By Joe Landon, Policy Director, California Alliance for Arts Education
When I joined the Alliance as its policy director in 2006, they were savoring the hard earned victory that led to California’s historic investment in arts education, including the one time block grant shared with physical education, as well as the ongoing “Arts and Music” categorical funding.
But even then, the Alliance’s concern was shifting toward the question of how to sustain advocacy at the local level, where crucial decisions made by local school boards determine the quality, equity, and access of arts education in that school district.
When last year the state legislature gave local districts the ‘flexibility’ to spend the Arts and Music Block grant on whatever programs they considered most essential, the Alliance had already embarked on a project to build a local advocacy network in communities and districts throughout the state.
In the first year of this pilot program, we selected ten sites throughout the state, reflecting diverse communities, geographical areas and economic conditions. Our goal was to gather the expertise around what would be required to foster an ongoing coalition of local leaders who share a commitment to build public understanding and support for the critical role of arts education in the development of every student.
True to its name, the California Alliance believes in the unique strength that grows from an alliance of diverse stakeholders. The local coalitions represent a cross section of community interests, including business, community, education and arts organizations. Their united message is intended to convey the myriad ways in which an investment in arts education is an investment in the well being of the larger community.
Although there have been communities throughout the country where there was a sustained effort to organize arts education advocates, there is no precedent for a statewide effort to capture local advocacy. This is challenging work, in the best of times, coming in from a distance to help unite and focus the natural support that exists for arts education in a community.
Right now schools districts around the state are feeling tremendous pressure to scale down services to meet budget cuts. We’ve been here before and we know what happens. We need to fight to protect arts education and that means building coalitions from the ground up in every school district.
This week we’re kicking off a series of ten new local alliances in Orange and San Diego Counties. We look forward to spreading this work throughout the state, providing the support and strategies that local alliances need to advocate effectively for arts education.