Thursday, May 19, 2016

Harlem Children’s Theatre Festival

Harlem Children’s Theatre Festival
By Robin Cannon Colwell

I love creating new shows for families that challenge young people, provoke dialogue, and inspire possibility. For me, that is what the Harlem Children's Theatre Festival is all about.

My journey with TYA in the Ed Theatre graduate program at CCNY began two years ago when Sobha invited me to direct a piece I co-wrote in her Theatre for Young Audiences course. I was honored that our play, Yuki and the Elephant was chosen to premiere at the graduate program's Family Arts Day that year. It was a rewarding experience working on such a creative piece of theatre with talented members of my Ed Theatre cohort. The piece Yuki and the Elephant was a huge success, and went on to tour in two area schools that fall!

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2014 Family Arts Day performance of Yuki and the Elephant

Fast forward two years (and a lot of lesson plans and teacher certification exams later)...
I knew my time as a graduate student would soon be coming to an end and I wanted to make the most of it. Our program stresses the importance of staying close to your artistry, and for me that is producing and directing exciting Theatre For Young Audiences. Family Arts Day was now called the Harlem Children's Theatre Festival, and consisted of 3 staged theatrical productions. What a great opportunity for grad students to practice the skills we learn in class!

I was given the chance to work alongside Sobha as Artistic Director of the theatre festival's 3 shows. It was such a fun process! For TOMMY CAN'T STOP: THE MUSICAL, we had the unique opportunity to cast a student from PS161 as well as two students from Repertory High School (both of which have strong partnerships with CCNY's Ed Theatre Program). For the adaptation of OUT OF THE MIND, it was important to us that we find a wheelchair user for the play, and we were lucky enough to find a young talented actor named Tom Ellenson to play the part. For GOODNIGHT BALLOON, the process of developing a piece of Theatre for the Very Young was lovely to watch unfold. The actors in that piece struck a beautiful balance of play, visuals, and structure that captivated young audience members.

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PS 161 student Herbert Espinol in rehearsal for TOMMY CAN'T STOP: THE MUSICAL!

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Gianna Cioffi, Tom Ellenson, Jan Valle, and Bridid Warnke  in rehearsal for OUT OF MY MIND.

Melissa Volpe, Naomi Avadanei, and Angelique Castro in rehearsal for Goodnight Balloon.

I especially enjoyed directing TOMMY CAN'T STOP: THE MUSICAL. It was a pleasure to work with current grad students as well as an alum of our program. Maggie Lalley and Amanda Grundy wrote a fun script and melodies for the piece,  and we worked with a fantastic production team to create the world of Tommy. The performance was a hit, and I was proud of our actors for doing such a wonderful job sharing this story with our audience at the festival.
TOMMY show pic.jpg
Performance of Tommy Can’t Stop at HCTF. Pictured are students Mariah Morales and Herbert Espinol
and grad students Jim Kroener and Erica Hill.

Because of my experiences with TYA in the Ed Theatre Program at CCNY, I have discovered a love for creating shows for young audiences. Sobha's expertise and guidance in developing a festival for new TYA work has inspired me to take my own career in TYA to the next level. After 3 years in the grad program, I am inspired to continue creating innovative new theatre for families. I'm looking forward to the next adventure!

Robin Cannon Colwell is a 3rd year candidate in the Graduate Program in Educational Theatre at The City College of New York. She has been a Teaching Artist for over 12 years and currently teaches for Arts For All and PlayOn! Studios in NYC. As Director of Education for Infinity Theatre Company, she has produced TYA works such as THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES, PINOCCHIO, TALL TALES OF ENOCH, STORIES LIVE AND IN PERSON, JACK VS RAPUNZEL THE MUSICAL, and ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE’S “WE ARE IN PLAY”.  

