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Taking the lead on ArtsEdNow with Michele Russo


Posted On August 3, 2016

I had an opportunity to speak with Michele Russo, President and CEO of Young Audiences New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. Recently, it came to our attention that YANJEP included information on ArtsEdNow on the back cover of their resource guide. The NJAEP applauds their initiative and wants to share their campaign engagement model with you.

What does ArtsEdNow mean to you?

The great thing is that ArtsEdNow is a rallying cry for everyone who is passionate about arts education. Although many of us come from different points of view on arts education we all are passionately committed to bringing the arts to children in NJ. The strength of ArtsEdNow is that it unites everyone in that message. I think that it has the potential to unite everyone in terms of our messaging. As the staff person for Young Audiences, knowing that we cannot do it all ourselves, but as a field we can do it all. If I look at all of the people who are allies in this, from the teaching artists to the teachers to the principals to our board, they are all coming from a slightly different point of view but they can all have the single vision of arts education being critical to children. It is a way for us to show our strength as a field – it is not about individual organizations – the focus is on us as a field.

As President of YANJ why is this important?

It is important – we are all out there to support our own organizations, we are doing our programming, we are doing our fundraising, we are talking about the work that we do. But everything we do is in the context of the educational landscape of NJ and the field of arts education. Our ability to paint the picture of the context is something that we do and so I think it is import that we are connecting. ArtsEdNow is a way for the field to shine and for everything to be highlighted as whole and not individual entities. ArtsEdNow gives our field a through line.

Why did you decide to include the information in your materials?

We had the space in our resource guide and we wanted it to be seen. We send our resource guide to thousands of school contacts. We also know that so many of our contacts keep their resource guides for a year – they hold on to them. We thought that putting the ArtsEdNow information on the outside cover would be something that people could reconnect with. So if they see it on their kitchen table or see it in the teachers’ lounge and then they get an email there is a cumulative impact when they see the graphic and the messaging. It is a way to make it really visible.

Have you discussed the campaign with your Board or teaching artists?

We have discussed it with our Board. They are very aware of it. We have built advocacy into our strategic plan as part of how we do our work. It has always been there because we are members of ArtPride and sit on the NJAEP Steering Committee but as a Board we now have it in print that this is part of what we do. With the ArtsEdNow campaign we are devoting the September Board meeting to focusing on how a Board can be stronger advocates for arts education. We chose September because that is when the launch is happening. We also wanted to allow enough time to be thoughtful about how to engage our Board – some have children in schools some are retired some are educators– it is a diverse group of people. We wanted to give them enough time to get engaged and decide what are the key things a board can do to support this work.

Young Audiences is taking the lead on campaign engagement, do you see this as your role?

As one of the biggest arts education organizations in NJ we feel that it is incumbent on us to look at how we can provide leadership on advocacy and if there are models. We hope that out of the September board meeting come models and activities on how Boards can be engaged and share that with our colleagues. We may have a bit more capacity than some smaller organizations to focus on this so we want to take advantage of that. We are also part of a national organization – they are very aware of this campaign – and we do see the potential to share out with the network how their board, staff, teaching artists–the whole organization – how do they get involved in advocacy. We have a huge bonus in NJ as we have ArtPride and the Arts Education Partnership – not every YA affiliate has those organizations. There is something in us that makes us feel responsible and want to share our learning with others in the network.

What do you plan to do the week of Sept 12?

We are putting our plans together right now.

We have our Showcases coming up in September and that is an opportunity to see many parents. We are putting together our plans for what we can do there.

More to follow. More to share.

Thank you Michele. Thank you Young Audiences.