Funding, Advocacy, and Community Arts Panel - Reflections from the National Guild For Community Arts Education Conference

Photographed from left to right: Erika Hawthorne, Sarah Lyding, Tarik Ward, Rep. Lavon Bracy Davis, Michelle Hoffmann. Photo credit: Dr. Ceylon Mitchell II, M3 | Mitchell Media & Marketing, LLC 


As artists and arts administrators, we are driven by purpose and passion for the work we do on behalf of the communities we serve and belong to. Advocacy is a natural extension of our commitment to our organizations’ missions, values, and communities and it takes on various forms. Sometimes it includes contacting representatives, engaging in advocacy events, and directly collaborating with lobbyists to drive legislative change. Often, we advocate through grant applications and by building relationships with funders to support our community arts initiatives. Other times, it involves working within our organizations to establish fair policies, compensation, and authentic community engagement practices. 

When we perceive advocacy and policy change as daunting, inaccessible concepts, it's important to remember that advocacy is inherent to our roles, and policies are simply the formal language that guide how organizations or government entities operate, and policies can be changed. Understanding political landscapes and navigating specific systems enhances our ability to advocate effectively. This includes strategizing for financial resources, partnerships, or formal policies in alignment with the dynamics of the spaces we engage with.

At the National Guild for Community Arts Education Conference, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sarah Lyding, Executive Director of the The Music Man Foundation, Tarik Ward, Director of U.S. Programs & Global Strategic Operations for The ELMA Philanthropies Services, Representative Lavon Bracy Davis, Florida State Representative, and Michelle Hoffmann, Director of Arts Education at the National Endowment for the Arts

We explored successes, challenges, and opportunities at the nexus of funding, advocacy, and community arts. The conversation underscored the significance of collaboration, equity, and strategic investment in propelling advocacy and community arts initiatives forward. Our dialogue served as a reminder of the intricacies involved in advocating for funding across different spheres—private philanthropy, local government, and federal government—each requiring a tailored approach. 


Below are a few offerings from the panelists and highlights of wisdom gathered from the audience via an interactive activity.  

Advocacy Tips:

  • Build Relationships: Build relationships with funders and advocate for the funding opportunities you require to advance your organization’s mission. 

  • Educate Yourself: Understand decision makers' priorities and find common ground. Also, learn about their decision-making processes and timelines to align your efforts. 

  • Nonprofit Advocacy: Nonprofits can engage in advocacy efforts around issues but should avoid political candidate endorsements.

  • Funder Support: Private philanthropy can support advocacy efforts such as educational and community engagement initiatives, and advocacy training.  Private philanthropy cannot support any lobbying activities.

  • Engage with Your Service Organizations: Collaborate with national arts service organizations to amplify and address your needs and access resources available through your regional and local arts agencies.  

  • Serve on Grant Review Panels: Gain insight into the grant review process and advocate for improvements.

  • Seek Aligned Funding Opportunities: Seek funding opportunities that align with your goals rather than altering your projects to fit available grants.




In an interactive activity, audience members highlighted the following funding needs as crucial for advancing their arts advocacy efforts:


Funding Needs to Advance Advocacy Efforts:  

  • General Operating Support: Vital for sustaining day-to-day operations.

  • Funding for Full-Time Salaries: Including investment in full-time teaching artists.

  • Investment in Benefits: Funding for health insurance for teaching artists and other freelance performing arts educators. 

  • Multi-Year Funding: Providing stability and continuity.

  • Advocacy Funding: Compensating staff engaged in direct lobbying efforts and supporting coalition building.

  • Professional Development Funding: Enabling staff (including teaching artists, even if they are contractors) to travel for workshops, conferences, and capacity-building programs to enhance organizational effectiveness and foster collaboration.

  • Continuing Education Funding: Tuition assistance programs to encourage staff to further their education and training, benefiting the organization and the sector at large. 

  • Operational and Technology Assistance: Covering software licensing, website development, resource hubs, customer relationship management systems, and sales platforms. 

  • Communications Support: Resources for Authentic Storytelling and Effective Communication Strategies.

  • Evaluation and Research Funding: Essential for measuring outcomes and informing decisions.

  • Infrastructure Support: For technology and physical spaces.

  • Support for Network and Coalition Building: Facilitating connections and building cohorts for peer learning and resource sharing. 

  • Program Development Support: Including curriculum development and program equipment upgrades.

  • Networking Support: Enabling staff to engage with peers, funders, and national conferences.

  • Funding to Create Local and Regional Advocacy Toolkits: Fostering collaboration and networking within the community arts sector. 

  • Support for Board Training: Build board skills and capacity, especially related to  diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

  • Youth Engagement: More resources for paid youth boards or youth councils in order to support more opportunities for youth leadership. 

  • Art Materials: enable investment in quality art materials for all programming. 

  • BIPOC Restoration & Recovery Funds: Enable Black, Indigenous, and People of Color staff, artist, teaching artist, and educators to rest and work towards healing from the impacts of institutional and systemic inequity. 

  • Space to Dream, Strategize, and Combat Burnout: As one audience member stated, “so much of the time we operate in a space of scarcity/urgency that doesn’t allow organizations time to take time to sit back, truly reflect, digest our successes and failures and adjust accordingly. I've been so so grateful to work in programs where a research/feedback process centering community stakeholders is funded (with stipends for participants, budget for food/gatherings, etc) and it’s transformative! more of that!” 


Check out this padlet to view the full audience feedback directly and additional resources from the panelists!  


Cutting across these specific and immediate needs is an overall need for funders to more effectively center the needs of the communities they serve and adopt more equitable practices. As our panelists highlighted, many funders are embracing practices like: 

  • streamlined grant applications
  • reduced reporting requirements
  • greater flexibility in cost categorization allowing staff time to fall under direct costs rather than overhead
  • more investment in capacity building and general operating support 
  • community-driven grant programs and review panels 


To truly create the change we hope to see, collaborative efforts between community arts organizations and funders are essential to advance equity in the arts sector and dismantle structural barriers. Funders – working to prioritize authentic, reciprocal relationships is vital to ensure funding decision-making processes are collaborative, transparent, and rooted in shared values of equity. Additionally, invest in and build partnerships with BIPOC-led organizations and community stakeholders to advance racial equity in the arts. Community arts leaders – continue to advocate for what you need and build coalitions with one another to expand your reach and amplify your voice. Lean on your national service organizations, like the National Guild for Community Arts Education, to amplify your needs and support your advocacy goals. 

At the Arts Administrators of Color Network, we are leading a groundbreaking national study aimed at identifying the advocacy priorities of artists and arts administrators of the Global Majority. To receive updates and #MakeYourVoiceHeard when our survey launches this summer, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.


In community, 

Erika Hawthorne

Director of Advancement 

Arts Administrators of Color Network


Photographed from left to right: Quanice FLoyd, Erika Hawthorne, Sarah Lyding, Tarik Ward, Rep. Lavon Bracy Davis, Michelle Hoffmann. Photo credit: Dr. Ceylon Mitchell II, M3 | Mitchell Media & Marketing, LLC 


Stay in touch with the panelists: 

Published: May 13, 2024