Monday, January 12, 2009

Day 04 (Round III) "In the trenches" (advocacy edition)

Really good day today, but crazy-busy--really not much time to compose a full free-standing post, though I'm working on about a half-dozen. So, saving time, here's a bootleg of a post requested by my boss.

My admired boss has really good strategies for all kinds of things, but he's also very quick to solicit from the hive mind. Especially when he's about to head off to one or another professional organization's conference, and is strapped for words, he'll sometimes put out a request for feedback--in effect, passing along to his staff, for their response, the questions that he's been asked to present on.

This has three payoffs, as I see it:

(1) He gets some language and perspectives he might not have time to come up with on his own--the obvious one;

(2) He gives his staff the opportunity to have a say/stake in how our programs are perceived out there in the big world--for opinionated loudmouths like me, this is highly gratifying and good for our morale;

(3) He gets a run-down of what we each are doing in language that he can employ if he needs to justify our individual existences to third-parties higher up the food-chain--in the present economic environment, a very important first line of defense.

So, herewith bootlegged my responses to the questions he posed, as follows:

We must recognize that, as professional creators and teachers of the fine arts, we are engaged virtually every hour of the working week in creating events, objects, and connections that enrich quality of life in local communities. This is especially true of the performing arts—which depend upon the direct, face-to-face contact of creators and consumers. Every performance, every lesson, every lecture, every service activity (from church choirs to schools presentations to public/sporting events to pro bono teaching) provides an opportunity for outreach, audience education, and the enhancement of the community’s recognition of the art’s day-to-day practical, positive impact on quality of life.
QUESTION: what activities/programs do you do in the community and beyond that you consider to be "advocacy."
I present probably 150-175 free public performances per calendar year: pub sessions, coffeehouse sessions, guest presentations at schools, etc. A local community can only be aware of and committed to the value of the arts in its midst if its members have been regularly exposed to the processes and products of community art.

I teach a weekly, pro bono music session in the practices and repertoire of folk music, seeking to provide opportunities for audience members to become participants. In my observation, participation—defined very broadly as any activity which permits an audience member to become a “stakeholder” in an event, organization, art-work, or performance—directly, demonstrably, and permanently increases audience members’ long-term commitment to arts organizations and initiatives.

I constantly engage in activities which build community arts organizations: fans, participants, students, providers, promoters, and work hard to respond positively and cooperatively with other organizations and individuals in the community engaged in analogous activities. Partnering, cross-promoting, enhancing communications are all essential in creating collaborative energy.

I and colleagues regularly seek out opportunities to volunteer musical services at non-profit organizations in the community: churches, hospices, hospitals, elder-care centers, community events, and so on. In all circumstances, we strive to integrate music of the highest artistic caliber with a presentational method that maximizes accessibility and audience engagement. We believe that quality and accessibility need not be at odds—that, in fact, the job of the professional, public artist is to marry quality and accessibility in such a fashion as to maximize both.
QUESTION: what does "advocacy" mean to you -- in the arts, and especially in music.

Advocacy, in the arts and especially in music, means thinking and speaking about, staging, and engaging in arts presentations which celebrate the relevance, immediacy, accessibility, and emotional reward of these activities for all community members. We have found that, in our region, audience outreach, development, and education must all work hand-in-hand, and should ideally be complementary elements of every public performance or other event. We can never presume our audience’s expertise, but must find avenues that “open up” the repertoires and performance approaches such that audience members unfamiliar with our work feel empowered and inspired to learn more and to become involved.

Advocacy means to demonstrate and celebrate the powerful positive forces that drew us as practitioners to the arts—and to provide analogous avenues for our audiences to experience that same sense of empowerment and celebration. We are all educators, all advocates, all artists. Our job is to create, for all of our current, future, immediate, and potential audiences that same sense of empowered ownership and commitment to the arts as essential, vital, endlessly rewarding parts of the experience of human communities.
Pretty good mission statement for a life, too.

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