Archive for March, 2010

Theatre Students Bring a Message to Sacramento

March 30, 2010

March 30, 2010

On March 16, 2010, over three hundred theatre students, theatre educators, friends and school administrators gathered at the state capitol for California Youth in Theatre Day (CYIT), sponsored by California Educational Theatre Association. CYIT , is an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of theatre education to state legislators. Prize-winning students are selected to meet with their local legislators, perform monologues, songs, dances and scenes at the Sacramento Theatre Company (STC) and participated in workshops with STC staff.

This week, the Alliance spoke to four students from Birmingham Community Charter High School about their trip to Sacramento.

Alliance: What made you want to be a part of California Youth in Theatre Day?

Jade Williams: I wanted to participate in CYIT because it was a chance to show people and our legislators how important the arts are to me and to many of my peers. It was a chance to showcase some work that we worked really hard on and to show how much we would appreciate keeping the arts in our schools.

Jasmine Sturgeon: I wanted to participate because it felt like such an honor to be chosen to perform. I wanted to make a difference no matter how small.

Alliance: What were the highlights of your trip to Sacramento?

Aaron Diaz: The highlight of my Sacramento trip was watching other performances. I got to see new talent and get inspired by the stories they were telling and energy they were sending out to the audience.

I also got to see the Wells Fargo Pavilion theater after my performance. The theater is amazing. I just felt that energy stepping on that stage. I imagined myself in a performance and felt that power and that message that a performer can deliver.

Workshops were helpful too. I learned things that I didn’t know about  theatre in other cultures in the world. I was also able to work with other people that also love theatre. Just going to Sacramento was one of my highlights. I’ve never been to Sacramento and this was a perfect opportunity to see my state’s capitol. It was great meeting one of the legislators and walking around the building that our Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger probably walks through every day.

Alliance: What was it like meeting with legislators?

Afsatu Metzger: I had the great pleasure of meeting with Senator Alex Padilla and explaining the importance of theatre in schools. I also had the chance to tell him how theatre has affected me in a positive way; for example, I have become a more effective communicator through acting.

Alliance: Did you learn anything new from your trip? Was there anything that surprised you?

Afsatu Metzger: I learned that there is an urgent need to get leaders to understand the importance of theatre and the arts in schools. I was surprised that there are those who have considered removing the arts from schools.

Jade Williams: I knew we were there to advocate for the arts, but I learned that we should be advocating all the time. In our communities and everywhere.

Alliance: What would you like to people to know about theatre education in schools? How has it helped you? Why is it important?

Jasmine Sturgeon: I would like to let people know that theater programs are not those stereotyped ones seen in the media. You learn so much from them it’s ridiculous and the amazing part is half the time you don’t even know that you’re learning something. Being a team player as well as being a leader, losing and winning graciously, confidence, [and] how to be someone people want to work with. These are all lessons that are important in life after high school.

Jade Williams: I would like them to know that it helps kids of all ages and it is something that we love doing. It makes me want to go to school. It keeps kids busy and out of trouble. It helped me find friends in high school… if I need anything I always have someone to go to.

Theatre helps so much with public speaking– the actual speaking part and the part about being in front of people. It teaches you to work with others and to be someone that people want to work with. It helps in almost all aspects of life.

Afsatu Metzger: Theatre has taught me to work in groups and realize that it is not always about me but the company as a whole.

Aaron Diaz: Theatre is more than just having a great time backstage or cracking jokes and making everything more memorable for you. It’s about making the moment more memorable for your audience. It’s about that connection that you have with the audience and sending a message to the people […] Whether it is a song, a play or a dance, the goal is to inspire them and make the audience reflect after a performance. It makes a lot of us stronger and more confident after each performance.

You Asked: Advocacy Tips for your District

March 16, 2010

Whether you are just getting started, or have been at it a while, organizing successful advocacy in your district can be tough. Earlier this month we brought together advocates from all over the state for a webinar, Standing Up for Arts Education. Veterans from the field offered tips on the basics, from building a team, crafting effective messages to picking the right targets. Participants asked questions and posited next steps.

This week on our blog, we answer some of the most popular questions, as well as ones that we didn’t have time to address during the event. Sonoma Alliance for Arts Education advocate, Karin Demarest and the Alliance’s policy director, Joe Landon join us with answers.

CA: Let’s start with one of the most challenging issues. When you are working with a team – usually all volunteers– how do you get people to follow through?

KD: It’s tough! In Sonoma, we created a charter for ourselves, so there is a structure that holds our work, rather than one person or project. We have a chair, a vice chair, a secretary and sub committees. And, we have the charter to go back to when we are starting a project or in the middle of one and maybe getting sidetracked.

JL: In our Local Advocacy Network project, we encourage the leadership teams to distribute the work, so that the load is shared and people are playing to their strengths, whether it’s in-person communication skills, setting up meetings, or writing letters. Spreading out the responsibility seems to help.

KD: Another fundamental part of our group is the relationships we have with each other. That’s something I’ve tried to bring to the work. We laugh, we go out for dinner or drinks after our meetings, there’s a social aspect to it. I try to make it fun.

We are artists and arts organizations, but at times it feels like we could be selling plumbing fixtures — it feels like many of the meetings in the arts have no creativity in them. I believe it’s important to bring  creativity to our monthly meetings. At our last meeting, we had a conversation about a piece of art. It was such a success that now we’re planning to have one person bring in a creative exercise or element at every gathering.

