Challenges Ahead: Why What You Do Matters

“I think I need another cup of coffee.” That could only mean one thing: Arts Advocacy Day is near! This year will be the 31st consecutive year of arts advocacy days.

Although years may really just be a number, in its 31 years, Arts Advocacy Day has seen six different U.S. presidents spanning both political parties. It’s witnessed sixteen different congressional sessions and eight different Speakers of the U.S. House. Through it all, every year, attendees hear that “the arts are bipARTtisan.”

Because, no matter who’s in office, arts advocacy matters. Funding decisions are made every year. Who’s deciding this year may not be deciding next year. Who’s to remember what happened before? Who’s to know why it matters? Who’s to learn from each other? The answer is us. All of us. All of us together.

Robert L. Lynch, President & CEO of Americans for the Arts, speaks before the 2017 crowd at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy, including mention of the groundswell #SAVEtheNEA social media campaign. (Photo by Maria Bryk)

Over the 31 years of Arts Advocacy Day, some attendees have come every year. But also each year, there is someone new—someone just cutting their teeth. Often those attending for the first time are students, learning and eager to participate and carry on the work back home, to their college campuses, and into their first post-college jobs.

Arts Advocacy Day is coordinated by Americans for the Arts in partnership now with 90 national arts organizations. The two-day event brings together a broad cross section of America’s cultural and civic organizations. Attendees travel to Washington, DC, for a day of training and networking, followed by a day of action on Capitol Hill, where they meet as delegations with their members of Congress, in support of issues like arts education, charitable giving, and funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Arts advocates from the Illinois and Virginia delegations at Arts Advocacy Day 2017, participating in a danced demonstration at the White House. (Photo by Magnus Hunter)

And, it is that team delegation element that really captures the power of the work. One past attendee reflected that the state teams were “by far the most educational and informative part,” and through which also “grounded the overwhelming amount of information into practicable action.”  Said another, “I felt my voice was heard and valued. My team worked together so nicely and held space for all voices to speak their minds.”

Attendees representing all 50 states join together in the Cannon Caucus room before lobbying visits on Capitol Hill.

Last year, Arts Advocacy Day was the largest it’s ever been, in terms of attendance numbers—more than 700 attendees. We had an overflow room for lunch. Some attendees sat on the floor during breakout sessions. People overnighted with friends, or booked with Airbnb. Why did so many come? 

Last year was the first year of the new Administration—traditionally always a time of political change, given the new initiatives and priorities that are taking shape. This change makes for rich opportunities to influence, explain, and educate new entrants.

Those usual expectations were thrust with an entirely new political scenario with Donald J. Trump elected as U.S. President in 2016 and inaugurated in January 2017—a fact few thought would happen in the wide Republican field, and certainly would never become the most powerful political person on the globe. But he now was (and is), and his Office of Management and Budget had just proposed to terminate the NEA that month, along with several other agencies and programs, like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Bob Lynch holds up ads for Arts Advocacy Day that printed in the Capitol Hill newspapers read by members of Congress and staff: Roll Call, Politico, and The Hill. (Photo by Maria Bryk.)

Some attendees underscored this urgent threat as a reason for making the trip: “It was very important to be there this year considering the context of Trump’s proposed cuts,” said one.

Activism grew, and many channeled their frustration not just to their friends and on social media, but with strangers and newcomers united together with a mission—to stand up and speak out for the arts, and not only to “simply” “support the arts,” but to advocate for why the federal role in supporting the arts is crucial for equity and increased access to all forms of the arts among everyone at all ages. And they found like-minded compatriots. Said one, “By going to the lobbying visits together, I feel that I really bonded with my colleagues. Having a common task made it more meaningful to me.

The Minnesota delegation, led by state captain Sheila Smith, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, on their way to appointments on Capitol Hill.

Advocates coming for Arts Advocacy Day—whether for the first-time or returning every year—benefit from this field-wide expertise and wealth of impact data and stories, from newcomers to seasoned staff alike.

And, with nearly a hundred national partners—and hundreds more state and local partners—this expertise really spans the issues, from arts funding to arts education, visa policy, charitable giving, net neutrality, public art in transit, arts in the military, arts in health, arts administration, local and state arts agencies, election issues, and more.

Sometimes when we get a pot and stir, the results are tremendous. Said one attendee, “You guys do a great job getting so much info and people together and aimed in the right direction.”

And yet, there will always be challenges. Every year. 

This year, we are again expecting the Trump Administration to try to terminate our cultural agencies, despite the strong and clear congressional rebuke from his last attempt. Ahead, immigration policy, health care, and transportation investment all are likely areas of congressional focus in the coming year, and the arts are part of each and every one of these policy areas. Your participation matters. This year and every year. Will you be coming?

Register today and join the network and field of advocates from across the country.

In the words of one attendee last year, “Thank you for empowering all of us! It’s been a hard few months but for the first time I feel hopeful, powerful and engaged in a whole new way.”

Let’s all get another cup of coffee. Together!