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Student Teaching Blog

Student Teaching Blog
Jeff Seabaugh 

When I first began my journey in the CCNY Educational Theatre Department I remember hearing other students further along in the process talking about their student teaching experiences.  I hung on their every word and relished hearing about the highs and lows of teaching.  I entered this program at a pivotal time in my life.  I was beginning a new chapter as theatre artist, a father, and an educator.   I often wondered if I really had it in me to make this transition and to see this dream come true.  The past two and a half years have raced by and I can’t believe that my dream of actually teaching real live students has become a reality.
Student teaching is an amazing experience and it calls on me to seize every moment of every day.  In a concentrated amount of time I have been immersed in the nitty gritty, day-to-day world of teaching.  Student teaching is the ultimate immersive theatre experience and I accept my role as teacher proudly.   Over the past two and a half years I have rehearsed being a classroom teacher in front of my colleagues and professors.  I’ve written lesson plans.  I’ve read about Piaget, Gardner, and Greene.  I’ve learned about creating an inclusive classroom.  I’ve taught residencies in schools to prepare me for the role of classroom teacher.  I’ve written more lesson plans.  I’ve revised lesson plans.  I’ve observed and reflected more than I thought humanly possible.  All of these tasks and lessons have been in preparation for the day when I would step through a classroom door and begin this new life as a teacher.  As a student teacher the crystal ball starts to become clearer. The teacher I want to be is coming into focus.  I had always assumed I would only want to teach high school students and if it wasn’t for my exposure to middle school students and elementary students during my student teaching experience I wouldn’t have had my mind opened to new possibilities. 

I am currently doing both my student teaching placements simultaneously and have the unique opportunity to be experiencing life in both public and private schools.   I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to peek inside two very different schools as I prepare to hit the job market and search for a school that is a great fit for me and the talents I can bring to my drama students. 
I am currently working with middle and high school students in suburban Dobbs Ferry, New York and I’m working at the lower school of the Riverdale Country Day School in the Bronx.  I spend the mornings at one school and the afternoons at the other.  I use the twenty minute commute time between schools to decompress, switch hats, and yes, reflect.   Over the past two months I have seen with my own eyes the magic of what we learn at CCNY come true.  I know now that 5th graders can devise original theatre pieces based on their social studies curriculum.  I’ve seen 2nd graders learn how to improv and use physicality to create characters. 

I’ve learned that high school students can participate in really thought provoking conversations when they put down their phones.  I have developed compassion for middle school students who are full of attitude and angst as they are just beginning to figure out who they are.  I have seen how valuable teacher collaboration across disciplines can be.  I’ve also seen how the community that a school can create is important to the happiness of teachers and students.  I’ve learned that being nimble and flexible with a schedule can help keep me sane.  I’ve learned that a smile can help a bad day get better.  In short, I am using EVERYTHING I ever learned over these last two years.  I have lost count of how many times I’ve gone back over my notes, searched for lesson plans I wrote two years ago, looked for a handout I received in a class, or consulted my book of curriculum maps!

In one month I will end my student teaching experience and I am eager to see what new door will open for me.  My best advice for my colleagues who have yet to begin student teaching is don’t throw away anything and always be a source of positive energy even if you are surrounded by negativity.  You’d be surprised how far that will take you.  Immerse yourself in the experience and remain open to possibilities it will offer.     

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The last 5 years….

The last 5 years….
Lisanne Shaffer

When I think back to my earliest moments in the program at City College, one class sticks out so vividly in my mind. I remember being in Drama in Education one night when Sobha invited alumni guests into the classroom to answer questions and give advice.  I had only one question, which I abruptly blurted out.  “Has your life changed since graduating from this program?”  As I asked this question I remember feeling such anxiety, it was like a pit in my stomach.  I had joined the program at a time in my life when I felt so discontented with my own choices and desperately needed some sort of a game changer.  I knew I loved theater, but I wasn’t happy auditioning and doing regional theater and tours anymore.  I actually hated it.  What the heck was I going to do?  I decided to get my graduate degree in an effort to become a theater teacher one particularly difficult and disheartening night.  It all began so quickly, one minute I was contemplating this step in my life and the next I was sitting in Sobha’s class terrified to write a paper!  

So on alumni night, I sat wide- eyed and anxiety ridden as the alumni panel answered my question.  I remember one of them saying she opened her own theater company and another loved his job as a high school theater teacher and yet another was freelancing as a teaching artist and loving life.  In that moment I actually remember thinking, “I could probably never do that”.  Jeez, if future me could have had a talk with that girl who obviously didn’t know how to believe in herself!  If I could have told myself even one of the many amazing things that has happened since becoming a part of this program and after graduation, I might have passed out right there in the NAC building.  Getting my graduate degree from City College of New York in Educational Theater is the absolute best thing I have ever done to date.

