Strategies for Advocacy (Ep. 166)

Now that we are a few weeks removed from Youth Art Month, it is the perfect time to reflect on what we do to advocate for our kids and our program. Kristy Lopez and Karen Mannino, co-chairs of YAM for the Art Educators of New Jersey, join Tim to talk about why advocacy is so important, how you promote your program, and why we need to tell our story all year long.  Full episode transcript below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Now, I’ve been wanting for a while to do an episode on advocacy, and while Youth Art Month back in March was probably the best time to do it, it’s tough to put together an interview with people who are completely overwhelmed with everything that’s involved with Youth Art Month, putting on art shows, and just the general chaos and craziness that is the month of March for art teachers. We’re going to kind of take a different approach. We’re going to reflect on what we’ve done over the past couple of months and what we can do going forward, what we can do year-round to advocate for our programs.

Our conversation today is going to be with Kristy Lopez and Karen Mannino. They are the co-chairs of Youth Art Month for the State of New Jersey and they are doing some amazing things with YAM there. Now, some stuff we talk about will be specific to their state, but most of what they say will have some lessons and some ideas that can transfer anywhere and be used where you are, as well.

Now, as you may be able to tell, my voice is failing me a little bit. I’ve been sick for the past few days, so we’re just going to jump right into the interview here. Luckily, we recorded it last week when my voice was still working all right, and Kristy and Karen have a lot of great things to say about Youth Art Month, about building up your program, and about building up your kids, so let’s get it started.

All right, I am joined now by Kristy Lopez and Karen Mannino. How are you both doing today?

Kristy: Hi, Tim. We’re good.

Karen: Very well. We love spring break. Can’t complain.

Kristy: Yes, spring break.

Tim: All right, that’s amazing. It’s way later than my spring break ever is, but that’s okay. I think you guys are in school later than I am. But that’s not important right now. We are here to talk advocacy. You both finished just a crazy month last month as chairs of the, what? New Jersey Art Education … or Youth Art Month for New Jersey. Is that right?

Kristy: Yeah, the Youth Art Month program is sponsored by the Art Educators of New Jersey.

Karen: We run the YAM program.

Tim: Okay, perfect.

Kristy: Yeah, we run the state program.

Tim: Okay, good. Just wanted to make sure we got that correct. I’ll just go ahead and start with, I guess, the big general question. Why do you think, for art teachers, why is advocacy so important?

Kristy: Advocacy is really important because it’s the livelihood of our profession and of our program for Youth Art Month. In March, especially, we’re celebrating youth art. We’ve been planning all year with design contests. Teachers promote their own programs and do things school-wide or district-wide. It’s a great time to just have all the counties participate at the same time, make sure we’re all on the same page, celebrating students and comparing data at the end of it, like how many people attended. It just helps with deadlines, too, to have everything in the same month. But advocacy is what keeps us around in schools, what keeps art in schools.

Karen: Yeah. And a lot of times these shows are featured outside of the school. For state, we go to Trenton and we put our show up at the statehouse and we have our receptions at the statehouse. And then it’s kind of up to the county chair what venue they would like to go to, but they go to galleries. Sometimes, I think our tri-county in the south use Rowan University’s art gallery, so they’re getting college level. And they go to other venues that the schools don’t necessarily work with, but it’s another way to kind of promote the work of the schools in outside venue.

Kristy: And also of the venue. So, in a way, you’re kind of working with the community to promote your program.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I wanted to kind of ask about the promotion thing that you both just mentioned, because when art teachers think about advocacy, it can take a lot of different forms. And so, I guess I want to just ask both of you, what is art advocacy about to you? Is it about promoting your program? Is it about building up your kids, showing off their work, or promoting the arts in general? How do you look at it? Where do you want your advocacy to go?

Kristy: It’s definitely all those things, and each one kind of broken down. So, when we promote the program like with the local organizations, we’re building community relationships, so in a way showing support for their business. They in return show support for our program. There’s a lot of, I guess, local participation there between the art teachers or the county chairs and with us. Then there’s the … We have Arts Ed Now being huge, a big supporter in promoting the arts in schools, so getting those relationships with those organizations to support a common vision is big in advocating for your program.

Karen: I think the Arts Ed Now gives us promotional pamphlets, too, and they kind of … They have an art advocacy venue that they’re going through, as well, so they give us stats and we pass on the stats to parents, teachers, even administrators. So, we’re just looking to showcase what we do, because as art teachers, we know how much work goes into prepping, planning, and putting up shows, and doing all these lesson plans, and people walk by-

Kristy: Coffee.

