Arts Advocacy in the Facebook Age

Julie Hawkins, a professor at Drexel University and formerly of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, paints a picture of how arts advocacy efforts might be adapted to the changing economic realities in her article "Leveraging the Power of Individuals for Arts Advocacy." As the recession squeezes nonprofit arts organizations and reduces government funding at the federal, state, and local levels, professional arts advocacy organizations have faced new challenges that require new strategies. Maximizing the resources they have is of the upmost importance, and Hawkins argues that the best way to do this is to leverage the power of individuals within community networks more effectively.

Although individuals have always been at the heart of arts advocacy strategies, traditional methods of these arts advocates—visiting, e-mailing, calling, sending letters to legislators—are no longer as successful in combating an increasing volume and pace of threats to arts organizations. Instead, Hawkins sees three key factors changing the nature of activism in America that can be mobilized in arts advocacy strategies:

  • The use of social media tools
  • The Baby Boomers' and Millennials' desire to effect social change
  • A growing body of popular and accessible research on individuals using community-based networks to leverage change.

By learning from these changes in the nature of activism, arts advocacy organizations can better adapt their strategies to the new challenges they face.

In terms of social media, individuals have the opportunity to make use of tools like Facebook, Twitter, or to make arguments, build support groups, and advance change.

The Baby Boomers and Millennials are a significant portion of the population with specific attitudes about change and advocacy that organizations can use. Baby Boomers are social activists and prefer to be in charge. This group may provide a wealth of activists if arts advocacy organizations can attract them to their causes. The Millennials, on the other hand, have been "raised on a steady diet of community service and collaboration," according to Hawkins (131). This group desires to make a difference and may become leaders in new advocacy strategies. Their focus on community service, however, may require arts organizations to stress their civic and community impact in order to attract this group.

Finally, there has been a lot of recent research on the ability of individuals to effect systematic change. The popularity of books and magazine articles, such as Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody on this topic, as well as the increase in media coverage, reflect public interest in the phenomenon and thus suggest that this could be a very fruitful avenue for arts advocacy organizations to pursue.

Arts advocacy organizations should adopt strategies to leverage the power of individuals and shift from top-down approaches in agenda setting to more bottom-up initiatives "that encourage and enable the public to share that ownership" (133). Hawkins argues that, by empowering individuals, giving them tools (networking or social media), and incorporating the grassroots strategies of political campaigns into arts advocacy strategies, professional arts advocacy organizations can capitalize on the power of individuals within networks and include the public in the ownership of policy goals.

Hawkins, Julie. 2012. "Leveraging the Power of Individuals for Arts Advocacy." The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 42(3): 128–140. doi:10.1080/10632921.2012.729497.

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