ADVOCACY ALERT | Artist Communities + Civic Engagement

ACA Staff
October 22, 2020

“Civic engagement is moving an agenda that improves the quality of life in our communities, using our practice to impact change that results in a more equitable and just society for people and the planet.”
—Elizabeth Jabar

What role should artist communities play in getting out the vote? How can we leverage our networks and resources to back artists and organizers who are working to effect change?

Instead of our usual Advocacy Alert, this week we want to share some of the ideas and questions that came out of last Thursday’s #ResidenciesConnect session, "Artist Communities + Civic Engagement." In this dynamic conversation between artists and organizers who model a practice of civic engagement, we discussed how to effectively mobilize people at a local, national, and global level.

“I strongly believe that culture precedes politics. There has been massive divestment from artists of color and communities of color. Investing in artists and their leadership is a key strategy to bring about the change our communities are hungry for . . . The way to engage people is not around what we are against, but what we are for.” —Favianna Rodriguez

An artist, cultural strategist, and social justice activist, Favianna activates artists and organizations around storytelling. Explore her proven strategies for messaging in Culture Surge guide “Storytellers' Guide to Changing Our World” and The Culture Group’s “Making Waves: A Guide To Cultural Strategy.”


“The best successes I have seen have been investments in youth, curriculum, [and] narrative shifts . . .We need to keep telling the truth of how this nation got to where it is and include Indigenous folks in these conversations."—Amikogaabawiikwe (Adrienne M. Benjamin)

An artist and activist, Adrienne works with youth through the arts initiative, Project Mezinichigejig: The Ones Who Create Beautiful Things Together.

“What happens after [the election]? Are we still committed to building practices and models for equity and organizing and collective action? . . .  This is not a topic for the margins; it is for the every day, forever.” —Elizabeth Jabar

Elizabeth, whose creative practice is rooted in civic engagement, stresses the importance of taking the long view—raising your awareness of and building from the work already being done in your community and leveraging resources from your organization to back this work. Colby Votes is a model for what this looks like in a university context.

"What advocacy can you do as a 501(c)(3) organization? More than people think! . . . For the full ecosystem of advocacy to thrive, everybody has a part, everyone has a story to tell. When we work together the message can’t be ignored." —Najean Lee

As Director of Government Affairs & Education Advocacy at League of American Orchestras, Najean encourages all arts practitioners to take up an advocacy practice that spans every month of every year. Read about advocacy tactics for nonprofits in the League of American Orchestras guide, “Playing Your Part: Guide to Public Policy Advocacy,” and Bolder Advocacy’s nonprofit resource library.

We hope you will dive into the resources mentioned above.  As Lisa Funderburke Hoffman said in introducing this #ResidenciesConnect session, “This is a call to action, an opportunity to consider: How do we position ourselves to be in service, not to the artists we serve and our teams, but to the communities and the contexts in which we exist?”

NEXT STEPS | Getting out the Vote

AAC encourages our U.S. network to be active participants in efforts to get out the vote. While strictly prohibited from backing or opposing a particular candidate, 501(c)(3) nonprofits can (and should) support activities that encourage voters to register, participate in elections, and stay civically engaged beyond the election. Below are some steps to get moving:


Favianna Rodriguez Resources + References

Elizabeth Jabar Resources + References

Adrienne Benjamin Resources + References

Najean Lee Resources + References