Engaging MP's with the arts

VASW hosted a consultation on 16th October 2015 with Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw to ask him for guidance on how the visual arts community can engage with MP’s and communicate with them.

He was given a list of questions and his responses to those questions have been collated, divided into categories after the meeting to capture the key points arising. Also downloadable as a PDF here.

*WHAT DO WE WANT TO CONVEY TO MP’s?

These are 5 key points we want them to leave with:

  1. We need central government grant-in-aid arts funding to stay at the current level.
  2. The combination of DCLG and DCMS cuts is having a crunch effect, particularly outside London.
  3. The arts, unlike some other areas of government spending, are both vital for economic growth and have substantial social benefits.
  4. We are already a very lean sector and further cuts will inhibit growth, particularly in the creative industries.
  5. With the Spending Round fast approaching, can you help us maker the case to the Treasury? 

*WHAT MIGHT THEIR KEY CONCERNS BE?

There are 2 key concerns that every MP will want answered:

Q: Does this matter to any other constituents / voters?
A: Yes. The publicly funded arts are behind every great British TV programme, book, festival and film. And on a local level we are working with schools, hospitals and community groups [use your own examples] to make their constituency great.

Q: National and local budgets are tight. Why should you be protected and not the army/NHS/schools?

A: It is not an either/or. The arts are central to public life and drive growth, innovation and regeneration. The amount spent nationally on the arts is already small; investment in the sector will boost the economy as well as national wellbeing. We work alongside many public services – for example, with the NHS on mental health, or in poorly performing schools – to drive efficiency and enhance outcomes.

KNOW YOUR POLITICS

  • Labour currently doesn’t have an arts and culture policy – they are still working on basis of their election manifesto. Keep an eye out for developments on this. Offer to help to inform their policy.
  • Conservatives appear less interested in culture and social inclusion – emphasise their value in economic terms if that is what they listen to.
  • Read up about your local MP (and their interests)
  • Keep up to speed with your local authority Chief Officer
  • Keep ACE engaged with what you are doing- MP’s can apply pressure on ACE and get involved/intervene on our behalf
  • Keep pressure on about the imbalance of geographic spread of funding

MAKE IT LOCAL

  • Know you local community and the issues facing it – discuss
  • Make yourself known in local business networks- example: Exeter Cultural Partnership has achieved buy-in from local businesses
  • Make sure they know what is happening in their constituency in the arts – invite them along
  •  Flag up social value – tell them stories about things you’ve done and the impact they had locally

BUT KNOW THE WIDER PICTURE TOO

  • Keep pressure on about imbalance of geographic spread of funding
  • Keep up to speed with national policies – know where local fits into the national picture
  • Academic networks can help to underpin value and provide useful evidence as leverage

MAKE IT PERSONAL

  • Tailor your argument: Every MP is individual–they will campaign for a wide variety of issues and respond to different arguments in different ways.
  • If they have spoken in Parliament or in the papers about healthcare, mention any work you might be doing alongside the local health service.
  • If they campaign on education issues, make sure you mention the work you might be doing with teachers and students.
  • Ask them what they enjoy - find out what they care about. E.g. Apparently George Osborne goes to the theatre…
  • INVITE KEY PEOPLE TO COME TO YOUR EVENTS – have a hit list mailing list. Keep the pressure on. Keep it friendly. Be irresistible.
  • Don’t complain or whinge, instead provide ideas, give recommendations, and ask for a specific action. Be passionate.

KEEP IT RELEVANT

  • Focus your remarks on what’s happening in the constituency
  • Use practical, every day examples of what’s going on in the community and how the arts links to it

MAKE AN ECONOMIC CASE

  • Making the economic case is absolutely vital – be armed with the stats
  • Give local examples of success stories – e.g. Banksy Dismaland created a £20m income for Weston Super Mare
  • Provide stats about for every pound invested in art brings £x return 
  •  Use numbers: As far as possible, back up your arguments with numbers, evidence and data.
  • Use infographics that highlights the economic impact on the constituency – be visual, it’s the visual arts
  •  Work as a collective – feed into select committee, engage with regional issues

STATE THE IMPACT YOU/YOUR ORG HAS ON COMMUNITY

  •  Tell them about your impact on your community
  •  Give examples of work you do with young people / the community / the jobs that you provide or your relationship with local businesses or universities 
  • Use infographic that shows the social impact of your organisation and share it at the meeting
  • Tell them the importance of culture in the local community and what will be lost with further cuts to arts and local government budgets 

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCES – AND USE THEM

  • Work with local press and media, make sure what you do is profiled
  • Raise awareness not only TO your audience, but THROUGH them too – encourage them to bring a friend along, or an influential business-person, or councillor
  • Involve audiences in advocacy - Ask them to write to their MP and telling them how important the arts (and your organisation) are to them.
  • Create a campaign – make sure people know what you do – get attention
  • Advocacy – check MP schedules for visits to your area - try and get dates in diary to visit your organisation
  • Plan in advnace – MP’s have visits booked months in advance

The information has been collated and presented by Carolyn Black, on behalf of VASW.

Visit VASW website here

Read more and download the pdf here