"Advocacy must be a part of your daily mission," words spoken by Jay Dick the Senior Director of State and Local Government Affairs from Americans for the Arts (AFTA) in the opening of this year's Arts Advocacy Day. With over 550 advocates from 48 states it was great to see so many people passionate about advocating for the arts. Being able to take this opportunity to travel to Washington D.C., speak with our government officials and advocate for the arts was such a great experience in learning why I love doing what I do as well as continuing to fight to have the next generation to have the same opportunities that I was given. Even though this was my first time attending the event, this was not the first time I've spoken to my elected officials about advocating for the arts as well as having my voice heard.
The arts have been a part of my life since I can remember. When I moved to the US from the Philippines at an early age, I knew the arts would play an integral part of my life. The Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) has been a part of it for half, 13 years! I started off as a Junior Thespian from East Middle School in Farmington Hills, MI (Troupe #88331), becoming a Thespian at Harrison High School (Troupe #6513) being a Student State Officer as well as an International Thespian Officer, to being a college representative for the University of Northern Colorado and now the Student Thespian Coordinator for the New York Chapter of EdTA. The arts gave me so many opportunities to express myself that I would make sure to let anyone who would hear me know how much the arts matter to me as well as to everyone's education.
Before we, the Arts Advocates, went to the Capitol, we learned more about what we wanted to advocate collectively as group to our State elected officials. This was to ensure our message was clear that all art forms are essential, which should be a core standard, they need to be funded; inform our elected officials on why they matter and sharing our personal stories to them. Randy Cohen (@ArtsInfoGuy) did an amazing job presenting information to all of us with stats on the Arts as well as fun little history lessons in how the Arts played a part. Mr. Cohen also challenged us to tweet stats and facts on social media to continue the conversation with those who were at the event as well as those unable to make it. Nina Tunceli from AFTA's Arts Action Fund said something that really resonated with me when talking to our elected officials, "You are building a relationship--be visible not invisible." This is important because our elected officials are working for us, we need to make sure that we as advocates invite them to events we hold. So these elected officials can see how the arts are helping their constituents' children, the professionals putting the events on as well as voters and future voters.
As delegate of a state that supports the arts, New York, I felt that I had an easier journey then some other delegates from other states. Nonetheless my group, New York B Team, had an amazing time. Though our elected Congress Officials were unavailable, we spoke with their staff, which were just as important as the elected officials because they help them be informed on initiatives as well as any bills being voted on or things needed to be signed for in support of. I had the opportunity to speak in my group about asking our Congress Officials to support a letter being circulated in the House by Reps. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to the Federal Communications Commission regarding protecting wireless microphones used in the performing arts. I had many personal stories to share why this is important to me and to their constituents. In meeting with our elected officials we were given a handbook, filled with information about the initiatives, how our elected officials voted to support the arts, facts and figures. For the individual states we received stats of the districts are elected officials preside over on how many arts facilities or businesses were in their area as well as if they had any grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Which all helped in our case for our officials to support the arts! We took pictures, exchanged business cards and mentioned our interactions on social media.
The overall day of interacting with our elected officials was impactful and a great learning experience. It also gave me the opportunity to build my network in my state and continue the conversation when I got back. I was even invited to be on a radio talk show to discuss the topic of Protecting Wireless Technology in the Arts & Media. A friend of mine who also works at the hill, gave me the great opportunity to catch up with them but also inform them on why the arts matter. Though there were moments where we agreed to disagree on some topics, we both came to the conclusion that the arts are important and should be funded. At the end of the day I still considered them a dear friend even though our views may differ at times. I was able to show my passion to advocate for the arts!
Thank you Thespians and EdTA for this amazing opportunity to represent this organization that is dear to my heart. The conversation doesn't stop here and will continue on. Here's hoping that my experience will inspire others to stand up and speak up for the arts! It doesn't have to be going to the Capitol but as simple as starting in your local community, whether it be at school, work or community group. Invite elected officials to arts events, if they can't make it, they'll appreciate the invitation which they will start to take notice of arts events and how much of an impact it can make! As Alexander Pope said and also the International Thespian Society motto, "Act well your part, there all the honor lies!" Be seen, advocate and continue to express your love for theatre and arts education!