Investing in Policy

Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA), a national association of private, public and nonprofit arts funders, has for some years had a goal of advocacy and policy development.  This week, GIA launches the Arts Education Funders Coalition to specifically identify and advocate for arts in federal education policies.  GIA has contracted with the Penn Hill Group, an experienced education policy firm in Washington DC to guide us in this work.

The questions might be “why are grantmakers doing this?” and “why federal education policy?”  

First, GIA has an obligation to its members to assist them, whenever possible, to fulfill their missions. We do this, most obviously, through sharing of best practices, disseminating research and reports and convening members to learn together.  Public policy (here defined as what government does or does not do) affects almost every corner of our lives, whether we like to believe it or not.  In the area of arts education, current federal policies are not helpful to the work being done at the local and state level by arts grantmakers.  Funders have invested millions of dollars over the past forty to fifty years to provide exemplary arts education experiences for children. We have not, however, seen education policy embrace the arts in a systemic and meaningful way.  As investors and not beneficiaries of policies in education, grantmakers can add to the already vibrant advocacy work being done in this area on the national scene.  We can’t do it alone, and we should no longer be a silent partner.

Secondly, current federal policies exclude the arts in many competitive grant programs from the US Department of Education.  The emphasis on testing and evaluating schools and teachers based on reading and math scores underlines the power of federal policies, even though we are all led to believe that education is a “local issue.” The carrot of funding from the federal government drives policies at the state and local levels in education. If we can assist in opening the door to more funding or policies that promote arts education in our public schools on the federal level, it will have immediate ramifications for state and local arts advocates.

As a national funder association, GIA has a perspective that is unique. But involvement in federal policy is not unique for organizations like ours.  It is, however, a bold step for the arts and an important addition to current advocacy efforts.  There are no guarantees in public policy work. But if we can “move the dime” even a little, we have an obligation to our members, to artists and arts organizations and to America’s children to give it a try.  

We encourage grantmakers of all types and sizes to join the Arts Education Funders Coalition.  If you are NOT a grantmaker, there are lots of ways you can get invovled to change policies.  Join the Alliance for Arts Education or the arts advocacy organization in your state, get in contact with your local arts agency, support Americans for the Arts, advocate with your local school districts through parent organizations, or work with arts teachers to develop a support group. Organize, inspire and make it better.