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Sunday, 10 May 2015 18:00

Ongoing Advocacy

NALAC 20150428 ALI 0014

Ongoing Advocacy


When it comes to advocacy, NALAC has made it an utmost priority to be active in furthering our collective vision of a more just, equitable, and democratic society while, at the same time, actively pursue ways in which all [email protected] can participate in advocacy efforts.  This means our definitions of advocacy must remain open to shifts or fluctuations in how the spheres of arts and cultures are progressively mapped, so that our own efforts remain agile enough to respond to and, often more importantly, anticipate emerging trends in funding, policy, and overall development.  Such an outlook would, ideally, help make any deliberate modifications in our public -and increasingly virtual- spaces of social engagement more readily visible, more effortlessly understood.  So we ask each other how do we as advocates prompt our field to be more nimble?  Or, what does pattern recognition have to do with glimpsing trajectoral shifts in support for the arts?  Why is it necessary for cultural activism to include effective models of advocacy aside from ones we've established through classic resistance?

These are but some questions that come to mind as NALAC completes its fifth annual Advocacy Leadership Institute (ALI) in Washington DC.  The ALI is a three-day intensive, hands-on training that builds advocacy skills and knowledge about the role of government and public institutions in the field of arts and social justice.  In this setting, Congressional staff and experienced arts advocates impart a deeper understanding of the frameworks involved in shaping cultural policy and its consequent impact on [email protected] artistic production.  A key aspect of this work is informed by a set of priorities NALAC has developed to help articulate deep concerns of our field to both government agencies, Congress and the White House.

The priorities we communicate to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) have strong affinities with their own goals and function as an agency committed to rendering the arts more accessible to all Americans.  For example, NALAC urges the agency to develop more robust outreach policies and actual practices that increase meaningful participation from the Latino arts field along with all communities of color, as a means of creating equitable scenarios of artistic expression.  This would correspond with a more direct outreach to [email protected] communities to encourage more applications from [email protected] organizations.  We also encourage an increase in funding for Latino arts organizations along with additional support for state and local arts councils.  The complexity of the agency's infrastructure -the roles and processes it makes possible- place it in a unique position where it can reflect or embody the values it promotes by making equity part of its own internal dynamic.  In other words, the NEA can benefit from increasing the number of Latino senior management staff, from increasing the number of Latinos on review panels, and featuring more Latino artists and organizations within their own print or digital publications -all in effort to further feature, highlight, and reveal the diversity of the American cultural landscape.

The ALI is also a platform through which to convey strong priorities to the White House.  For instance, we ask our President to consider the importance of appointing diverse arts leaders to serve on the boards of the National Council on the Arts and the National Council on the Humanities.  We also communicate how the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) would be better served by the appointment of diverse arts leaders that assure fair and inclusive program policies -the National Medal of the Arts being one program that can bestow recognition onto diverse recipients.  Alongside an inclusive nominating procedure, we ask our President to reinstate support for the NEA at a level of funding of $200 million in the fiscal year 2017 budget, thus enabling the agency to better meet its purpose.

Now although these priorities serve to contextualize the dialogue between ALI participants and Congressional representatives, they don't determine the extent of a conversation nor the potential of an in-person meeting.  To put it simply, so much of what really matters in our leadership program has to do with initiating that direct and advocacy-oriented relationship with our representatives so we can then imagine new possibilities that realize our particular goals and expand opportunities in the field.  Despite the efficacy of many online advocacy campaigns, there is still an aggregate effect to meeting face-to-face with stakeholders.

In this manner, the ALI becomes a platform where participants work together and learn together from our arts leaders,  members of Congress, White House staff, national arts institutions, and from each other. Arts and cultural advocacy is then no longer seen as an isolated feature of our own particular organizations, disciplines, regions, or even states and can rather be understood as the collective practice through which the structure of our nation, its pastness and future, emerges.  By having this work take place in our country's capitol, through its institutional channels, we can also understand how advocacy has both a content and a form through which that content is made visible -the form being almost, just almost, a type of content itself.

So, in its most immediate sense, advocacy is an ability in that it relies on our capacity to inhabit and travel through established political, economic, and social channels in order to make a persuasive case for interests that may otherwise be swiftly overlooked.  This process relies on yet another ability: the ability to find commonalities between different interests.  When it comes to the arts, it means understanding artmaking as a property shared by all peoples regardless of social identifiers such as gender, race, class, sexuality, or age.  Quite simply, the arts are not only a broad spectrum of activities through which we can generate meaning -for ourselves and each other-  but, at a macro level, they're forms of research and development that allows us to integrate new or suppressed forms of knowledge, practices, technologies, and sociability.

