CAA News Today

2011 Advocacy Days in Washington, DC

posted by Christopher Howard — May 24, 2011

Humanities Advocacy Day took place on March 6–8, 2011, and Arts Advocacy Day on April 4–5, 2011. Five members of the CAA Board of Directors represented CAA: Linda Downs, Barbara Nesin, Judith Thorpe, and Jean Miller, who contribute reports below, and Andrea Kirsh. CAA’s development and marketing manager, Sara Hines, also joined the ranks of attendees, which ranged from seasoned arts administrators, artists, scholars, curators, and educators to young students aspiring to enter these fields.

Humanities Advocacy Day

Linda Downs is CAA executive director and recently became secretary of the National Humanities Alliance board of directors.

On March 8, I represented CAA during Humanities Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. Sponsored by the National Humanities Alliance (NHA), this three-day event gathered advocates from across the country to meet on Capitol Hill to inform their senators and representatives about the importance of the humanities in their districts and to support federal funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Advocates usually don’t meet their representatives directly, but their staffers tally every visit and report on messages sent.

This year, more than two hundred people from colleges, universities, professional associations, and state humanities organizations visited 107 House and Senate offices representing thirty-four states. Participants asked that Congress maintain the NEH’s enacted level of $167.5 million for fiscal year 2010. The strong attendance indicated how important this annual event is and, in particular, that an increasing number of art-minded citizens were highly concerned about the proposed Congressional budget reduction that would eliminate the NEH. With colleagues from the state of New York, I targeted new members of Congress to inform them about the importance of the humanities in their districts.

Preceding Humanities Advocacy Day was the NHA annual meeting, which took place March 6–7 and included advocacy training, a workshop on finding grants, and panel presentations. In his keynote address, David Skorton, president of Cornell University, emphasized the importance of humanities education for cultural understanding and for the security of the United States. During a luncheon, Leslie Berlowitz, president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, announced the launch of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, which will bring together scholars and corporate leaders to propose steps to strengthen the humanities nationally. On one panel, three individuals demonstrated how effective, important, and creative current humanities research is: Ashley Marshall, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University, uses digital statistics to reinterpret eighteenth-century studies; Tara McPherson, associate professor in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, established the Vectors Journal at her school, an online venture that introduces an interactive publishing platform to humanities scholars; and Damon Dozier, director of public affairs at the American Anthropological Association, described the association’s RACE project that explores all aspects of the concept of race and has attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers  over the past three years.

The humanities community made a strong impact on Congress this year. At this time of writing (late April 2011), the NEH remains in the Congressional budget, albeit at a reduced amount.

Arts Advocacy Day

Barbara Nesin is an artist, a professor and department chair of art foundations at the Art Institute of Atlanta in Georgia, and the president of the CAA Board of Directors.

Sponsored by Americans for the Arts, Arts Advocacy Day offered a full day of training followed by a second day of meeting Congressional representatives on Capitol Hill with the aim of preserving federal funding for the arts during an especially challenging economic period. During my first time attending the event, I learned how to speak about not just the intrinsic value of the arts, but also their real economic value in this country and the importance of the arts in education. In training sessions hosted by Americans for the Arts, my colleagues and I were given the voting history and committee work of our representatives and, when in conversation with them later, were told to highlight how the arts function as a business magnet, create jobs and tax revenue, attract tourism, and foster the country’s creative advantage internationally. We didn’t neglect education, as the arts strengthen academic performance in a variety of disciplines, such as science, technology, English, and math, and contribute to an innovative, competitive workforce.

This year, advocates had to prepare a unified message that was pertinent to current budget and political realities. Furthermore, those of us who wear more than one hat—for me, being a CAA board member, a professor and administrator, and a resident of Georgia—needed to understand the context of each position in relation to the overall mission for the day. We had to make a strong case to save the NEA’s budget for fiscal year 2012 and to maintain $40 million appropriated for the Department of Education’s Arts in Education programs and grants.

