Making SPACE: Evolution of Advocacy Networks

Advocacy is the process of supporting an idea or cause to influence outcomes such as public policy, or the distribution of local resources and information. Within community arts, the issue of the space in which we engage and work with communities is an idea that many organizations feel strongly about, but do not advocate directly upon. While it is important for groups to work towards individual goals, there are also organizations that work on behalf of common issues in the larger not-for-profit community.

“Losing space is kind of like losing oxygen for community development.”

“Losing space is kind of like losing oxygen for community development.”
This was the poignant statement recently made by Ann Fitzpatrick to a room full of social work, nursing, adult education, planning, and public health students at the University of Toronto. I was part of this audience and had the opportunity to listen to Fitzpatrick enthusiastically discuss advocacy in community development and the Saving Public Access to Community Space Everywhere (SPACE) Coalition.

If you have ever been on the administrative end of a non-profit community based arts group then you are likely well aware of the many challenges involved in securing a space. While there are many good/adequate venues to host programming, obstacles to secure space include cost, locked doors, permits, storage of equipment, and location. Working collaboratively with Social Planning Toronto (SPT), and other social planning councils across the province, SPACE advocates and provides resources for community groups to reduce barriers, help lower rental fees, create comprehensive lists of availabilities, and as a result enhance capacity to sustain programming. The SPACE website also has many resources such as information on how to access locations through the school boards.

In her talk, Fitzpatrick explained that advocacy is made possible through coalitions and networks that often come together informally through 2-3 people working towards a goal that they believe needs change. This network/organization/coalition requires a core group of dedicated people who can address a few simple and very important questions.

1)      What do we want to accomplish?
2)      What will we learn by being part of this group?
3)      How will we take this information back to our community?

With passion, Fitzpatrick described how exciting it is to be near the tipping point of a local issue and part of the group pushing reform. While some may feel advocacy is time consuming, groups can collectively push agendas further by people coming together rather than spending time individually.

While some may feel advocacy is time consuming, groups can collectively push agendas further by people coming together rather than spending time individually.

In her discussion of community development, Fitzpatrick had a few simple suggestions on how to increase capacity within individual organizations. She suggested the importance of establishing a local presence, and making goals known within the community. Simple and affordable tasks like distributing pamphlets, attending speaking engagements and neighbourhood events, and forming alliances also work to build energy and enthusiasm.

While acknowledging the often time consuming process, Fitzpatrick spoke of the necessity of having people involved on the front-line, working and living in communities to shape solutions on local issues. To make change, and keep the oxygen flowing, community organizations must work together, engage locally, and gain first hand knowledge on what is needed to shape municipal policy.

To find out more about the SPACE Coalition visit www.spacecoalition.ca

To find out more about Social Planning Toronto visit http://socialplanningtoronto.org

To learn more about the community use of schools visit
http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/community/

Robyn Shyllit is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and a student in the Cities Centre Community Development Program at the University of Toronto completing a Masters degree in Planning.

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