The basis of meaningful advocacy in our field is equity, which can be surprisingly difficult for some institutions to define -thus making its implementation that more uneven.  That's why it was so important when Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) recently released their Statement of Purpose on Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy in an effort "to increase arts funding for ALAANA (African, Latino(a), Asian, Arab, and Native American) artists, arts organizations, children, and adults."  The release of this positional statement is to be followed by a Racial Equity Forum in June that includes a keynote by executive director of Alternate ROOTS, Carlton TurnerLori Pourier, president of First Peoples Fund, and María De León, executive director of NALAC, are also part of this upcoming forum and, together with Carlton, have been advancing conversations around race and equity at GIA along with other national convenings for several years.  Indeed, these convenings are opportunities for dialogue and mutual learning that help encourage an understanding of equity as simply the process by which we achieve equality.  If equality is a status, then equity can be a method by which we reach that state of being.

So in this way, advocacy is an overtly political activity within the very public (and increasingly private) domain of institutional supports that preserve and secure American culture.  These supports are, of course, themselves a network or collective of diverse social institutions representing biopolitical interests like education, communication, the arts, and class systems too.  Furthermore, this collection of elements is not exclusive to our own national infrastructure: it shapes the internal dynamics of most developed countries.  The IFACCA (International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies) helps make these commonalities evident at an international level, particularly through its 'Good Practice Guide on Arts Advocacy' which was released last year.  Aside from offering eight crucial examples of very different advocacy campaigns (three of them from here in our country), the goal of this document is to "assist anyone interested in promoting the value of the arts by providing a range of topics that can be developed as persuasive arts advocacy arguments, suggestions about good campaign practice, a selection of arts advocacy campaign case studies, and links to other resources."

The guide set forth by the IFACCA draws upon a wide range of previous work and investigations, all of which help determine a set of approaches necessary for a healthier and more effective ways of establishing the value of arts and culture.   One such document that's central to the aim of this guide is 'The Public Value of Culture: a literature review' by John Holden and Jordi Balta.  The authors work from the idea that cultural production is of public value, which can be argued along "two key policy concepts: instrumental value (when culture is funded by governments primarily because of its economic and social benefits) and intrinsic value (when culture is funded as a public good in its own right)."

Naturally, since the economic collapse of 2008, support for the arts in our country has been driven by policies that mainly locate the ways in which art can be instrumentalized by other forms of development.  An excellent document that adds temporal and geographic breadth to the subject is 'Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change' by Holly Sidford, which also stems from the deep bond between art and philanthropy.  The Westside Arts Coalition in San Antonio (of which NALAC is a member) created an Arts and Culture Report specifically for 2015 Mayoral Candidates as part of its ongoing advocacy work around funding equity at a city level.  The report itself presents "observations and recommendations with regard to the City of San Antonio’s arts and cultural policies and their impact on the Latino arts and culture community" and, in many ways, can serve as a research outline or model to be adjusted for use by different local communities.  These documents provide an excellent collection of different research and analysis that addresses the public value of culture.

Advocacy nowadays most commonly occurs online, where it originates activity on social media that is then, ideally, transferred onto our joint and physical social space (from blogoshpere to social-sphere). Because we are now familiar with the effectiveness of advertisement content on our behaviors, we replace it with advocacy content in hopes that it can yield the same results.  And it's proven a successful campaign for many efforts while also leading to what many refer to as 'slacktivism'.  The fact is that social media has proven to be a source of organization in the public sphere.  Can it be repurposed to serve aims other than ones it was designed for? Yes, and, as such, it can also be co-opted in the service of farcical reenactments of staged political engagement.  This ambivalence makes it possible for all kinds of disinformation to coexist alongside accurate representations of real events -like the different coverage or reports on the violence being inflicted upon our African-American brothers and sisters.

In this way, online advocacy forces us to move away from strictly seeing funding or capital campaigns as the only forms of support out there.  Whereas reducing our idea of support to funding made sense when dealing strictly with public sources of monetized support, in our present moment, it can be more advantageous to conceive new options of both public and private or corporatist capital.  Funding often leads one to think of support in strictly financial terms.  Are there other forms of support though? Are there other ways that we can imagine stability and capacity building? If support moves beyond an ideation of public monies, then it can take the form of sets of activities that become stabilized as practices by both the public and private field -like a positional statement, a cultural gesture, a method of inclusion, and so forth.  As actionable tasks, they constitute advocacy for the work we do.

In fact, much of what's interesting and dynamic about our current status is that it deals precisely with the after-effects of a noticeable transition from a purely social movement (most of our criteria for progress is still based on ideals originally voiced during the civil rights era) to an organizational or even institutional movement.  On one hand, civil rights and social protest movements focus on occupying and demonstrating what is at stake through use of our common public sphere.  On the other hand, we also participate and inhabit the existing organizational networks, first, to normalize our presence in channels from which we were previously excluded, and second, to secure that these entities -both private and public- meet the democratic and humane purposes they were created for.


The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.

For more information visit our website at  or like us on Facebook at

Photo Credit: 2015 Advocacy Leadership Institute Fellows, Group Photo in front of the National Portrait Gallery 

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