Americans for the Arts provided me with a wealth of information about pressing state issues, identifying key politicians with critical influence and importantly emphasizing that now is not the time to point out disparities in federal support between, for example, the visual and performing arts. What was the right approach? A consistent, nonpartisan message supported by facts and real-life examples, practical solutions, and a convincing, definite ask.

Before coming to DC, I had consulted my home institution’s public-relations department to determine appropriate topics and strategies. I also reviewed issues close to CAA’s heart, ready to share information about tax reform in the arts: preserving incentives for charitable giving, extending the IRA Charitable Rollover, and rejecting attempts to create a hierarchy for deductions to nonprofits that discriminates against the arts. I also wanted to ask for support for the Artist–Museum Partnership Act—something CAA has advocated for many years—which would allow artists to deduct from their federal income tax the fair-market-value of works of art donated to and retained by nonprofit institutions. (Currently artists can only deduct the cost of their materials used to make the work). Improving the visa process for foreign guest artists was also on my list of topics.

Even though representatives from Georgia raced to attend emergency meetings regarding the difficult budget negotiations that threatened to close down the government that very week, my group managed to meet several of them and speak to the staff of others. In some cases, staffers invited us to leave informational materials provided by Americans for the Arts, which outline major funding issues and, through maps and statistics, pinpointed concentrations of arts-related business in each representative’s district—with actual dollar amounts.

Since my school has already cultivated excellent relationships with several Congressional leaders in my state, I built on that firm groundwork by sharing a sincere “thank you” for the specific ways in which each had already supported the arts, regardless of his party or voting record. These representatives—whether recognized friends of the arts or not—responded supremely to people from their own district, whether by residence or place of employment. On that local turf, there was not one who had not made some effort to demonstrate their concern for arts education and some type of arts programming to their own community. From that point, conversations went one of two ways.

To those who had previously opposed arts funding, I emphasized the significance of the arts to economic development—that is to say, I talked jobs, jobs, jobs. Armed with hard figures that proved how the arts generate substantial employment and investment in specific districts and nationally, I made the case that opposing arts funding puts many people out of work and damages local economies that depend on the arts to attract employers and business activity. Keep in mind that even a single arts event generates not only sales of tickets or art objects, but also uses numerous surrounding services and accommodations, including printers, web designers, restaurants, and hotels. These are not insignificant dollars, and no politician wants to be viewed by constituents as opposing much-needed, economically healthy free enterprise. In addition, staunch supporters of cutting taxes listened with interest when my group spoke about implementing tax benefits that would have a real impact on estates and museum collections. If such representatives were at all concerned about swing votes in their district, it would not cost much in real dollars for them to support some form of arts funding. Even a slight increase would have a dramatic and highly visible effect—something investors might call an attractive “rate of return.”

In the offices of strong supporters of the arts is where I successfully addressed other issues that CAA has been working on. Staffers in Representative John Lewis’s office told me that orphan works was not on their radar before but will be now, promising to research the subject and bring it to Lewis’s attention. Finally, we offered ourselves as resources to these elected officials and asked them for advice on what we could do to assist them.

I was gratified to see a good number of graduate students among the five hundred plus attending Arts Advocacy Day. As a CAA member and an art educator, I was keenly interested in what students had to say, especially when speaking from their personal experience. One young woman finishing her master’s in arts administration made an impassioned plea for assurance of jobs when she graduates. When I described CAA to them, several students in programs of social policy and arts administration were excited about becoming actively involved in the organization, particularly in the area of advocacy. CAA needs to continue building these connections.

As the largest organization for the visual arts in the country, CAA has significant membership numbers—more than 12,000 individuals and 1,800 institutions—that amplify considerably when counting those who belong to the affiliated societies, making us a potentially powerful voice. Congress listens to voting constituents. Although CAA doesn’t vote, it does represent an exponential body of voters. If we want the visual arts better represented on a national level, CAA is an ideal body to do so year round.

