If you want your pet arts legislation to pass - or any other legislation, for that matter - the time to lobby is now, not in January, said state Rep. Olene Walker.
Speaking at the Utah Arts Council's annual conference, held at the University Park Hotel last week, Walker outlined a few simple but basic steps that will help you to be a good advocate and a good lobbyist.Walker stressed that now is not the time to let up on the struggle for more money to support arts programs in the schools. "The arts interest that is growing so fast across the country, and here in Utah, did not spring fullblown from nowhere. It is sparked by what is happening in the schools - the programs children see and the participation they have," she stressed.
"But when we are shuffling through appropriation lists, trying to find areas to cut, the arts offer a tempting target. The ballet and symphony programs, the special education programs, social services, all may seem like frills to some legislators."
She mentioned two volunteer lobbyists who are especially effective - Elizabeth Montague who interests herself in the Utah Heritage Foundation and the funding of libraries, and Carmen Pingree, who seeks funding for autistic children's programs.
These and other successful lobbyists, Walker said, work according to the following do's and don'ts:
- Know your facts; be able to command statistics at your fingertips, that may arrest your legislator's attention.
- Get to know your legislator, and lobby in May, June, July and August, when he or she has time to read letters, listen to pleas and form opinions.
- If you must write letters, make them short and sweet. "Letters get snowed under in stacks, especially those long involved ones that you put aside to read later," said Walker.
- Be willing to work on the long-range, rather than insisting on putting things through right now. Keep a positive attitude, and work within the system, don't try flashy end-plays. Be low-key in your approach.
- Coalitions of interests are critical to success. You should be willing to fit the arts into the overall picture of education, and be on the lookout for those of like interests and aims who can team with you to make a difference.
- Think through your projects, and decide what is important and what is peripheral. Understand your own values.
- Be aware of deadlines, and work well ahead of them. It's much easier to make an impression before decisions are made, rather than coming in and screaming after the die has been cast.