Rural Arts Advocacy

A blog by Fanny Martin, Executive Director & Creative Producer – Art of Festivals

It started with frustration. In March 2019, Mass Culture hosted a Digital Gathering on cultural planning in rural & remote communities in response to feedback from SPARC Steering Committee member Felicity Buckell, who attended the first city-focused webinar of the series. 

In conversation with Annalee Adair, Felicity highlighted some challenges of rural cultural planning, from the lack of genuine local political support for the arts to limited resources to effectively advocate for that support.   

The Community Presenters’ Network took up the baton and, with the support of SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives program, put out a call to start unlocking the network’s collective advocacy potential. This was the beginning of my work with SPARC and the CPN. I had produced the Digital Gathering that spurred this desire for action and wanted to dig deeper into these questions, so I embarked on interviews and research to understand how deep the disconnect is and what steps the network can take to rewrite the narrative. 

Advocacy is a long game, and context varies widely from one rural community to another. Success stories are inspiring but often dependent on structural conditions that take years to shape. So how do we get started on a change process with lasting power? What can we achieve with a concerted effort? The Advocacy Starter Guide I produced outlines 5 key steps to mobilize and amplify the network’s potential for making its case: 

  1. WHY: What is our VISION? 

Compelling advocacy is driven by strong values and ambitious shared desired outcomes. Change doesn’t start or end with more money: what is required is a lasting, genuine shift in attitudes and perspectives that reshapes power relations and priorities. This vision could take the form of a manifesto, charter or set of principles, like the HIGH FIVE framework for children’s sport and recreation programming, which promotes cross-sector collaboration to create the conditions for children to thrive. 

  1. WHAT: What are our key MESSAGES? 

Vision and values need to be translated into messages that are clear, compelling and consistent. We need to rewrite the script: it doesn’t have to be hockey or theatre, and there are enough resources for both sport and culture in a well-rounded society if we shift our assessment of what matters. 

  1. HOW: What are our TACTICS? 

Advocacy is a long-haul journey that requires a tactical approach: a series of campaigns and actions, sustained by research projects and monitoring mechanisms. Making these efforts visible and transparent through “advocacy diaries” – for example a shared open blog – could amplify the network’s impact and support ongoing dialogue between stakeholders. 

  1. WHO: Who are the PEOPLE we are working with, for and against? 

Identifying who holds power and how to reach them is a key step in designing a campaign. Strategic alliances with other networks, organizations and individuals with overlapping agendas can also help leverage third-party advocacy and reach targeted decision-makers.

  1. WHEN: What is our STRATEGY to make systemic change happen? 

What is the anatomy of a good campaign? Who does what – and when? What resources should be allocated to which actions? What constitutes success? How can progress be measured and milestones celebrated? Creating an advocacy checklist and timeline can help focus efforts and track outcomes: this could take the form of a step-by-step approach to crafting and delivering effective messages and a regularly updated calendar of important dates for the different levels of campaigning (Council meetings, regional conferences, budget reviews…). 

_ _ _ 

The Advocacy Starter Guide, finalised in February 2020, expands on these questions, with quotes, checklists and additional resources, to provide a foundation for customized toolkits and campaigns. But what does this all mean now, in the time of the pandemic? 

With remote working now an option for thousands of workers, urban density perceived as a risk, international mobility patterns affected by health, cost and environmental considerations, we know there will be changes to the ways we live, work and play.

We don’t know yet how deeply the performing arts sector has and will be impacted, how our gatherings and celebrations will be modified in the short and long-term, or how artists will make a living. But we heard official declarations of support for artists; we saw grant conditions overturned to accommodate shifting new contexts, and public funding fast-forwarded to organizations at risk. 

How will this impact rural and remote areas? What opportunities are emerging to make a powerful case for rural arts as the beating heart of vibrant, attractive, caring communities? 

The Advocacy Starter Guide is the first step in exploring these questions and rewriting the narrative. I invite you to read through it and share your thoughts! How can we channel our frustration into collective action? 

 

Follow this link to the Advocacy Starter Guide or email Rachel (rachel@sparcperformingarts.com) for a copy to be sent to you.

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