approach to making our case.

So, as we begin again our advocacy efforts this week, as we marshall our best stories to tell, and as we employ both instrumental and intrinsic arguments to keep the powers that be from cutting our funding (or, at best, only marginally increasing it in a symbolic way), I would hope the field would consider the specific political ways we might enlist stakeholder support to make some progress in this endless Sisyphusian nightmare of what we call advocacy.  I would hope we might be at least a tiny bit concerned with political gamesmanship, because getting what we want from government is a game with specific rules -- and we can't forever insist that we get the play the game by the rules we want to make up.

A more detailed post on the whole advocacy challenge (at least as the same relates to public funding) is coming in the near future.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit