Making an Arts Advocacy Video in Santa Cruz County

Why the Arts?

When the idea of creating an arts advocacy video was broached, I convened a team of teacher-leaders in the county and discussed what the message of the video would be.   Wanting to address multiple audiences such as school boards, school administrations and community members, we concluded that a clear message backed by research and yet accessible was needed.

At that and subsequent meetings, we agreed that the most powerful messengers were going to be the students themselves.  We created a ‘map’ of arts programs in the county that represented different districts, grade levels and the four arts disciplines.  I had a particularly strong ally in the coordinator of one of our most arts-deprived districts and together we looked at some research-based statements about the importance of the arts being taught in schools.  The title and theme of the video emerged: “Why The Arts?”

We designed a list of student-friendly questions based on these research points and I sent it to key teachers in those schools that we had identified.  I asked the teachers to choose one or two articulate students who could formulate their own response to the questions and be prepared to go on camera to answer with their response.

Meanwhile, I approached the director of our Regional Occupational Program based at the COE to see if he could help us with the filming and editing. I was put in touch with an ROP media arts teacher at one of our high schools who introduced me to Amanda, a student who felt strongly that arts should be offered in school. The three of us met and talked through some ideas about the concept, final product, logistics and a time-line for filming and editing.  We worked a couple of months ahead to make sure I could get all the logistics in place and also allow a month for editing.  As it turned out, editing took longer, but we were still able to meet our deadline of early June.

Amanda took her film crew (which included her supervising teacher) into 7 schools over a two day period, and filmed both the designated ‘interviews’ and spontaneous moments in the classrooms.

In the subsequent editing process, we ordered the footage around the original questions (which we ultimately put on slides to break up the footage).  Where we did not have an appropriate illustration of a particular research point, I went through footage and stills that I had taken throughout the year.  There was quite a library of photo and video to draw from.

Amanda also expressly wanted an example of dance to round out the four arts disciplines.  Although there is a great lack of dance programs in the county, there is one superlative dance program and (literally) at the eleventh hour the student director of that program did a wonderful interview for us with the aid of her ROP teacher.

The most difficult piece for Amanda was wading through 3 hours of footage and distilling it into 5 minutes which would truly deliver the desired message. The most challenging piece for me was identifying every student in the final cut and securing a release form from their parents/guardians.  There were a few hair-raising moments, but any artistic project will carry an element (or three) of surprise and everyone pulled together to make this work within the time-frame.

In the end we see video footage from 8 schools throughout the county and still photos from many more.  A huge challenge was showing a true reflection of the diversity of our students throughout the county.

The students were very excited about an opportunity to talk about how important arts education is to them and show what they can do, given the opportunity.   One of the high school students in the video won first prize in the 2012 Congressional Art Competition, another choreographed the dance piece which is inset into her interview and the video is introduced by the editor who is going to college to study media arts and intends to make film her career.

In conclusion, though the project took most of the year and a great deal of planning and coordination, I feel it represents instances of the sterling arts programs that do exist in Santa Cruz County as well as the most powerful message we can send out – “our students value the arts”.  They understand completely the need for arts education and they are hungry for it, especially in those schools where there are little or no arts.  Why The Arts? – watch the video and you will see and hear the answers from this generation of students!

To view the video, go to:

Here’s the link for the video:

(Mary Mc Laughlin, arts coordinator, Santa Cruz County Office of Education)

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