5 Steps to Create an Art Event for Advocacy and Literacy Instruction

I was recently asked to share an activity for fellow literacy instructors to use creative endeavors as a vehicle for advocacy.  The examples come from my experience creating the SlamIt! spoken word community at Oberlin College.  The arts advocacy event process can be described in five steps:

STEP ONE: RECRUIT A COMMUNITY

The first rule of the arts is support, support, support.  Creative endeavors succeed in a setting where people develop enough trust to share & reflect on each other’s work.  Start by scheduling & marketing a specific workshop around an arts topic (comics, music, poetry, dance) and make sure the facilitator is skilled at maintaining positive sharing & discussion.  Make it clear that participants will be given the option to publicly share their work at the end.

Example: Oberlin College students signed up for a one month Winter Term project to write and practice spoken word poetry culminating in a poetry slam.

STEP TWO: SHARE THE CLASSICS

Each workshop should offer at least one example of excellent, classic work on the topic.  Guide a discussion to appreciate the work and understand what about the piece creates its importance or impact.  Develop questions in advance that spark discussion on relevant academic topics, like economics, history, grammar, or visual literacy.

Example: During Winter Term, participants interacted with spoken word online in writing & videos, learned about the history of slam poetry including lauded places & poets, plus took a field trip to a poetry reading in Shaker Heights.

“Classics” just means something that gives you goosebumps, like this Nuyorican performance at the 2011 National Poetry Slam:

STEP THREE: CREATE & SHARE

Depending on the size & lifestyle of your audience, workshop time can be used to create art.  However, make sure there is sufficient time to share from contributors.  Facilitators need to develop and enforce ground rules for feedback based on the group (are they looking for therapy or performance?).  Expect and prepare to encounter deep and surprising emotions and memories through this process.

Example: Each workshops session, each participant shared one original poem and others gave constructive feedback to improve the content or delivery for performance.

STEP FOUR: RAISE AWARENESS OR FUNDS

The workshop can either annually host an event, or just culminate in a single event targeting a specific issue or community, like fathers involvement in education (issue) or supporters of your organization (community). Performance/exhibition should be optional and performers given adequate notice & support. For fundraisers, either give them the option of being included as part of a larger event, or allow participants complete freedom to select the recipient organization–otherwise their performance may seem coerced.

Example: The first SlamIt! poetry slam raised $230 for Lorain County Rape Crisis Center from attendees. Two other student organizations hosted poetry slams that semester to raise funds.

STEP FIVE: DEBRIEF & CELEBRATE

Performance or exhibition can be emotionally exhausting.  Make sure participants have the time & space to reflect on and process the event.

How can you incorporate arts communities to raise funds or awareness in your life or work?


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