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Introduction to Case-making and Systems Change in Arts & Cultural Education

Laurie Schell • AdvocacyMarch 2022 • March 18, 2022

I am a lifetime advocate for music and arts education. In more recent years – especially since 2020 – as the whole world shifted, I witnessed the arts serving as a vehicle for society to grapple with these changes. So, my perspective has grown. I am an advocate for arts and cultural education and its powerful impacts on the development of young people, and I see how it can be the means for us to grow and positively change towards a more just future.

Introducing a Collaborative Project

In 2021, Creative Generation and ElevateArtsEd began a collaborative effort to better understand how practitioners – such as educators, artists, and community leaders – can make the case for and also advocate through arts and culture to drive systemic change and address complex global challenges. The project goal was to expand the knowledge base of case-making and systems change in the field of arts and cultural education and provide resources to support effective actions for these practitioners (and young creatives, too!). What has resulted is a suite of essays investigating the theory and practice of case-making and systems change for and through arts and cultural education.

The work is grounded in research from three distinct sectors: cultural, education, and social justice. The selected studies represent both the science of advocacy– building blocks for understanding what effective advocacy looks like– and the art of advocacy with calls for improvisation, adaptability, and generative thinking, all characteristics of art making.

Expanding on a New Model

The suite of articles is grouped within three categories, as identified in Jeff M. Poulin’s essay “Embedding Advocacy Into Your Practice” published by the Teaching Artists Guild:

advocacy for self

advocacy for the field

advocacy for the sector

Overarching is the concept of ‘advocacy for justice,’ recognizing that advancing social justice is embedded in all efforts within the self, field, sector, or broader community. As Poulin states:

“We cannot realize the work, field, or sector we envision without a justice orientation. If our Black, Indigenous, and peers of color are not treated equitably, if our communities on the margins are not supported, and if young people are not centered in the work, the field… cannot be fully realized” (Poulin, 2021).

Advocacy for Self is relevant for the music education community with articles on individual responsibility and the need to experience the work from multiple perspectives.

Advocacy for the Field explores structural elements of advocacy efforts and the importance of strategic communications within the larger landscape (e.g., educators, teaching artists, administrators, coalitions).

Advocacy for the Sector explores systems change through arts education and stakeholder participation and engagement strategies.

Making the Case for Justice looks at pathways to consider in the work to realize principles of social justice in the arts.

Key Learning Themes

The articles are based on one or more key learning themes gleaned from a review of the extant literature on advocacy, case-making, and systems change in the arts, health, housing, social justice, environment, and economic sectors. Each are based around the necessary action of a practitioner within their own context:

See the larger system and work within a local context

Balance organizational structure and flexibility

Link communications strategies to goals

Build adaptive processes that encourage engagement

Understand the dynamics of systems change

Acknowledge progress at all levels

These actions can be individually practiced and improved, and when taken together drive the systemic change we want to see. 

Case-making and systems change are multifaceted. As with the artistic process, so, too, the process of advocacy engagement is as important as the final product of outcomes. This suite of articles will demonstrate the dynamic and iterative nature of advocacy work. There is no one right answer; there is only one right answer for right now. There is no immediate solution; the process is a long game, often taking years to reach a conclusion.

This article is derived from a post originally published by Creative Generation and ElevateArtsEd in February 2022, which can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/creativegen.

Laurie Schell is a lifelong advocate for music and arts education. She is founding principal of Laurie Schell Associates | ElevateArtsEd, providing consulting services and issue expertise in coalition building, public policy and advocacy, strategic planning, and program development with a focus on arts education. 

Reference:

Poulin, Jeff. “Embedding advocacy into your practice.” Teaching Artist Guild. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021. https://teachingartists.com/quarterly_magazine/embedding-advocacy-into-your-practice/

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