Since graduating from the program, I got hired as a theater teacher at Brooklyn High School of the Arts.  It was a tumultuous entry into the NYC DOE to say the least.  I was hired two months into my student teaching and if the paperwork alone and pressure to pass the EDTPA wasn’t enough to make me want to quit, the way I was treated at first should have completely killed me!  I didn’t realize at that point however that Sobha and Jenn had literally armed me with an arsenal of tools labeled pedagogy, artistry and advocacy because there were so many other obstacles to get around. 

A lot of my students hated me when I first started.  Like, hated me and told me to my face on numerous occasions.  This is fairly common (hindsight being 20/20) when a teacher starts mid-year.  The students did not have a teacher at all until I arrived in late October.  (a sub just sat in the classroom with them) So, they used their theater class period as a goof off zone and a chance to gossip with friends.  Then in walks Ms. Shaffer, little miss Educational Theater asking for a circle and writing the words “Ensemble Building” on the board.  I am sure you can only imagine what the teenage reaction to that was.  I really don’t know how I got through those first few weeks, but something inside me kept me strong.  I like to think there is some sort of secret voodoo magic that Jenn and Sobha do to us over time that allows us to hear their voices in our head telling us to keep at it and that everything will be all right.  Because as it turns out, I did keep at it and everything is all right.  Everything is more than all right! The students started to gel with me after a couple of excruciating months.  I stayed very steadfast to everything I learned in the program and by the time June came and it was time to say goodbye we had built a very tight ensemble.  I was proud but also tired and broken. 

I thought about quitting or transferring incessantly over the summer before my second year.  But, I didn’t and I am so glad I walked back into the school for my second year.  The kids were happy to see me, fellow teachers were happy to see me and I felt like I could do this!  It was very helpful to start on day one and establish norms and rituals and also comforting to see familiar student faces that didn’t hate me anymore and were starting to respect me as a teacher.  If you are a first year teacher reading this, it does get better believe it or not! I really started to love theater again this year (my second year) and love teaching it!  I got into a total groove in the start of the school year and realized that my pedagogy was really good. I can plan a boss lesson because I truly know my subject. (thank you CCNY program in Educational Theater)  However, the pillars of artistry and advocacy were slipping into the abyss a little.  

 So, I did something that no one thought could be done because my artistic heart wanted to do it.  I decided to direct “A Raisin in the Sun” in all of its 3-hour glory!  I am a teacher but just like we learned in Artistic Lab, I knew I needed to feed my artistry of acting and directing so I did despite the warnings from others that high school students can’t handle this play and that it may be too much of an undertaking for my first production. I have always loved this play and have always wanted to direct it! I armed myself with the artistry tools that CCNY taught me never to let go of and decided to give it a shot!  It was challenging at first but I got to be more of an artist than a teacher in those after school rehearsals.  We worked on objective, tactics and motivation and the kids really took to this amazing story and the artistry of putting on a play. We worked like a professional ensemble and my artistic heart loved being a part of the magic of putting together a theater piece again.  We pulled it together just in time to be adjudicated for the Shubert High School Theater Festival.  I was hesitant to enter with my first production as a high school theater teacher but I knew we had done good work. We got in!  It was the proudest moment of my life!  My students got to perform on Broadway in the festival alongside some of the top arts schools in NYC!  I cried, my students cried, my AP cried, it was beautiful! The festival was amazing and I knew then just how connected my
teaching and artistry had become.

 Advocacy started to come very naturally as I grew into my position this year.  I fight for every arts program I can get my hands on!  I have successfully been able to save the TDF open doors program at my school, implement a new Improv Troupe with the support of UCB, gain technical theater support from parents and organize a field trip to Broadway that includes 350 students! Though I find it incomprehensible that I still have to fight for arts programs and field trips I try to remember that the field of Educational Theater is still growing and maturing.  I feel lucky to be a part of the struggle and the education of my colleagues as they see the theater program in the school growing strong. 

