Recently our education associate Ashby Nickerson and outreach coordinator Jordan Roeder traveled to D.C. for Arts Advocacy Day where they learned about national and state arts legislation that affects what we do here at VisArts. They even met a special celebrity. We checked in with them to hear about their time on The Hill.
Q: You both recently took a trip up to DC for Arts Advocacy Day. What was the gathering about?
A: Arts Advocacy Day is put on by Americans For the Arts, which is a nonprofit that advocates for the arts year round, and puts on this conference once a year. The two days in D.C. are basically a place where people working in the arts from all over the country get together to learn about what legislation and discussions could potentially affect the arts — either positively or negatively. And then on the second day, everyone forms teams and visits congressmen to try to gain their support!
Q: Who is involved with the big event?
A: Americans for the Arts is definitely huge. But also, every state (or almost every state) has their own advocacy organization and they often act as state “captains” and they set appointment with their states senators and representatives in advance, get everyone together and give them information that will help them in their appointments on The Hill.
Q: What arts issues were brought to the table?
A: There were so many topics of discussion this year. (Read up on some of the key topics, facts and figures here.) Basically, when you get there they give you the equivalent of a text book of information with the current legislation, issue briefs, facts and figures, who votes and how. But, the biggest issues are raising the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts, funding the Arts in Education Program through the U.S. Department of Education, legislation that may effect caps on contributors’ tax dedications, and a bunch of other smaller bills on things like arts in health or arts and public broadcasting.
Q: What did you take away from the gathering for VisArts?
A: We were both there this year to soak up as much information as we could. We are both new to the event but we did have some experience with advocacy in Virginia and I have some background info from my grad school program. I know that I left with a much better understanding of how the government functions during the budgeting process, and really, how ordinary citizens can get involved to affect change in a positive way. Plus I thought about how important it is for all arts organizations to advocate for themselves — because it really does make a difference.
Q: During your time networking, what art advocates did you meet?
A: We spent a lot of time with other folks from around Virginia — art therapists, folks from Wolf Trap, Fairfax County — so many. We also spent time with the Executive Director of Virginians for the Arts, Justin Laughter, who helped us throughout the process, since we were pretty new to all of it. I was also able to connect with a few people from my program at Goucher College, including the incredible Ramona Baker, who runs that program and is on the board for Americans for the Arts. Ashby and I connected with Robert Bettman, who runs DC Advocates for the Arts.
Q: I also heard you all met a special celebrity patron of the arts.
A: YES — I don’t know if meet counts, but I was very close to (and took many pictures of) Alec Baldwin. I had always loved him from SNL and 30 Rock, but had never known how much of an advocate he is for the arts. He sits in on budget negotiations for the NEA, travels and speaks on behalf of the arts, and gives a ton of his own money. He is just as dashing and charming in real life as you could imagine.