To influence and change: Advocacy sounds serious. I did not think that I was able to “advocate” for projects, to influence the cultural field and cultural policy. But after analysing my experience one more time, I realised that there were actually successful cases.
For example, around eight years ago, with a small group of like-minded people, I began to promote “new drama” in Belarus, the phenomenon of contemporary theatre that for a long time was spurned by our critics for its “lack of artistic value”. I wrote articles, organised round tables, readings of plays, lectures. After all, by ignoring these authors, Belarusian theatre was losing a great deal. Several premieres of “new” plays have already been held in state theatres to date. Drama labs are being organised, and the names of authors are now well-known. And I would like to believe that I had something to do with that.
More than a solution to a problem: It is difficult to measure and see a concrete, quick effect of advocacy. These are actions aimed for the long-term. It is not always clear when and how the goal would be achieved. But if it happens, one should be happy: the task has been completed.
Advocacy is not simply the implementation of a project or the solution to a specific problem. Accordingly, the result of advocacy is more global, such as changing public opinion, cultural policy, institutional reform, attracting more attention to a subject.
Planning and techniques: We must not skimp on time on strategic planning: analysing the problem and its causes, environment, determining the “allies” and choosing the means of communication with “opponents”. The key question is “which advocacy technique should be chosen?” If the goal is influencing state institutions, it can by lobbying. If it is influencing society, then it’s working with the media and carrying out campaigns. What matters in advocacy is personal engagement and the ability to engage other people.
Coalition and methods of action: Working in a coalition is one of the riskiest, but at the same time productive forms of advocacy. It is risky in that each has his goals, ambitions and objectives. And you have to come to an agreement. For example, with state institutions, the media, business. On the other hand, a coalition is a very efficient method of work. Joint actions are more difficult to ignore and easier to take note of, both by the state and the public. It is easier to find funding for a project implemented by a coalition. Collaboration allows the use of the financial resources of one another.
Before, I used to have my doubts about the efficiency of coalitions with state institutions. But I am reconsidering my attitude towards them of late.
Overcoming stereotypes: I had a dislike of dealing with state agencies. Probably because there were stereotypes – “we’ll definitely be rejected”, or “the state structure will surely try to impose its vision,” so the fear emerged that the idea may suffer as a result. This is a negative view of partnership that we should get rid of. Everything changes, including state agencies. Together with them, it is also possible to create a high-quality art product.
To do this, you need to talk to state employees. To go to them, explain and meet with them. Perhaps they’re afraid of us as much as we are of them. Therefore, in the course of communication it is important to think about what they’ll get out of it, to understand their interests. For example, to determine what the institution or region will get in specific terms as a result of supporting the project – “increasing the number of tourists”, “a positive image”, etc.
The goals of advocacy: The relevant topic for advocacy currently in Belarus is changing the status of artists and culture professionals. Today, working in the cultural sector, both public and private, is the lowest paying occupation. The work of artists and cultural workers is not considered important or necessary, and some forms of activities, for example, “curatorship”, are actually absent from the official register of professions. In order to change the situation, I plan to work with the media. I would like to prepare a series of publications on the topic of the economic labour of artists, to show the experience of other countries. A great exhibition can be organised on this topic. A public campaign can be organised with performances on the streets of the city, meetings with artists in public places. I hope to find like-minded people and bring this idea to life.