By Anne Becker, Ed.D.
Going to Washington D.C. to participate in Arts Advocacy Day is one of the most energizing experiences for an art educator. The spirit and passion for the arts is overwhelming.
The Illinois contingent was led by Arts Alliance Illinois’ Jonathan VanderBrug, in partnership with Americans for the Arts, which organizes the advocacy experience in D. C. each year. On Monday, my colleague Carolina and I attended several workshops to prepare us for our appointments with the congressmen on Tuesday. The workshop topics included: current issues in the arts; arts trends related to community and non-for-profit groups; tax reforms related to the arts; etc. In the workshops we were provided with handouts and a portfolio that supplied data and additional discussion points related to the arts that we could refer to during our congressional visits. We started meeting advocates from all over the country and from our state.
Our first day ended with Team Illinois having a working dinner followed by the annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center. This year’s lecture was delivered by Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. The Center was buzzing with dedicated advocates to the arts, truly an inspiring way to start our Arts Advocacy mission.
Tuesday was a whirlwind of meetings set up for each state’s advocates with their legislators. Throughout the workshops and preparation for our visits to the congressmen, we were warned to not be too hopeful about changing the current administration’s budget proposal towards the arts. As a member of a four person team- Doug Johnson, executive director of the McClean Art Center; and Doug and Eileen Leunig, professional artists, art teachers and strong art advocates in Peoria- we had handouts and engaged in discussions with the aides of the legislators.
The aides were attentive, took copious notes and gave us excellent feedback on their offices perspectives on the arts issues. One congressman, Representative Darin LaHood, made a special effort to return to his office after a voting session to personally meet with us. I am sure this effort was made on behalf of Doug and Eileen Leunig and all the independent art activities they provide in challenged schools around Peoria. Needless to say, I was impressed with Representative LaHood and his enthusiasm to support the arts in his district.
I took away so many great tips from the workshops, from the congressmen’s aides, from our state’s advocates and the advocates from around the country . . . I left hopeful about the arts not hopeless. My most important lesson – we are the PEOPLE, we must keep the arts viable in our society and for those we teach! Use your ‘teacher voice’ and keep advocating for the arts in your classroom, your school, your community, your state, and your nation.
Advocating for the arts, for you,
Anne Becker, Ed.D
TAKEAWAYS FROM ARTS ADVOCACY DAY IN WASHINGTON D.C. 2017
(Notes from the Town Hall meeting with Massachusetts Senate President, Stan Rosenberg)
1. Corresponding With Congress Members:
–Written personal notes are the best – you will often receive a reply
–Form letters are counted, often not read (after the first 20 or so) and rarely replied to
–Emails are counted and reviewed by aides and you may receive a reply
–Phone calls are received by aides, talking to them in person you will usually get some feedback
–Twitter, Facebook, other social media addressed by the aides and rarely responded to
–Civility: with thoughtful concerns and suggestions write to them as you would want someone to write to you for requests, concerns, etc. (Openers suggestions: ‘ I am deeply concerned about. . .”, “ I would like to express my thoughts/concerns/ about. . .”, “Please help me understand the following issues. . .”)
–Be creative in your correspondence. . .we are art educators with the ability to approach ideas/conversations with unique visual messages
–Be persistent, don’t give up or be discouraged
2. Contacting Congress Members:
–The best time is when they are in session. . .this is their job
–Some legislators continue to have careers and may not be as accessible out of session
-Contact them at their home offices (out of session) and their government office (in session). Click here to locate your government official.
3. Visiting Congress Members:
–A personal visit is extremely valuable – a legislator views a single person as a representative of 10-20 people.
–The Advocacy Day ‘told’ the congressmen that the arts are important to people in our country.
–Illinois had one of the largest delegations to the Arts Advocacy Day and through my and Caroline’s attendance, the IAEA was part of the message.
–Don’t give up. . .don’t think your voice is not heard! Every positive action you take is worth the effort!
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