It has been 5 years since I asked that question in Drama in Education class.  Looking back, I was looking for an answer that the alumni could not give me.  I really wanted to know how my life would change.  We never know how things are going to pan out when we choose to take a small step or giant leap in a different direction.  I am so glad that I took a step in the right direction by getting my Masters in Educational Theater at CCNY.  So now it is my turn to be an inspirational alumnus of the program. For those of you who may be wondering the same thing I questioned 5 years ago I will say this…I do not know how your life is going to change by completing this program but I do know that it will change.  My life is completely different now.  I see Broadway shows all the time through DOE teacher nights and field trips with my students (something that fulfills me as an artist and is also educational for my students), I go to bed at 8:30pm every night, I come home happy and fulfilled most of the time, I have 200 theater kids who call me Mama Shaffer, I get a paycheck every two weeks, my directorial debut in high school theater went to Broadway for one magnificent and magical night and my heart is finally full.  Teaching is what was missing from my life and I am so glad I took the time to get the priceless training I needed at City College of New York.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Volunteering at TIOS 2016

 Volunteering at TIOS 2016  Anna Robinson
  I had a wonderful time attending this year's TIOS conference and am so glad I took the opportunity to go as an intern. 
 Having never attended a conference before I was a little nervous leading up to TIOS, I was unsure what would take place in the sessions and am always a little concerned about my networking skills. However attending as an intern I was allowed to engage in the sessions as a participant as well as having some jobs to perform throughout the day. Interacting with new people became easier as well because as a volunteer I could check in with session leaders to make sure they had what they needed as well as collaborate with fellow participants. Overall volunteering alleviated much of my pre-conference anxiety by giving me specific tasks while still allowing me the freedom to explore the conference and I got to attend for free! I would highly recommend interning to any first time conference goers. 
Having now experienced TIOS from the intern side of things I am now looking forward to attending again as a paid participant. Beginning with checking people in in the morning and throughout the whole day I was struck by the friendliness of everyone I met and everyone's excitement and willingness to share their work. There was no sense of competition nor was anyone keeping their methods to themselves. In one session “Songologues” led by a fellow CCNY student Naomi Avadani  we were even handed a full unit of lesson plans so we could easily facilitate the work she had shared with us in her session in our own classrooms. In the other two breakout sessions I was able to attend breakout facilitators worked hard to make sure everyone understood the strategies that were being discussed and we shared our ideas on how to use those strategies in our own work.
As an intern I never felt that my ideas or contributions were unwelcome or considered less than, instead I felt constant support and interest from everyone I met.

From talking to other participants during lunch, facilitators during clean ups, and other interns during coffee runs I learned the many different organizations, programs and career paths that exist within our field. 

Everyone I spoke to seemed enthusiastic about what they were doing and hopeful for the future of theatre in schools.  I left feeling even more excited to get out there and hopefully begin work with some of these people and proud to be part of a community that takes so seriously not only the work they do but they effect their work will have on future generations.
While listening to Elisa DeGregorio's key note speech  I was struck by the idea of using theater and other arts to introduce students to and encourage active engagement with current events and issues.
Using theater as a tool for social change is not a new idea but what Elisa DeGregorio really opened my eyes to is how using theater and activism together with young people can allow for choice in the curriculum and foster powerful sense of agency in their lives.
DeGregorio discussed her work at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School and how her students created theater inspired by the theme of climate change. Many of her students were inspired by the work they created and chose to also participate in the Peoples Climate March thus taking their activism out of the classroom and to another level.
In my own work this semester doing a devising residency with middle schoolers I am working hard to allow room for the students to have choice in what we create. Students chose their own topics to create short theater pieces about what was affecting them currently. We went smaller and instead of focusing on global issues students are creating pieces about peer pressure, bullying and academic pressures. Although the issues are closer to home allowing the students to create based on their interests and explore what is troubling them through art feels close to DeGregorio's work. I have been contemplating and searching for a good final activity or reflection piece to wrap up the residency after the students share their work.  When DeGregorio spoke about beginning her work with students using the image of a spiral and having students write and draw ideas on directly on the printed image beginning in the center with the issue they are concerned about and spiraling out to see who else is effected by that issue. After creating spirals of our own in break-out groups I was inspired to include the spiral as a closing reflection for my Devising Residency. I believe that by having students create spirals based on their own work they will gain a greater idea of how large their topics can be and how they can affect change in those issues through theater.