CA: With these efforts relying so much on volunteer work, what benefits and attributes can arts organizations offer as a resource to the cause?

KD: Well, the Alliance’s advocacy work aligns really well with the existing missions of many of these organizations. So taking time to come to a meeting and working with community partners is a part of the work they already do.

Beyond that, we’ve tried to really look at how we can support the work of these arts organizations. We want to provide mutual benefit and assistance for all of our partners.

In Sonoma we have partnered with Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Sonoma County Museum, Charles Schulz Museum, Spreckels Performing Arts Center and Chops Teen Club. They’ve helped us in a number of ways. The organizations’ visibility is a huge asset. They are already known in the community, and so they can leverage their visibility to help our work.

So for instance, as we were planning our Get smART event, one of our officers is the director of education at the Shultz museum. She was able to use her relationships with other museums in the area to get them involved for this event.

They’ve also been really generous with their facilities. Most local advocacy efforts are run out of someone’s home, so having access to facilities is a real help.

CA: How can nonprofit arts organizations get involved in advocacy without endangering their 501(c)(3) status with the IRS?

JL: Nonprofit organizations have an essential role to play in the policy process.  Nonprofit organizations include 501(c)(3) organizations (public charities, public foundations, and private foundations), 501(c)(4) organizations (social welfare organizations), 501(c)(5) organizations (labor unions), 501(c)(6) organizations (business leagues), 527 organizations (political organizations), and others.  All nonprofits can engage in advocacy, although the scope and extent of their lobbying activities vary according to the tax-exempt status of the organization.

Advocacy allows organizations to serve their constituencies and promote their causes through educating the public and policymakers, conducting research, litigating, organizing, lobbying, and more.  Lobbying is just one form of advocacy.

The Alliance for Justice is an organization that can help you learn the ropes for lobbying and nonprofit organizations. For more information:

CA: What messages will resonate most in my community?

JL: The messages we’ve found most effective center around Equity, Access, Economic Opportunity and Quality. There are talking points on our website.  But it helps to translate your message to the unique environment in your district. Find out what concerns you share with other community leaders.

Are people concerned about gangs or dropout rates? If so, it might be useful to highlight reports that show how arts programs increase graduation rates and academic performance. If there is community concern about preparing kids for jobs, then presenting findings from research that shows that arts education fosters creativity, collaboration, problem solving and self-direction might be most effective.

CA: Where can people find information about how arts education prepares young people for the workforce?

JL: Pat Wayne, who is heading our countywide Local Advocacy Network project in Orange County, has developed a great presentation that focuses on that. That presentation is available here.

There’s also a report from the Center for Arts and Culture that argues that the ability to thing creatively, communicate effectively and work collaboratively that the arts and humanities develop are essential to prepare students to master fast-paced technological advances, globalization and other major shifts in business.

CA: If you have a question about advocating for arts education in your local school district, email it to or check out our facebook page, where we’ll be answering questions.

Next up: How can I raise the profile of the arts at my school and in my community?

Articulating the Value of Arts Education to Corporate Funders

March 4, 2010

By Jason Pugatch, Associate Director, Young Storytellers Foundation

It’s one of the great anomalies of our society that the arts are both valued and underfunded; both praised and looked upon as a frivolity.  A Harris Poll found that 93% of Americans find arts education to be a vital part of a well-rounded education. A visit to the opera or a museum opening continues to carry social caché.

Yet, when it comes to putting corporate money where the mouth is, many are unwilling to fund something as seemingly nebulous as the arts. One of the reasons for this is that quantifying the arts, and program impact isn’t easily summed up in an end-of-year-spreadsheet. How do you put a number on growth of self-expression, confidence and an increase in creative thinking?

You don’t. And as a non-profit vying for corporate funding in the arts, this can feel like an extreme disadvantage. So, it is our job to become “values” advocates as well as arts educators. One of the best means of pursuing this line of advocacy is through volunteerism, which offers a direct connection between arts education and corporate resources.

At the Young Storytellers Foundation, we’ve taken an immersion approach to funding. Because we’re a volunteer organization, we begin any conversation with potential corporate funders by asking them to get involved with our students in a tangible way – a boots on the ground approach, if you will.  It’s very easy to deny a written program proposal request; it’s difficult to deny the smile on a child’s face when he or she has created something unique—and with their help, no less. “Art,” and the value it holds, becomes less of an amorphous concept, it’s a student with a name and a face; “education” is a specific school in an impoverished urban neighborhood. Turn a corporation’s employees into advocates for your organization, with experiences to match, and funding becomes a lot easier to find.

This is partly good salesmanship: the first step in car buying is always the test drive. It is also a way of insuring the longevity of your funding relationships. In a fickle funding universe, employee involvement can make or break a request for dollars.

Thankfully, the next generation of business men and women seem to be getting the message on the value of creative thought when it comes to succeeding in their own jobs. A recent New York Times article (MultiCultural Critical Theory. At B School? Jan. 9 2010) explored the newest theory being explored by Business Schools: students need to think “creatively every bit as much as they needed to learn finance or accounting.” Storytelling 101 as a Harvard MBA requirement? Might not be as far off as you think.