Advocacy Materials Online

Arts and Culture Web Sites

Shelley Feist

The information presented here by no means represents an exhaustive review of arts-related advocacy Web sites. I have reviewed three national sites, one state site, and one local site.

The standard I used for defining and rating "advocacy material" was that the information could be printed or in other ways readily utilized by grassroots advocates in their interactions with elected officials on timely issues of concern to the arts community.

I use the term "accessibility" here to characterize how readily the Web-user can move to the advocacy material. "Moderately accessible" means that from the Web home page the user is one or two clicks away from the advocacy material. The shelf life of good advocacy material is relatively short. Regrettably, in general, Web sites with an arts advocacy component tend to be just a little out of date, or, in some cases, grossly out of date and therefore of little or no use to the grassroots advocate.

I include here just one locally-focused arts advocacy Web site and I am sure that there are many others of quality. These local sites may represent the best and most "nimble" of arts advocacy Web sites.

Americans for the Arts
Advocacy materials: Excellent
Accessibility: Moderately accessible
Best Find: Two on this site. First, a great searchable database on key votes of the U.S. Congress related to the arts and culture. Second, probably the most comprehensive resource out there on current issues at the federal level, found in the Arts Advocacy Day Toolkit 2003.

The Web site of Americans for the Arts is both visually polished and busy. It takes two or three clicks to arrive at very good basic information on conducting advocacy at the federal level, as well as specific resources around federal agency and Congressional actions affecting the arts. AFTA has developed an attractive interface for searching for Members of Congress by state, and for checking in on how your member of Congress or Senator voted on a select set of votes concerning support for culture.

It is a bit difficult to find, on the home page, where to go for advocacy materials. The word "advocacy" does not appear on the home page but is an option on a pulldown menu under "Issues". Once you get to the page titled "PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND ADVOCACY" you can scroll down to the following: information on federal-level issues being followed by AFTA (such as tax, arts education, and appropriations for the federal cultural agencies), Congressional voting records, reports, and postings to the Americans for the Arts listserv. The very good, thorough and timely "Arts Advocacy Day Toolkit 2003" appears here also. Another section here is "Advocacy Tools" which provides very basic "how to" information on the legislative process and on how to contact a congressional office.

American Arts Alliance
A noteworthy absence among national arts advocacy Web sites is the American Arts Alliance. The Alliance is building a new site and finally in the last couple of months took down the old one. However, it has now been at least a year since there has been any current advocacy/legislative material posted to the Web by the Alliance.

One "best find" from the old Alliance site was the Decision 2002 kit for grassroots advocates to use in educating political candidates.

American Association of Museums
Advocacy materials: Very little
Accessibility: Not readily accessible
Best Find: For non-members it would be hard to say there is a Best Find for this site. It is set up to serve AAM members. Non-member advocates will find the site only moderately useful, but occasionally testimony and position statements appear on the home page.

Consider it a challenge — a little online brain teaser — to locate any mention of advocacy or public policy on the Web site of the American Association of Museums. Because they exist to serve their members, AAM provides only general overview information on key issues and on how to advocate for museums. To get to this material takes a minimum of three clicks. Click on “Programs” on the left bar, then find your way to Government and Public Affairs. From there you have a few options. If you are most interested in the specific issues that AAM follows in the public policy arena, click on “Issues at a Glance.”

Arts Education Partnership
Advocacy materials: More research than advocacy oriented.
Accessibility: Moderately accessible.
Best Find: The advocacy resources section on this site is a bibliography of reports and other publications available to help advocates make the case for the arts in education.

This is not a place to find basic advocacy “how to”. Nor is it the place to go for timely alerts on actions by elected officials and agencies. However, it is probably the largest concentration of research and publications supporting the case for the inclusion of the arts in K-12 education. Overall the Web site is dense. It is not friendly to the hometown grassroots advocate who is looking for a quick fact sheet to make the case. Many state affiliates of the Alliance for Arts Education have their own Web sites that include advocacy material.

Illinois Arts Alliance
Advocacy materials: Good. The focus is mostly on e-alerts.
Accessibility: Very accessible.
Best Finds: Compelling, simple statements on why artists and arts administrators need to know how to lobby their legislature.

Once you pass through a fabulous opening sequence of whirling words related to the arts, you will enter a site that starts with a clear articulation of the organization's mission and core beliefs. The words “advocacy and legislation” appear clearly on the home page. Once you click on this you are led to forceful, clear and unapologetic arguments and strategies for connecting with state policymakers. This is a great site with elegant and simple organization.

Cincinnati Arts
Advocacy materials: Limited, but good and timely.
Accessibility: Good
Best Finds: A participatory message forum about the Cincinnati arts community and advocacy.

This is a well done site that is designed to be the “go to” site for information on arts in Cincinnati. The site manages to be several things at once and somehow to do it well. From the left side of the home page you can click on “advocacy”. The site features a function to search for arts activities by date or by event name. A good potential model for other communities.