Two interns after a long fun day!

Anna Robinson & Amanda Mendez

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lion King by Ryan Scoble

Lion King
Ryan Scoble

When you walk into a class and the instructor says that you and 18 other graduate students are going to direct and choreograph a production of The Lion King, Jr., it seems like a rather impossible task. Yet, in Fundamentals of Teaching Theatre that is actually the goal. Our class has spent the past eight weeks working diligently with the students at PS 161 to put on this production.

                We began the process by working together in class at City College. We had six weeks to do all the necessary prep-work before we went into the school for auditions. The time we spent in the classroom was extremely valuable. We learned how to properly structure and scaffold our lesson plans, work on character development and ensemble building with the students, and set up and run an effective audition process.
 It was an exciting day when we moved from classwork into auditions with the students of PS 161! All the graduate students were a bit nervous and unsure of what to expect. However, the students were absolutely wonderful!  We spent the next seven weeks blocking and choreographing the show. Each graduate student was given a scene or song to direct and forty-five minutes to accomplish this task. After the work we did in class and watching the other graduate students facilitate their lessons, I felt extremely prepared to direct my scene. My forty-five minute session came the day before Thanksgiving break, so the students of PS 161 were a bit rowdy and unfocused. However, thanks to a well-structured lesson plan, I was able to get them to focus, and we quickly made our way through the scene. I was so proud of how well they listened and how much we got accomplished in our short time together.
                Once all the graduate students were done directing their scenes, we moved into tech week. Through our partnership with the Fundamentals of Technical Theatre class, we all were assigned to different stage crews. It was a great experience to get a hands-on approach to all of the different elements of technical theatre. For instance, I worked on props, make-up, and wrangling the Hyenas backstage.

                When you have a show where every scene is directed by a different graduate student, you would think the show might be a bit disjointed. However, through the hard work of every member involved, the show came together beautifully! The students sang confidently, danced well, and were fully committed to their characters and telling the story. I was so proud of all of the students who performed, as well as all of the work my fellow graduate students. My biggest shout out though has to go to our wonderful instructor, Jennifer Katona. She managed a near-impossible task with such patience and expertise. With her guidance and the hard work of all of the Educational Theatre graduate students, the Lion King, Jr. was an incredible experience I will never forget!

Monday, November 2, 2015

First Hand Fieldwork, Being a Teaching Artist and a Parent

First Hand Fieldwork, Being a Teaching Artist and a Parent
Amanda Grundy

If you’d have told me 20 years ago when I was an undergraduate student getting my BFA in Musical Theatre, that one day I’d be a teaching artist, I never would have believed you.  First of all, I had not heard of a job called a “teaching artist” and secondly, although I’ve always loved working with children, I saw myself strictly as a performer.  But 20 years ago if you had told me I’d be married and raising two going on three children in while living and working as an artist in New York City, I would have been thrilled.  Although, I never could have imagined what that would have looked like and what challenges that would bring, thankfully, that is what I’m currently doing. 

At present, I am a teaching artist for Disney Theatrical Group, Covenant House Crossing Bridges Project, Trinity Baptist Church, and my husband and I have started our own company to promote creativity in adults and children called Eli Draws.  I am slowly and persistently pursuing my Masters Degree in Educational Theatre at CCNY.  My husband is a working actor.  He and I are raising two amazing children, Eli, aged 7 and Ava, age 2 and we are expecting our 3rd child in February.  Although not easy, I love what I do and I have found that being a teaching artist/ Ed Theatre graduate student and being a parent can actually go hand in hand. 

 As a teaching artist and graduate student I am always learning about theatre for young audiences I can take my children to see.  I have taken Eli, 7 years old, to many performances at The New Victory Theatre and now I have started taking Ava to performances for theatre for the very young.  Eli and Ava also both have come to see Disney Kids productions I have helped to direct as a teaching artist with Disney Musicals in Schools. 

Eli goes to Broadway shows on a regular basis and gets the full effect of the magic by often having backstage tour with friends we once worked with in our professional theatre jobs. 

