At the Arts and Education Council, we rely on generous contributions from private donors – individuals, foundations and corporations. But we also recognize the importance of a vibrant arts community that is supported by public funding and appreciated by its citizens. A vibrant creative economy is a key component to revitalizing the state’s economy. For more than 35 years, Missourians have traveled to Jefferson City as part of Citizens Day for the Arts to encourage arts support. This year to keep our community safe, arts advocates are taking their messages to legislators through virtual meetings, coordinated conference calls, and organized print and social media campaigns

To celebrate Missouri Arts Advocacy Week, we sat down with Jessie Youngblood to learn more about arts advocacy. In addition to being the Arts and Education Council’s Director of Development, she is also a board member of Missouri Citizens for the Arts.

For those that aren’t familiar with arts advocacy, what is it?

Advocacy is simply when you, a citizen, contact your elected officials to encourage them to support specific policy or legislation. When you contact your legislators to encourage them to support the arts in their district, you are an arts advocate! I think too often policy and government budgets feel abstract for people – like they can’t really do much to affect change other than vote during elections. Of course, you should vote! But once someone is voted into office, they become YOUR representative, and they only know what their constituents need if we’re communicating to them regularly. We have to stay in touch if we want to affect change. It's especially effective when large numbers of constituents collectively support a cause.

What inspired you to get involved in arts advocacy?

For as long as I can remember I’ve been frustrated by how little funding is available to support the arts, even though data shows the arts benefit our communities in countless ways. The arts improve test scores in students, inspire creativity and innovation in employees, improve healthcare outcomes, increase property values in communities with cultural institutions…the list really does go on and on. Our community is a much better place when there is arts funding. That’s why I’m proud of the work we do at the Arts and Education Council to keep the arts accessible.

But a specific moment of inspiration happened when I was in high school and we did not have an orchestra (a bummer for me, a violinist!), and I didn’t understand why. I asked various teachers and principals and they all said it came down to funding. So I asked who was in charge of funding. I was told the superintendent. Well as it turned out, I was on the same soccer team with the superintendent’s daughter and I knew he was always easy to talk to. One day I saw him walking down the school halls after a meeting and I stopped him to say what a shame it was we didn’t have an orchestra. He listened patiently and eagerly. He said he appreciated me talking to him. I kept talking to him about it every time I saw him after that. And, whether or not it was a direct result of my pestering, soon after we got the approval to put together a rag-tag team of string players. Our first orchestra! It was one of my proudest accomplishments – and an early lesson in the power of advocacy. About five years ago I joined the board of Missouri Citizens for the Arts to continue that same mission of arts advocacy on a larger scale.

How can people get involved?

The nice thing about advocacy is it’s usually quite easy to get involved. Missouri Citizens for the Arts provides everything you need! You can find which legislators you need to talk to in your district, what art programs have been supported thanks to previous arts funding, information that will help you have a conversation and even training workshops so you can contact your legislators with confidence.

February 1-5, 2021 is Missouri Arts Advocacy week – I encourage you to reach out to your legislators and let them know you value the arts in your community!

Visit Missouri Citizens for the Arts here to learn more about Arts Advocacy Week and to lend your support. To learn more about the benefits of the arts in our community, check out the Americans for the Arts, Arts + Social Impact Explorer.