Whoosh. The sound that just whizzed by your ear was the collective sigh of relief from arts advocacy leaders nationwide. Arts Advocacy Day? 650+ attendees, over 300 congressional offices visited—check. Status of the federal FY 2018 budget? The U.S. Congress passed the final version, and President Trump signed off on the budget plan that includes $3 million increases to both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities—check. Our work here is done.

Just kidding.

Despite the fact that FY 2018’s passage was five months overdue, as well as the elimination for the federal cultural agencies once again included in the current FY 2019 budget proposal—advocacy promoting arts and arts education funding and policy doesn’t just exist at the federal level. While the federal government funds the NEA at $152.3 million, state governments invest $357.5 million into state arts agencies. However, like the NEA, state arts agencies cannot lobby regarding appropriations, law, legislation, or policy, in their official capacity.

Enter the State Arts Action Network—a professional development network of Americans for the Arts comprised of 53 state arts advocacy and service organizations from 42 states. SAAN members work around the clock advocating for pro-arts and pro-arts education funding and policies in their home states. The SAAN meets in person three times every year to share best practices, network with their colleagues, and advise Americans for the Arts’ State and Local Government Affairs team on key policy initiatives. 

State Captains ready to lead their state delegations for Arts Advocacy Day 2018.

The SAAN’s first meeting of 2018 occurred on March 11—the day before many SAAN members then switched their professional “hats”—so to speak—to serve as State Captains leading their state’s delegation for Arts Advocacy Day.

Here’s just a sample of the great work happening at the state level!

Delaware Stops Funding Cut and Launches New Network

Facing a state budget deficit, the Joint Finance Committee voted to cut state arts funding by 20% in its FY 2018 budget. Through the Delaware Arts Alliance (DAA)’s leadership and coordination, grassroots advocacy efforts helped reduce the cut to 2.5%—which was in line with other agencies’ cuts. The governor has proposed level funding for the arts in his FY 2019 budget proposal.

With a similar budget battle looming, and inspired by the outpouring of support for the arts during the previous budget fight, DAA will be launching a new initiative: the DAAction Network. The DAAction Network will be a cadre of arts and civic leaders who are highly trained and well-equipped advocates to maintain regular contact with assigned federal and state elected officials.

Maryland’s Balancing Act

Governor Larry Hogan and First Lady Yumi Hogan attended Maryland Arts Day on February 23. Organized by Maryland Citizens for the Arts (MCA), Maryland Arts Day educates and mobilizes arts advocates to meet with their state officials about the critical role of the arts in Maryland's culture and economy. During the event, the governor received the 2018 Public Leadership in the Arts Award, which was presented by Americans for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors.

(L-R) First Lady Yumi Hogan and Governor Larry Hogan with Narric Rome, Americans for the Arts VP of Government Affairs and Arts Education.

Though the governor recommended an increase of $21.7 million for the arts in his budget proposal, he took a hardline stance against funding mandates in his 2018 Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, which now threatens Chapter 145. Previously written into law, Chapter 145 is the language that includes an increased funding formula for the Maryland State Arts Council. MCA is diligently working with the General Assembly to preserve Chapter 145 and to potentially increase arts funding to $22.7 million.

South Dakota Defeats Sales Tax Elimination Proposal

In January, the South Dakota House of Representatives introduced HB 1206. The bill proposed to repeal the half-penny sales tax funding for tourism that was made permanent in the state back in 2013. Meaning, the bill would have eliminated all funding for the South Dakota Arts Council—as well as making it ineligible to receive its dollar-for-dollar match from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Under Arts South Dakota’s leadership, the House Taxation Committee received overwhelming opposition from the tourism and arts communities, including many opponents testifying during its committee hearing on February 6. It was clear to lawmakers that tourism and the arts are widely supported by South Dakota citizens and are essential to the state's economy and culture, and HB 1206 was defeated.

Utah Saves Arts Ed Requirement for Middle School Students

Students perform at the special hearing to the Utah State Board of Education.The Utah State Board of Education voted in August 2017 to eliminate the arts, physical education, and health courses as required subjects for middle school students statewide. Though new to the state school board side of the advocacy arena, Utah Cultural Alliance (UCA) worked to quickly build relationships with school board members, authored a petition that grew to 7,000 signatures, and mobilized a special hearing. The special hearing in late September 2017 included compelling testimonies from dozens of students, parents, and school administrators. After championing a compromise, UCA claimed victory when the Board of Education voted 11 to 3 in favor of Rule 277-700 Revision 2—preserving arts education, health, and physical education as required classes for middle schoolers in January. Through September 2017 and January 2018, UCA worked with the school board on two different versions of a compromise that in the end was even friendlier to arts education.

Again, this is only a fraction of the stories detailing the good work being done by SAAN members throughout the United States. To find out more about your SAAN member, check out the roster here. I can’t wait to share more after the next SAAN meeting, which will be collocated with the 2018 Annual Convention in Denver.

As we like to say—onward!