As a student pursuing a master’s degree in the arts, my second degree in the field, it is perhaps unsurprising that advancing the interests of the arts in higher education is something that I am passionate about. I am passionate enough to charge in to defend arts programs at the college level and tell my representatives to vote down a bill that would hurt the arts in higher education.
But as I begin to learn about the current issues through the higher education panel at the Americans for the Arts National Arts Action Summit, I realized that while there are certainly a few immediate concerns that are closely related to priorities of the current administration such as the doubling the Pell Grant and enacting equitable and meaningful student debt forgiveness, in this moment, there is not a specific bill for which to go rushing into frantic defense or support.
Many of the current focuses of Americans for the Arts in the higher education area are broader and more long-term. For example, in addition to touching on the issues above, the panel at the National Arts Action Summit spent time focusing on asks for the continued support for funding student financial aid in a way in which students can pursue any degree program that they choose and the need to ensure the proper execution of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Learning about this highlighted three (of many) broader advocacy lessons that I will be taking away from my time interning with Texans for the Arts that I think are important for us all as we advocate for this field.
Lesson #1: The long game is important.
Prior to being immersed in this work with Texans for the Arts, the advocacy efforts I had encountered or participated in had been focused on immediate needs to save something, increase funding for something, help with this pressing issue by supporting this specific bill, etc. More general, long-term asks such as supporting policy and legislation that funds financial aid in a way that makes education more accessible and ensuring that it can be used to pursue any discipline a student chooses don’t make their way into the widespread eye as much, but they are just as important.
Every time I have been a part of advocacy training during my time with Texans for the Arts, there has been a talk about relationship-building and making sure you are keeping in touch with your legislative offices and keeping your issues in front of the staff; some of these broader asks seem to fit in to that longer strategy so that when a bill does come down that you need to support or oppose, you’ve already primed the office on that issue.
As advocates, we should absolutely spring into action when there is a bill to oppose, but we also need to keep these general asks for support in front of our legislators so that when those bills do come up, we’ve already built the relationship and the knowledge surrounding the issue.
Lesson #2: We shouldn’t take policies that we have gotten used to for granted.
In my experience, it has been very easy to use federal student loans for any degree program that you are interested in pursuing, so it was, at first, a little surprising to hear this ask discussed on the panel. But as I started to think about it, I realized I have heard and seen many comments from citizens expressing their opinion that certain degrees (often in the arts) don’t have value and shouldn’t be funded with taxpayer dollars. Legislative opinion could shift to agree with this statement, so as advocates, we can be proactive in continuing to request support for the funding of degrees in the arts, which we know are valuable.
Texans for the Arts is consistently keeping an eye on all arts-related issues in Texas and working to build and help individual advocates build the relationships that keep arts-friendly stances on these issues in front of legislators. As I go forward as an advocate, I hope that I will keep a pulse on the issues that matter to me and advocate for them at all times, even when they don’t seem to be in immediate danger.
Lesson #3: We need to make sure we are spreading the word and building new advocates.
As I wrote above, I am in the process of earning my second arts degree, but I had no knowledge of how the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program worked despite the fact that I have previously worked at a nonprofit that would have given me qualified payments. I should be advocating for this program, and I didn’t even know enough about it nor did I, prior to this semester, know much about how to be an advocate. Learning about this underlined the importance of us bringing others in to join us as advocates so that they are aware of the work we are doing, how it can benefit them, and how to get involved.
Through my time at Texans for the Arts, I have witnessed this happen so effectively as staff, board members, participants, and more bring people in and help them be set up for success to advocate. In fact, in many ways I have been one of these people. I had an interest in advocacy and was recommended to apply for this internship program by a friend. Now, I feel like a prepared, confident, and passionate advocate. I hope that as I go forward, I will help to give others the knowledge and the tools to successfully advocate for the arts and culture field.