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CAA at Arts Advocacy Day

posted by Christopher Howard — May 01, 2008

Andrea Kirsh is an independent curator and scholar and an adjunct faculty member at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She is also a member of the CAA Board of Directors.

I don’t usually hang around with the likes of Robert Redford, John Legend, and Peter Yarrow, but last month I did. With Nia Page, CAA director of membership, development, and marketing, and Sara Hines, CAA marketing and development assistant, I joined these performers and other arts advocates at the House Office Building in Washington, DC, as part of Arts Advocacy Day. Held March 31-April 1, 2008, the event was the twenty-first year that Americans for the Arts has brought together grassroots advocates from across the country to lobby Congress for arts-friendly legislation. CAA has been a longtime cosponsor of these important days for American arts and culture.

More than five-hundred-plus individuals from institutions and locations all over the country descended on Capitol Hill to raise awareness about funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Department of Education, along with specific bills under consideration in the Senate and House of Representatives concerning tax laws, Federal Communications Commission regulations, and foreign exchange policy.

Redford, Legend, Yarrow, and the rest of us were among a coalition of representatives from the NEA and Americas for the Arts who addressed the House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations in the first congressional hearing in over a decade dedicated to the importance of federal arts funding. We were outside the hearing room with an overflow crowd of more than two hundred that lined an entire third-floor hallway.

Some historical background: after the culture wars that followed the outcry against funding Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, and others, the NEA’s budget was cut from $176 million in 1992 to $99.5 million the following year, with grants to individual artists completely eliminated and the endowment’s other grant programs sorely lacking support. During the past fifteen years, the agency has slowly been recovering, with an encouraging $20 million increase in 2007, bringing the current budget to $144.7 million. Still $30 million shy of the baseline goal to reach 1992 levels, the current presidential administration has now proposed a $16 million cut for 2009.

The United States is unusual among advanced democracies in having no federal department of culture; current arts legislation is spread over more than fourteen congressional committees, which also have responsibility for forest fires, homeland security, and the entire tax system. The current Congress is looking at funding for the NEA, NEH, Institute of Museum and Library Services, arts education, and State Department cultural exchanges; tax legislation allowing artists to take fair-market-value tax deductions for donations to museums; and the inclusion of arts education within No Child Left Behind legislation (as well as several issues affecting the performing arts).

I was among the thirty-four Pennsylvanians who met in Senator Arlen Spector’s office with his staff member, Mary Beth McGowan, to ask for support for arts-friendly bills and to tell stories of how federal funding has benefited the state. Spector is a member of the Senate Cultural Caucus and a long-time friend of the arts, but that doesn’t make such visits any less important. The group included fourteen students in Drexel University’s Arts Administration Program (who had raised their own funds for the trip) and Silagh White of ArtsLehigh, an initiative at Lehigh University to integrate arts throughout the curriculum and educate an enthusiastic audience; two Lehigh undergraduates joined her.

Page and Hines joined seventy-five New York art supporters who lobbied the offices of Representatives Charles Rangel, Carolyn Maloney, and Louise McIntosh Slaughter and Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, to name a few, urging Congress to support increased funding for the NEA and NEH and to cosponsor the Artist-Museum Partnership Act. They also urged Congress to appropriate $53 million for the US Department of Education’s Arts in Education programs in the fiscal year 2009 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill.

During a training session on the first day, we were told, “If you don’t get involved, your opponents will.” I can’t overemphasize the importance of such lobbying. If you can’t make the trip to DC, you can still phone, write, or e-mail your senators and representatives about arts issues. They want to hear from their constituents, and the more personal your stories about the impact of arts policies and federal funding–which includes federal monies channeled through state and local arts councils–the better. Any time an individual or organization receives a federal grant, it is appropriate to thank both senators and congressman. If the grant benefits a number of people, such as funded research, which has an impact on teaching, mention it. You can keep up with current legislation at the Americans for the Arts website; if you sign up for its e-list, the organization can supply boiler letters and e-mails to you when action is needed. The website also holds a wealth of information on voting records and other means of gauging your representative’s stance on cultural policy. Get involved today!