By Amanda Sprague Hanzlik
2020 marks the year where the definition and practice of arts advocacy began to transition and evolve for me – in my heart, mind, and real life. Until recently, the majority of my experiences with advocacy for the arts, and specifically choral music, have been personal, local, and limited to my places of employment and the houses of worship I have attended/worked in over the years. Those efforts have been forged through conversations, relationships, community events, and creating public/community presence for the choirs I direct and engage with. Even with those elements present in my professional life (and although creating community has always been a very natural part of my life’s work), I will admit that the word advocacy has often felt somewhat foreign and mysterious to me. I always felt as if I were somehow not experienced, educated, or important enough to have a voice and speak articulately about advocacy in any real or official way. Honestly, I even avoided those special advocacy sessions at the big conferences in my early years as an educator. In my naïveté, I sincerely thought that people in far away offices at ACDA and NAfME were the ones who held the advocacy cards – I was a worker bee in the trenches, who looked to them for guidance.
What I didn’t yet understand was that advocacy of the arts is a multidimensional process; a multi-layered web of relationships, issues, policy, collaboration, and ultimately, action.
Sometimes, advocate is a verb – sometimes, a noun. Individuals and institutions often need an advocate in a variety of situations; they self-advocate or seek advocacy efforts to be made on their behalf. One of my favorite definitions comes from AgeUk, a charity organization in Leeds, United Kingdom:
The role of an advocate is to offer independent support to those who feel they are not being heard and to ensure they are taken seriously and that their rights are respected.
An advocate does not represent their own views but amplifies that of the person they are supporting. An advocate should also empower the person to advocate for themselves wherever possible. – AgeUK -Leeds
These definitions became extraordinarily relevant in my developing relationship with advocacy – particularly the sentiment of amplification. According to Merriam-Webster, these are the definitions of amplify:
1 : to expand (something, such as a statement) by the use of detail or illustration or by closer analysis
2a: to make larger or greater (as in amount, importance, or intensity) : INCREASE
b: to increase the strength or amount of
especially : to make louder
My favorite? To make louder.
Amplification of our voices, issues, concerns, ideas, and solutions is necessary – and as I discovered, it is a defining element and tool in the development of advocacy efforts.
I currently serve as president for the Connecticut chapter of American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), and in the spring of 2020, I was practicing advocacy by actively searching for and seeking out assistance, resources, and connections for Connecticut choral directors, so that they might be able to feel supported and advocate for themselves and their programs/choirs during the first wave of COVID-19 and remote learning. Then, something happened: a new and urgent need for arts advocacy on a much larger stage presented itself. The State of Connecticut began to explore and create an official Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group – and quite surprisingly, not a single arts organization was offered a seat at the table. I knew that I, and we as an ACDA executive committee, had to step into the arena – and we did (as did many other CT arts organizations). This letter is our public statement and was shared widely via email and social media, and was delivered to the desk of our governor.
The process of this very public statement/engagement with governmental agencies and the amplification of the voices and concerns of my fellow educators was clearly new for me. Although I felt and recognized the weight of that specific responsibility, it was the action that felt like the fulfillment of a calling. This action gave voice to my choral colleagues, and created a way for all of us to be seen, for our needs to be amplified in an arena where impactful state-level policies were being considered and developed. Ultimately, this action also produced closer relationships and an evolution of trust with my local government, state representatives, the members of the CT-ACDA and other arts organizations in the state. It even opened the door for me to engage in a very practical way, by serving on a task force, where I, along with a diverse group of other arts educators, created “K-12 COVID-19 Considerations for Music Education Programs in the State of Connecticut.” This action also opened my eyes to disconnect and need for more purposeful engagement, connection, and intention on the part of the ACDA and other arts organizations in our state – we cannot remain reactive or reserve our presence for times of crisis. Arts organizations, and specifically ACDA chapters, must establish patterns of engagement with our governmental bodies, as a normal and cherished part of our mission and community involvement.
This entire process, the action, the relationships, the negotiating, the collaboration, the WORK – it was and is a calling. All of these elements also produced depths of joy and gratitude, for which I was not prepared and had no way of anticipating. For the first time, I felt that I was stepping beyond the role of traditional advocate into the role of citizen-artist, in a new and unexpected way.
The role and definition of a citizen-artist can be defined as the following:
Individuals who reimagine the traditional notions of art-making, and who contribute to society either through the transformative power of their artistic abilities, or through proactive social engagement with the arts in realms including education, community building, diplomacy and healthcare. – The Aspen Institute Arts Program
I am seeking what it might mean to more fully explore and embrace the roles of advocate and citizen-artist, both in my life as a choral musician and educator, but also – looking ahead – for the transition of my role into past-president of our ACDA chapter. I see this new role as an opportunity to follow this calling and joy of advocacy – to more intentionally seek better ways to forge authentic relationships with other arts organizations and governmental bodies: to evolve and to challenge myself, our chapter and our state to pursue connection, justice, equity, dialogue, meaning, and the creation of policy through the amplification of the voices of individuals, arts communities, and choirs in Connecticut and beyond.
Amanda Sprague Hanzlik is president of the Connecticut chapter of American Choral Directors Association.