Maryland Citizens for Arts hosts seminar on the importance of advocacy

By Shruti Bhatt

The Maryland Citizens for Arts (MCA) hosted an Advocacy 101 seminar Nov. 8 to help students and faculty members understand the importance of advocating for the arts.

MCA’s mission is to expand the nonprofit arts sector through public investment and service to improve lifelong learning and quality of life for Maryland citizens. MCA hopes to achieve this mission in two ways: educating state lawmakers about the importance of public funding and by having them support organizational needs.

“We need money to do the work we want to do,” said Kate Spanos, the marketing and communications coordinator for the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies at UMD.

MCA was created 40 years ago, after various organizations in the arts sector came together to create one umbrella organization for everyone in the arts. Prior to MCA’s creation, Maryland only funded the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra $475,000. MCA gets its funding from the Maryland State Art Council (MSAC). Last year, they received $20.4 million and are advocating for $21.1 million for next year.

Spanos said students and the faculty need to see the bigger picture if we want access to more resources in the arts industry.

MCA’s executive director, Nicholas Cohen, said there are three ways to advocate for the arts to lawmakers: meeting in person, writing a personal letter or email, and calling he or she directly or through a staffer.

“Lawmakers will do anything when you say you won’t vote for them,” Cohen said.

Attendees at the event participated in an exercise where they have to deliver an elevator pitch by sharing a story to advocate for an issue they feel strongly about.

“Talking to others about why the arts is important to you helps them understand you and the industry better,” program manager Cristyn Johnson said.

“Storytelling follows the arc of a typical novel,” she said. “The main purpose is to show someone overcoming a struggle.”

Leigh Wilson Smiley, director for the School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies, said no matter what career people pursue, everyone is a storyteller — and advocacy is all about storytelling.

“Just how critical analysis is needed in all fields, knowing how to attract funding is also needed,” she said.

Smiley also teaches and coaches for dialect and voice at the Arena Stage and the Shakespeare Theatre. Smiley said storytelling helps us find our strengths and we must practice it to get better at it. “Being an advocate for this school has taught me to be an advocate for myself as well,” Smiley said.

Students interested in advocating for the arts can join MCA, attend Maryland Arts Day in February in Annapolis or National Arts Advocacy Day in March in Washington D.C.

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