Karen: They’re like, “Oh, that’s great.” But when you start to put it in gallery spaces, it kind of takes on a different level. Even though it’s still maybe made by a kindergartner and people don’t think of that as high art, well now it’s in a gallery, so it kind of takes on this different level of importance.

Kristy: Yeah, we were getting this New Brunswick art teacher was taking videos of students, explaining why art is so important to them, and you could see how it is building up the kids. It’s promoting that social emotional learning. Seeing their work displayed, like something that was done in their art room and it was messy that day, and now it’s like pristine, matted, on the wall … And you know, even if your artwork didn’t get into any kind of display, just that building up of like, “Well, maybe I’ll try next time,” of that creative imagining and analyzing like, “How can I do better next time?” That’s big, I think, in social emotional learning now.

And also that we were talking earlier about self harm and depression and anxiety are really big now, especially in middle school, some in elementary school, not just the high school teenager thing, it’s like a … And with social media inundating people, students need an outlet for their feelings, and advocating art as one of those avenues to express themselves is huge, huge.

Besides that, I wanted to also mention that our program is advocated through membership primarily, so all our members are the ones that are participating in our program. So there are a lot of art teachers that aren’t members that are missing out on a lot of advocacy that could be promoting their programs and their schools and their districts, and promoting themselves professionally as an art educator. So yeah. Cut me off when you want. I could keep going.

Tim: No, I think this is all good. I think it just kind of shows how wide the audience is for our advocacy. We can talk about that in just a second, but there are just so many benefits to just doing these shows for our kids, for admins, for ourselves even. Like you said, just promoting the program and showing everybody what we do on kind of a regular basis. I think that’s important.

But, as we put all this together, as you’re doing these shows, as you’re sending these invites out, getting all these different people to see what you’re doing, what is your audience for that? Do you want parents to see this mostly? Do you want administrators? Do you want other people outside the school? Or is it another case of all of the above?

Kristy: I would say all of the above. Really, it’s everyone. We want everyone being aware of the program that is being held in their communities, I mean, even nationwide. At least we got interviewed at our conference about … our educator conference, and that was an avenue for us to also promote our Youth Art Month program to people who might not be aware that March is the celebration of Youth Art Month.

County legislators like Shirley Turner of Mercer County have been amazingly supportive in providing students with specially made certificates at our state show. Governor Murphy gave us a proclamation. So, getting legislative people involved shows major support and not just in our professional community but also just our whole community, the statewide community. And then parents and admin are like the immediate audience to our functions. Parents are the ones that are taking the pictures of their kids. They’re the ones making the memories. So the more parents that are involved also, they might be like, “My sister’s kid was in a show. Why doesn’t your art teacher do this?” And then questions start poking like, “Well, maybe yours should get involved,” and then if parents start asking, maybe more teachers should be involved. So, it’s a tribe here. We all have to kind of advocate for each other and push each other.

Karen: When we set up for the show, we put it in the annex of the statehouse. While we’re setting it up, we have people walk out as they’re leaving work for the day, and they just tell us every year, “Oh, we look forward to your show so much. We just love seeing the artwork. It just is so colorful. It brings this life to this otherwise, I guess, dull part of the building.” It’s a wonderful way to kind of make people feel at peace in a way. It’s very fulfilling, I know, for me, because we’re … to be a part of this. And you’re doing it to promote what you love. So often as art educators, that kind of falls by the wayside because you have lesson plans. You have deadlines. You have paperwork. So to kind of get back into that … And why I went into art education because I love art and because I love having kids make art. You kind of see that come full circle because you get a chance to see what other people are doing.

And again, just the support from all the outside vendors, the legislators, we had I think four legislators in total give us certificates throughout New Jersey, which is an increase from last year. So we’re always looking to build. We’re always looking to kind of outreach and get more support.

Kristy: And our audience doesn’t stop at New Jersey. I know we’re going to talk in a second about our 31 Days of YAM. But like social media campaigns, or even just having a presence in social media, like having an account, I think just having teachers display what they do all year long so that we’re not in a silo, that we’re getting exposure for the creativity that kids are producing, and also teachers connecting with other teachers with classroom management, problem solving and lesson planning, organization in classroom. Like, this documentation shows advocacy for your profession, for your students’ work, and for the culture of learning that the arts provide.

Tim: Yeah, that’s … Oh, go ahead, Karen. Sorry.