I love that I get to enjoy these shows with my kids from the   point of view of a teaching artist and a parent. I am watchinghow my own children react to the shows and pre-show workshops which gives me true feedback from their experience.  I get to ask them questions I want to know as a teaching artist and a parent, which helps me to further develop my skills as an arts educator and as a mom.  

Being a teaching artist also helps me to be a more informed parent with my children’s education.  Because I work at many schools as a guest, I know how to quickly assess the culture of that school.  This proved to be incredibly helpful when we were looking for elementary schools for our son to attend.  As we toured many public charter schools and zoned elementary schools prior to my son’s kindergarten enrollment, I was able to know which school we felt was the best fit for Eli.  After a few months on the waiting list Eli got in to a wonderful charter school which is perfect for his giant imagination and learning style.

Because Eli is in such a great school, I also get to learn from his teachers.  At Eli’s school as a parent you are allowed to stay for the first 45 minutes of the school day which they call morning meeting.  Every morning of Eli’s kindergarten year, I stayed for that 45 minutes not only to help Eli adjust to his new school, but also to learn from his amazing teachers!  I noticed their classroom management strategies, the scaffolding of their morning meeting and how it would fit into the rest of their instruction for the day, and their joy in teaching.  I would then take these techniques and fold them into my own teaching whenever possible.  

As many benefits as there are to being a teaching artist, graduate student, and a parent, of course there are also challenges.  Truthfully, I have written many papers and lesson plans while my children watch Thomas the Tank Engine and Dora the Explorer episodes.  Artist careers are not the most lucrative careers.  It can be difficult and expensive to figure out childcare with a freelance teaching schedule and evening and weekend show schedule. 

Despite these challenges, I will continue on my teaching artist career path.  The lesson my husband and I want to teach our children is that there are creative ways to manage challenges and it is worth it to manage these challenges.  Working in the arts has an important, lasting impact on people.  Our hope is that our children see that we both get to do what we love to do and one day they will follow that example. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Arts Education Advocacy: A Blog Based on the Arts in an Urban Setting Course

Arts Education AdvocacyA Blog Based on the Arts in an Urban Setting Course
Jenni Mabrie

In the midst of a very exciting time in the world of arts education, there is a great calling for advocacy. Only three weeks into classes for the Arts in an Urban Setting course and I am already gaining a wealth of knowledge in regards to the history of education as well as its current standing. I have discovered that while we do have active powerful figures that support our cause, there is still a long way to go in terms of getting our point across. As arts educators, we have all been exposed to the tremendous benefits that an arts education brings to its students, but surprisingly there are some who are not aware of how imperative it really is.

After reading Jennifer Katona’s blog for Americans for the Arts, about the meaning of the proposed reauthorization of the ESEA and the effect that it will have on theatre education, I quickly realized that advocacy is calling. It is very exciting that the new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act includes the arts as a core academic subject, but there are a House and Senate version of the bill. Our goal as arts education advocates is to ensure that the Senate version of the bill is agreed upon, which is the version that implements language that supports open accountability, (which could include the arts).

On Tuesday, September 29th, our class had the pleasure of attending a presentation lead by Jeff Poulin from Americans for the Arts. This presentation consisted of information directly connected to advocacy for arts in education. He spoke about what advocacy is and its different forms. He then spoke about making a case, crafting the message, and getting started. I found that one very powerful form of advocacy is social media. What a great way to start building awareness! Americans for the Arts also has E-books available online for more information regarding advocacy.

Jennifer Katona has set an excellent example of advocacy as she has spoken in class about her journey at Public School 161. When she first approached the Principal at Public School 161 about bringing theatre to the school with the team of the Fundamentals of Teaching Theatre course, they were not jumping at the idea. The school believed that it was simply not a place where theatre belonged. Jennifer and her different teams of  graduate candidates have now successfully produced a number of musicals with the students at Public School. 161. This year, the school has  50 students auditioning for our Fall production of “The Lion King Jr.” It is incredible to see that this program has come so far within a short span of time.

It is our duty as passionate arts educators to do our best to ensure that every student in America has the opportunity to have a sustained arts education. President Obama says, “The future belongs to young people with and education and the imagination to create.” Lets ensure that we support this essential growth of creativity in our youth, and we can do this informing our cause!

It’s not a question of “should we advocate?”
But rather,
“can we afford not to?”
 -Americans for the Arts