Museum Education Impacts: Advocacy 101 Journal of Museum Education

Journal of Museum Education

A Virtual Special Issue of the Journal of Museum Education
Guest editors: Brooke DiGiovanni Evans and Meg Winikates

Scroll down to start exploring this free issue of JME.

Readers of, and writers for, the Journal of Museum Education come from all over the world. In some countries, the case for state support for museums and related organizations is understood. In others, it requires repeated efforts, clear arguments, and stories that stand out from the crowds of other advocates and their causes. In the United States, where national politics especially seems ever more divisive, museums have the advantage of being a topic on which nearly everyone agrees, regardless of party lines. Culture, heritage, and education are topics everyone says they support, whether or not they’re willing to fund them.

Museum professionals are comparatively new to the world of advocacy, and many avoid it for fear of running afoul of the rules governing lobbyists or from concern that they might threaten their organizations’ non-profit status. Fortunately, the majority of what you are likely to want to do: presenting your case with supporting evidence about a cause you care about, is considered advocacy. Only saying “and therefore we want you to vote this way” is lobbying, and saying it about a few bills in the course of a meeting or two over a year is not going to run afoul of the limits on lobbying placed on non-profits. The shorthand rule is that causes are safe, people are not. As long as you do not campaign for (or against) a particular candidate using your organization’s resources, your non-profit status is safe. Even once committed to doing advocacy, it can be daunting to think about where to start and how to make your case. This collection of articles from recent issues of the Journal of Museum Education is designed to help.  

Advocacy is a form of education, ergo educators are natural advocates. The parts of our job that involve public speaking, customer service, judging an audience and adapting on the fly, and finding elements of common ground and connection are all key skills in advocacy, political or otherwise.  Like most audiences, our legislators enjoy hearing compelling facts and memorable stories, especially about their own constituents.   

As with any program plan, grant request, or board meeting, we recommend preparation before visiting your local or national legislators. What are you and your colleagues doing that your elected officials ought to know? What are their favorite causes or issues, and what are they working on that relates to your museum?  What facts and stories are relevant to these discussions?  You can choose from these articles, selected for their demonstrated relevance to legislators and other public officials, as a starting point, and highlight the examples and talking points that will best support your case. Or use these case studies as inspiration to generate stories from your own institutions and experience!

Here are a few other helpful reminders for your visit with your elected officials:

  • Only plan to meet with the legislators that represent your state, city or town. You are their constituents and they will listen to you. 
  • When doing your preparation, check out your officials’ websites and Facebook pages to see what they are currently interested in.
  • Follow them on social media so that you can tag them with a public “thanks for meeting with us!” and a photo from your visit right after. Send them a written thank you note within a few days.
  • Bring business cards, and any of your museum’s literature that might support your case.
  • Congressional staff are as knowledgeable (or more so!) than the legislators themselves, so talking to staff is always important, not a brush-off.
  • If they ask for further information, make sure you follow through on anything you promise to send them (and remind them of your conversation when you do).
  • Invite them to your institution, either for a special event or just for an everyday visit.  

Not only are you going to be better at this than you think, you don’t need to advocate alone. You can bring a buddy from your institution or from your cultural sector or join an advocacy group like American Alliance of Museums or Americans for the Arts. Most importantly, convey the passion and importance behind the work that you do. These are all the ingredients to being a good advocate on both a local and national level.

Read and download these articles for free via this page until 31 March 2019.