Earlier this week, I was in Washington, D.C. to participate in National Arts Advocacy Day hosted by the Americans for the Arts (AFTA). Every year, members of AFTA come to the capital to meet with their representatives in Congre ss, speaking with them about supporting the arts. This year, with federal arts funding under threat, the event was attended by a record 700 people from all over the country. On Monday, we attended several training sessions, receiving crucial advocacy training from experts in the field. One session was led by our very own Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg. Other sessions focused on making sure we all knew the pertinent facts and figure about the impact of the arts on education, health and well-being, and the economy. We received help in honing our message and making the case for arts and arts education in the strongest possible way.
The day concluded with the annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, delivered a soaring call to arms to all arts advocates. It was so inspiring to hear him talk about his own life-altering discovery of the power of the arts to transform lives. He talked so intensely about how inequality breeds hopelessness, and in turn, how hopelessness is a threat to our democracy. He also argued persuasively that public support of the arts is away of saying that the arts are central to our culture. Indeed, 88% of the American public believe that arts education plays an essential role in a well-rounded education.
The next day began with a rousing kick off, with inspirational messages from incredible leaders. The Congressional Arts Leadership Award was presented to Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican representing Alaska. (Earlier this year. Boston’s own Mayor Marty Walsh was presented with the National Award for Local Arts Leadership.) Representative John Lewis charged us to “speak up, get up, find a way to get in trouble’ noting that ‘the arts inspired me to get in trouble, to get in good trouble, to make America better. At this point, the Massachusetts team swung into action! The indefatigable Andre Green, political director of Mass Creative, had arranged back-to-back appointments with our members of Congress and the Senate. We managed to meet with 11 of our 12 Massachusetts delegatesin one day. They all support the restoration of full funding to the NEA, NEH, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. We charged our delegation to be visible arts champions and to help make the case to their colleagues who aren’t as supportive. Walking through the halls of the congressional buildings, past the offices from every state in the union with signs that said “Welcome, Please Come In” - I felt so proud to be an American, part of a peaceful democracy where the people have direct access to their lawmakers. It was so humbling and moving, and so incredibly empowering. It also felt great to take action - especially while our support is under the threat of elimination.
You can also take action and now really is the time to do so. On the local level, attend the Massachusetts Arts Advocacy Day next week on March 28th. This will begin at the Paramount Theater and culminate with meetings at the State House on Beacon Hill. Nationally, you can join the Arts Action Fund. Their excellent site has a summary of all of the actions you can take to ensure your voice is heard, including signing a petition, contacting your legislators directly, and telling your story about how the arts has played a transformative role in your life, your communinty, and our society.