How the Qualities that Make a Good Actor Also Make an Effective Arts Advocate

Jan 17, 2011

Think you are too busy to be involved in arts advocacy...or that your organization is too small...or perhaps you are just not sure where to start.

Read on, and feel empowered by one among us who is making it happen.

Interview with Arts Advocate Seema Sueko of Mo`olelo Performing Arts

Seema Sueko is the Co-Founder and Executive Artistic Director of
Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company based in San Diego, California. Sueko is a leader in the San Diego cultural community and is active with the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition. She has been engaged in a range of advocacy activities including speaking recently on public radio to discuss potential arts and culture budget cuts, commenting in the blogosphere and online media about advocacy issues, testifying before City Council, and meeting with candidates for elected office. 

Click here for more information about Seema Sueko.    


  1. 1. As the only full-time employee of Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company, how do you make time for advocacy?

I actually think I need to do a much better job than I'm currently doing on advocacy!

Mo`olelo has a terrific Board of Trustees and Advisory Board who are engaged and committed. They will write letters, make calls, and make appearances when needed.

I also think that advocacy work isn't and shouldn't be separate from the creative work we do at our arts organizations. That if we truly believe that theater and the arts are solutions to community problems, then we need to be involved in all the conversations of our communities. So when I'm directing a play, it's just as critical for me to collaborate with the designers and actors as it is for me to collaborate with the community voices that are directly impacted by the themes in the play.


  1. 2. How do you integrate arts advocacy into the communications, performances, and events of your organization?

We include important advocacy action items and links in our E-Newsletter, Blog and my personal Facebook profile. When appropriate, we try to find audience and community members who can speak with their elected officials about the impact arts have made on their lives.



  1. 3. How did you become involved in arts advocacy? What were some of your first “acts” as an arts advocate?

I started attending the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition meetings when Mo`olelo was in its second year of operations. I think my first "act" as an arts advocate was to listen to those around me and try to learn and understand the lay of the land…I've still got a lot to learn!


  1. 4. How did you become involved on a deeper level as a leader and sometimes spokesperson among San Diego arts advocates?

Our local media covered a proposal made by a San Diego Councilmember to drastically cut arts and culture funding. Since the media had made this their headline, the arts community needed to respond. I drafted the response and got input from my arts and culture colleagues who helped to edit and strengthen the statement. Then we posted it. I definitely wasn't seeking to be a leader in these efforts, but once you stick your neck out, people seem to think you're leading. The truth is that we, arts and culture organizations large and small in San Diego, collaborate extensively on advocacy and public funding issues. We recognize that we are effective when we speak in one voice and leverage the breadth and diversity of our arts community and the people we serve.      


  1. 5. Aside from preservation of funding and the like, how have you or your organization benefited by your involvement in arts advocacy?

As a result of these efforts, Mo`olelo has made community connections across the city and county of San Diego, which has boosted our visibility and engaged new audiences.


  1. 6. What advice do you have for people about becoming involved in arts advocacy?

I hope more artists get involved in arts advocacy and don't see it as just an add-on, but rather as integral to their creative process. I think we're strongest when we collaborate with arts and culture organizations across the spectrum, of all budget levels, disciplines, and missions and also when we collaborate with organizations and businesses outside of our sector.  


  1. 7. What do you see as the core essential skills for arts advocates?

The same skills that make for a good actor: listen, be in relationship, don't make it about you, make it about the other person.


  1. 8. Do you have any particular philosophy or guiding principles in terms of your involvement in arts advocacy?

Collaborate and be strategic.


  1. 9. Do you have any favorite blogs or websites or other resources that you turn to related to arts advocacy?

Mo`olelo is a member of Theatre Communications Group, TCG, so I receive the weekly briefings from TCG's Executive Director, Teresa Eyring. I always get a lot from reading that.


  1. 10. Is there anything else that you would like to share?

I was introduced to the concept of "Solving for Pattern" by Mike Lawler, writer of the ecoTheater Blog when he wrote this post about Mo`olelo:

Since then, I've been continuing to approach all that we do at Mo`olelo through this framework. I'm also a big fan of this book: on Consensus Organizing by Mike Eichler.


Image: Seema Sueko, Co-Founder and Executive Artistic Director of Mo`olelo Performing Arts

Tags: Arts Advocacy, Seema Sueko, Mo`olelo Performing Arts

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ADVOCACY: Be an Advocate
ADVOCACY: Fresh Thinking & Success Stories