The Americans for the Arts Convention last month featured a dazzling variety of arts and civic organizations from across the county with innovative ideas, new research results and more.

We had a record (we think) number of attendees from Oklahoma with eight arts leaders traveling to Nashville. Besides being a blast, having such a big cohort of Oklahomans filled me with hope, knowing we have so many arts leaders striving to improve our communities.

Perhaps because I’m new in my position, I have taken longer than normal to reflect on the experience. What I keep coming back to from my information-packed time there seems like the straightforward heart of arts advocacy. Narrowing in on the crux of advocacy came up in the State Art Action Network session, an awesome gathering of active arts advocacy groups from across the country. In this session, among other things, I learned that to be sustainable in advocacy, we need to create a culture of ownership for all involved with arts and culture.

In essence, those who are beneficiaries must become stakeholders and must be stakeholders to become advocates for lasting positive advocacy.

This concept really struck a chord with me since it summarizes an agenda far beyond our individual personalities and organizations. With advocacy, we should have collaborative agency for and agreement on the goals we’re pursuing.

Who are the beneficiaries of the arts in Oklahoma?

When talking about arts and culture, we tend to emphasize artists  and nonprofit organizations or educational institutions themselves, made up of paid staff members and volunteer leaders, but the extent of individuals benefiting from the arts is so much greater.

Further beneficiaries include those directly served by the programs—be they students, attendees, or other participants. According to accumulated data, these numbers are huge.

Beyond those direct touches, there are indirect beneficiaries who may receive secondary or the byproducts of community improvements and activities. These could be people like the neighboring business owners who benefit when an arts festival takes place or the students of an educator who has been trained through an arts program.

The vast majority of Oklahomans benefit from the arts directly or indirectly.

How do beneficiaries become stakeholders?

While beneficiaries are mostly receiving, be it experiences or education, stakeholders are active as creators, decision makers or engaged audiences. Staffers naturally become stakeholders because it’s their job to steward some arts-related mission. Artists decide about their own creating and sharing, so presumably are stakeholders as well.

For those directly served by the arts, possibly beneficiaries become stakeholders as they see results, become active participants (see this great Irvine Foundation study about the importance of active arts participation) and/or volunteer and become agents of the arts.

Less engaged beneficiaries may not consider themselves effected or develop a sincere commitment to the arts or arts organization without a lot of guidance or a broader shift in general public valuation of arts and culture. With encouragement they could further understand the value of arts in their lives and community.

How do stakeholders become advocates?

Advocacy is defined as generating public support for a cause or position. At what point do arts stakeholders decide it’s in their interest to seek public support? That’s what we need to understand more as we grow our strategy and involvement to improve our state with arts and culture.

Likely there are many sources to explore this in more depth (please give me links and ideas if you have them!). I imagine this idea also holds true in many types of community change and civic engagement, not just in the arts.

Certainly as we grow public support for the arts, we need additional beneficiaries and stakeholders to become vocal and strategic advocates!