A Glorious Day in Washington: Arts Advocacy Day 2014

By James Palmarini posted 04-03-2014 17:45


A glorious day in Washington: Arts Advocacy Day 2014  

This week was really important in Cincinnati, the home of the national EdTA office. Baseball season started with a parade and gloriously sunny day. The home team lost, but that was a minor detail—we didn’t win the battle but maybe we’ll win the war of 162 games. And that makes me think of what took place the previous week in Washington, D.C.—Arts Advocacy Day 2014. In that glorious event (not so sunny, but it didn’t matter) several hundred arts advocates from throughout the country converged on our nation’s capitol for two days of training and visits to legislators’ offices to “make the ask” on behalf of arts and arts education. Among the advocates we’re twenty-two members from the Educational Theatre Association—both students and adults—from nine states: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.  The group included the entire International Thespian Officers team,  the Democracyworks student essay winner, the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education student essay winner, our three first ever Hawkins Award winners, and a stalwart group of other attendees, all of whom were there with a singular purpose: to convince lawmakers why and what they should support a range of arts and arts education related issues in the 2015 budget and legislature—$34M for arts education; $155M for the National Endowment for the Arts; tax credits for charitable arts giving; support for protected wireless microphone channels; and many other issues critical to the health and future of the arts in our country.

Did we collectively or individually persuade every lawmaker to vote as we asked them to, or even convince them to join the House or Senate Arts Caucus? Well, probably not.  But the successful outcome of arts advocacy, like the long baseball season, is not determined in one day. In fact, the battle for support of theatre and other arts education, along with the arts in general, is a daily and ongoing effort that we will always need to pursue, not only in Washington, D.C. but in every state, district, and school in America.  

I’ve been participating in Arts Advocacy Day for many years and it’s always gratifying to see new faces and veterans. The Capitol Hill visits are a wonderful opportunity to connect and educate your Congressperson and Senators. But more importantly, the event provides advocacy training and experience that delegates can take back home to their state houses, school boards, and peers. Lots of policy and legislation happens at the federal level. But in truth, where those policies, laws, and the funding that sometimes accompanies them is implemented is at the state and local level, especially regarding education. And that’s where you come in—even if you didn’t attend Arts Advocacy Day, you can still muster the commitment, skill, and knowledge it takes to attend a school board meeting, write a letter to your Congressman, or organize a local or state arts advocacy day event in your state or district. If you’re not sure how to get started or just need a little inspiration, read the blog by EdTA’s Vice- President Frank Pruet.

Pruet, attending his second Arts Advocacy Day, chose to talk about his first-year experience: “…I wasn’t like those model advocates they show you at the end of your training day in a role-play congressional visit. But I knew my story and my experiences. And I knew I was just beginning. And I did okay….I left the Hill with a sense of accomplishment. I felt I had done something important– sharing the message that the arts matter and we need more support for them, not less. I was the human face behind the numbers and the research. In a day, I lost my apprehension and gained confidence in my personal power to affect change. I became an arts advocate.”

Just like Frank, we all have a story to tell about how the arts and arts education has made a difference in our lives. The EdTA Advocacy Toolbox or data on the Americans for the Arts website can help you with some facts and figures but you won’t find your story in either of those places. That’s yours and it’s powerful. Start sharing it and you’re on the way to becoming an arts advocate. And we need all the voices we can get.