Karen: Sorry. We do awards through AENJ, too, and we have it on our website. If they’re members, they can be nominated. We actually, this year, got a nomination from a visual art supervisor, who is not a member of AENJ, but she just wanted to give a shout-out to her teachers for what they were doing for Youth Art Month, which I thought was amazing because had the supervisor not reached out to us, we wouldn’t know.

Kristy: We’d be working harder, at least, to find out. We would’ve found out probably weeks later.

Karen: Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, I think that’s just wonderful that now I guess through the whole social media campaign, more people are aware of it. And so, by reaching more people, the word kind of gets out and then people are like, “Well, my art teacher’s doing this,” and “My art teacher’s doing that.” And now we’re hearing about it and we’re promoting it on our page. So again, it just kind of advocates for everybody, and the more the merrier.

Kristy: It shouldn’t be more work either.

Karen: No.

Kristy: It should just be a way that to display what you’re already doing.

Tim: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a good way to say it, too. Now, I want to ask you, we’ll get into the 31 Days of YAM in just a second, but as we’re talking about all of these extra things we do, it just kind of gets me thinking about, you know, we have 11 months in the year that aren’t Youth Art Month, and so the question is what are some of those things that we can do? How do we develop advocacy on a more regular basis? How do we take it beyond just that one show that we do in the spring? What should we be doing throughout the rest of the year? What would you recommend to teachers?

Kristy: We discussed potentially creating a monthly social media campaign, where each month would have a different theme, something that would show cross-curricular lessons or artworks, and multi-media, so that there’s not just 2D artwork, there’s more like maybe a month focusing on 3D artworks. Then the potential of everything from kindergarten to 12th grade being displayed in that theme for that month. So that’s another social media thing that people can do, but besides social media, something that we could do throughout the year is definitely start building committees within our already established structures. So, if there were more committees, there would be more of funneling down of information and just kind of, I guess like a … What are those called when you pass things down the line?

Karen: Delegate?

Kristy: Yeah. Yeah, we’re delegating. So, if we have more committees of people putting together things each month, it would be easier to delegate things throughout the year.

Tim: Yeah.

Karen: So, for Youth Art Month we do a poster contest.

Kristy: In November.

Karen: Yeah. I think they’re usually due … We mention it at conference, so it’s October, and then we collect them, I think December. We pick a couple winners and they’re the ones that go on the billboard, the flags, the invitation. We have t-shirts made. We have a couple of other things.

Kristy: Buttons.

Karen: Buttons, thank you … just to promote the artwork. So that’s kind of going all year. And then I know AENJ sponsors a lot of shows at NJPAC.

Kristy: Throughout the year, yeah.

Karen: Yeah, so they’ll do it seasonally. Sometimes it’s worked from YAM, sometimes it’s not. So, it’s just another way we kind of advocate, and it goes up in Newark. It’s in a very heavily-populated area. It’s very close to New York City. And it’s just a professional space. It’s a popular destination. You say NJPAC, people are like, “Oh, I know where that is.”

Kristy: Yeah, Performing Arts Center.

Karen: Yeah. We do the best … We do a lot in March, and we try and do some other stuff throughout the year, as well. So we’re kind of going to hash out the 12-month program just to kind of see if we can do something to promote all year. Because you’re right. It has to go beyond March.

Kristy: It does. And NJPAC is not really directly associated with Youth Art Month. It’s its own advocacy branch of AENJ, so in a way we’re working with AENJ’s other departments to continue to put youth art on display. So that’s a big outreach program that is available to us.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s really cool, too. I would encourage a lot of teachers and everybody who’s listening to this to kind of look in their own state and just kind of see what is available out there, as well.

But, we’ve talked about making these connections in social media. I did want to ask about the 31 Days of YAM on Twitter. It was really cool to follow all throughout March. I want to ask you where the idea came from, what types of things that you were putting together for that, and I guess what the reaction was to seeing everybody participating with 31 Days of YAM on Twitter.

Kristy: I was speaking with our communications chair last year, and we were talking about how come no one has done this yet? It sounds so easy to just make a calendar and each day post something in March.

Tim: Right.

Kristy: It seems so easy. Why hasn’t it been done yet? So, it was the day … It was February 28th, and she’s like, “So, are you doing it?” I was like, “Oh, that’s tomorrow. Huh. So we should really go through with this, huh?” And she’s like, “Yeah, just do it.” I’m like, “Okay. I’ll just do it then.”

