By Tate Glover
What comes to mind when you think about the word advocacy?
This is the challenge that Claire Rice, Executive Director of Arts Alliance Illinois, opened with during her visit to MSLCE’s Arts, Public Purpose, and Policy class this past Tuesday. Founded in 1982 to defend public funding for the arts, Arts Alliance Illinois now focuses on statewide civic engagement, arts education, and cultural equity.
In light of the recent recommendations by the national government to defund the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), we spoke at length about the impact of the organization. While the NEA is important, Rice stressed the importance of looking at the whole picture. There are other parts of the Illinois arts infrastructure that are weak or are being threatened that play a much larger part in the lives of local creative professionals. Picking your battles can be just as crucial as fighting them.
One of the big questions we discussed with Rice was how to effectively mobilize people to stand up and defend the arts. Rice emphasized the importance of building relationships and loyalty before asking people to act. If an organization like Arts Alliance Illinois can build stronger relationships with the people it serves, then it will be capable of affecting broader change when policies that support the creative industries are threatened.
Getting people to stand up for the arts also largely depends on how the creative sector is represented. Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the economic impact of the arts, while Rice believes that there may be more power in using stories as motivation. Furthermore, the key to unlocking a deeper interest in protecting the arts lies in listening and finding out how the arts are important not just to yourself, but to the people you are talking to.
As parting words of wisdom, Rice urged students to be active advocates. “What’s your advocacy passion? Pick one thing, get smart about it, and talk to your friends about it.” I certainly left the room feeling engaged and ready to defend my field and chosen career path.