Candidate Surveys Make the Arts Matter in Elections

The Challenge: How does a well-known arts council reinvigorate its arts education messaging?

The Strategy: Seize moments of momentum like a statewide Candidate Survey Project in a big election year.

The Story: The Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County has a long history of support for arts education, beginning in 1980 when it launched the nationally recognized SPECTRA program (Special Teaching Resources in the Arts) in response to Proposition 13.

Today, according to a recent white paper by the Council, the community has “the local expertise and skills needed to make a major impact in this field, numerous case studies to draw upon, a supportive community of parents, teachers, school administrators and arts organizations and hundreds of teachers, artists, and administrators who have received quality professional development in arts education.” Yet, like so many communities, its arts education offerings are also dependent on the ebb and flow of financial resources.

 “Arts education in Santa Cruz faces two familiar obstacles: lack of time, and lack of funds. General education teachers are already overtaxed as they necessarily focus on scores and “teaching to the test,” the white paper explains.  

So how and why would new arts education advocacy efforts succeed now?

“I feel like we’re beginning to see a shift occur. This is a special moment in time, where there is an opportunity to reintroduce the necessity for arts as part of a holistic education for every child.,” says Sarah Brothers, the Arts Education Manager for the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County, “People are now recognizing the limits of focusing on standardized tests and are beginning to value the arts again. Common Core offers an opportunity to re-introduce the arts into learning. The pendulum seems to be swinging back this way.”

The Council very recently completed its 2013-2015 strategic plan, which reaffirms the organization’s commitment to arts education. Midstream in the planning process, the Council was invited to join the California Alliance’s Local Advocacy Network, which helps build capacity for arts education efforts in communities around the state. By joining the Network, the Council has access to communication support, technical assistance, and advocacy tools like the Candidate Survey Project developed by the Alliance.

The Council jumped in with both feet – sending a letter from its Executive Director and Board President to candidates in thirteen local races, including not only local school boards elections, but also races for county supervisors and city council members.

 “The surveys signal our commitment to the arts and provide an easy, concrete way for members of our community to get involved. By reading the results they can identify which candidates will be strong leaders in advocating for arts education,” says Megan Searcy, the Marketing & Program Coordinator for the Cultural Council who managed the surveys for Santa Cruz County.

Candidate surveys provide a time-based, newsworthy way to raise awareness about the benefits of and issues facing the delivery of arts education in public schools among both candidates and voters. It offers a welcome opportunity to deepen public understanding outside the constraints of a crisis. Email us to find out how your community can get involved in the next election.