So, March 1st, I’m posting calendars and like, “I guess we’re doing it. Yeah, we’re doing it. This isn’t hard. It’s so easy, right? It’s so easy.” And then I realized you have to post to Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. And then last year, I was posting highlights. I was like taking snapshots of people that had posting, making collages. And then some of those highlights were being featured in articles. And then people were doing it in other states. Someone in Canada, I was like, whoa …

Karen: Yeah, that was crazy.

Kristy: This just was not the reaction I was expecting, but all at the same time, totally the reaction I was hoping for. Like, hoping that this would kind of catch on and it should be easy. It’s just one day for 31 days, right?

Karen: Yeah. And it made me more aware to look for stuff. Like, okay, what’s my theme for today? Okay, the first is windows. Let me see, what’s inspiring about windows? Is it a piece that I made? Or maybe I’m looking at something and it’s generating an idea for me to make a piece, or take a picture, or just to do something art related.

Kristy: Yeah. I that, in a way, it’s kind of like a mindful thing where you’re setting an intention through your day, like, okay, today’s sunset. Do I need to go see if I can take a picture today, or do I have to look for something that’s already been taken?

Karen: And I know for me, when I had sub plans for NAEA, I said, “Oh, well, it’s Youth Art Month, I’m going to leave my kids the calendar, and I’m going to have them pick,” and they chose a prompt, and they did a little thing for it. And then I put them all together with the calendar.

Kristy: So cute.

Karen: It kind of gives them the freedom, okay, you can pick whichever one you want, which appeals to you. And then they’re creating. They’re doing something related to art, and you can put it on a big scale. You can put it on social media. And we love getting stuff with us tagged in it.

Kristy: Yeah.

Karen: Like, when we’d open up our YAM Instagram, and we’d have like five to 10 tags every day, and it’s like, “So-and-so tagged you in this.” And then we’d see other things, and the hashtag would come up where even if we weren’t tagged, we could see things that were happening because of the 31 Days of YAM. And it’s just so wonderful because you don’t know these things exist until people start to come together and put them out there.

Kristy: So, one thing, at first, it was kind of daunting, because this year I couldn’t do the highlights. There was too much going on, but we got better with Instagram stories. And really, the hard work isn’t really us. It’s really what everyone else is doing. So, once everyone has already participated in this trend, then the hard work is over, really, because the product is there. It’s just a matter of going to look at it.

Karen: And the wonderful thing is we can repost some of their stories to our Instagram, so if people were friends with them, or if they didn’t follow their account, and they follow us, they see what they’re doing. And now maybe they follow that person. Maybe they get inspired.

And we also were very lucky because we got reposted, I don’t know what the Instagram term is, but I know CFAE would repost a lot of our stuff. I know that Arts Ed Now would repost a lot of our stuff. There was another program..

Kristy: And there were some copycats. There was a couple copy-cats started their own calendars, and I was like, okay, cool. That’s a good thing. Love it. Because that means that more people are following in this celebration of youth art, because it’s not about the tag, it’s really about the kids.

Tim: Yeah, exactly. Cool. I think that is a really good place for us to wrap it up. Kristy, Karen, thank you both for joining me today and sharing some of your experience and some of your expertise.

Kristy: Thanks, Tim. This was so fun.

Karen: Yes. Thank you so much.

Kristy: Thanks for giving us another outlet to advocate.

Karen: Yes.

Tim: Perfect.

Karen: We love art in New Jersey.

Kristy: Yes. All right. Thanks, Art.

Tim: Awesome. Thank you so much to Karen and to Kristy for coming on and sharing everything that they’re doing.

As they said, I think the lessons that they’ve learned coordinating Youth Art Month apply to just about anywhere, and to just about anyone. For me, the biggest takeaway is that, like they said, we need to not be in a silo. We need to show off what we are doing all year long. Document everything that you’re doing in your classroom, and show off what you’re doing best. That is a great form of advocacy because it helps us show what’s happening in our profession. It helps us build up and show off our students. And it demonstrates the type of learning, even the culture of learning, that’s happening right now in classrooms everywhere. That is something we need to share.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University, with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. As I told you a couple weeks ago, keep an eye out for the Art Ed Now Conference. We have a featured presenter who I am really, really excited about. You will be, as well. I can’t make the official announcement here, but if you were to visit the website, maybe say, Thursday, you might learn something then. But, in the meantime, go take a look at See what we have coming. Register for the conference, and make sure you get a swag box. You won’t regret it.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.