I don't think the term "advocacy" was ever mentioned in my art education classes at Winona State University in the 1970s, but it has been a daily part of my 30+ years of teaching. Being an advocate for the visual arts starts the day you accept your first job and probably even before that—at your first job interview. In many schools and communities, the art teacher is the window to the visual arts, an area in which many people, including principals, superintendents and school board members, feel inadequate if not out-right terrified!
As an art educator, you are exposing students, teachers, principals, community members and community leaders to the rich potential of art making and its value in an educational setting. It may seem obvious to us, but the value of making, of creating, may not be part of the mind-set of the other people in the K-12 academic world. It quickly becomes apparent that the only person on staff who will fight for the presence of the visual arts in your school is...YOU!
To make art visible and accessible to all students becomes your mission. To communicate the value of art education to the greater community becomes your job! To succeed, you must be passionate, aware and understand the need to communicate that passion and awareness in every move you make every day. The way you dress, the way you interact with staff members, the committees you are on, the displays you create, the environment in your classroom—all are communicating the importance of art making and individual creativity to the rest of the school community.
At the beginning of my career, I never imagined that it would be "advocacy" that would become my life's work, but that is what happened. Being in the classroom with a bunch of middle schoolers, that was the easy part! Ok, maybe not easy, but easier. Convincing a principal that we needed more time for art classes and that every student needed art classes, that was the hardest part. Advocating for the place of visual art and design curriculum became a daily endeavor. My university training did not prepare me to take on that challenge, but reading and attending conferences helped. I really have to credit my membership in WAEA and NAEA for giving me the ammunition I needed to fight the fight to keep art and design as well as creative problem solving in the school curriculum.
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