This year’s was a success: participants helped preserve federal funding for the arts in large measure, with much smaller cuts than originally proposed, and saw first-hand our full potential reach and influence. I encourage as many members as possible to attend future Arts Advocacy Days.

Arts Advocacy Day

Judith Thorpe is an artist, professor of photography, and head of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. She is also a member of the CAA Board of Directors.

Two years ago, riding on the recent election of Barack Obama and the promise of increased funding for the arts and humanities, participants in Arts and Humanities Advocacy Days felt vibrancy and excitement in the air. The atmosphere in Congressional offices during Arts Advocacy Day in 2011 contrasted with that optimism tremendously. Facing budget and partisanship battles daily, federal legislators threatened once again to not just reduce but extinguish all NEA initiatives and Department of Education programs for Arts in Education. In the end, Congress did not axe the endowment as feared and returned $25 million to Arts in Education for fiscal year 2012. Truth be told, these amounts are so small that their impact on the national budget is negligible. These annual skirmishes, however, continue to reflect the raging ideological battles regarding the arts in this country.

Events of a week in which Congress canceled appropriations hearings and a budget stalemate nearly closed down the federal government subdued advocacy meetings with senators, representatives, and their aides. My group from Connecticut found it difficult to advocate more than flat funding for the NEA, but we asked the offices of Senators Joseph Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal and Representatives Rosa L. DeLauro, John Larson, Joe Courtney, Jim Himes, and Chris Murphy to renew their commitment to the arts and to join or continue serving on the Congressional Art Caucus and the Senate Cultural Caucus.

In order to benefit the arts and humanities—and the interests of CAA in particular—we must develop a means to send advocates to meet specifically with key members of Congress during the annual Arts, Humanities, and Museums Advocacy Days. CAA’s vast number of professionals in academia, museums, and elsewhere should be heard in a focused manner, and members of the CAA Board of Directors may need to get more involved in organizing participation in the three national advocacy days.

Attending this year sharpened my awareness of how members of Congress perceive the role of the arts differently in this country. That said, I was heartened to see bipartisan support for the arts and encouraged to advocate continued and greater support for the arts. It was quite a civics class!

Arts Advocacy Day

A member of the CAA Board of Directors, Jean Miller is associate dean of administrative affairs of the College of Visual Arts and Design at the University of North Texas in Denton. She also oversees her schools Design Research Center in Dallas.

I became acquainted with Americans for the Arts and attended Arts Advocacy Day for the first time in 2009 as a representative of CAA’s Professional Practices Committee and a resident of the state of Maryland. This year, I represented CAA as a board member and cochair of the International Council of Fine Arts Deans (ICFAD) Advocacy Task Force. Now a Texas resident, I also made efforts to cultivate a relationship with members of Texans for the Arts.

Although Arts Advocacy Day has a similar structure and comparable messages from year to year, the underlying sense of urgency during the 2011 proceedings made it markedly different from those of 2009. This was due in part to the possibility of the government shutting down during the budget talks. All advocates intensely felt the charged atmosphere during the Americans for the Arts–sponsored Congressional Arts Breakfast and later on Capitol Hill when meeting representatives and their staff.

Like my colleagues above, I was impressed by the record attendance of over five hundred advocates from around the country, gathering to communicate a consistent message about the value of art and culture in our lives to Congress. Actors Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin and several other celebrities joined attendees over the course of the two days to lend their voices in support of the arts and artists. As they spoke candidly about their mentors and career opportunities, these individuals served as great moral support and inspired us to strategize together to position the arts better in the national budget conversation.

To help frame discussions with legislators and their staff, advocacy leaders urged us to take a practical, bipartisan approach to all conversations. At the same time, they also encouraged us to send a clear, strong, and persistent message to Congress about sustaining NEA funding—not increasing it as we had asked in the past—and to share stories about how the NEA has had a strong impact on our communities and states.

Were we successful? I believe that yes, as a committed group of arts professionals and students, we took the time to study current issues, applied an advocacy framework to discuss important points, and stood up as citizens to increase visibility for the arts locally and nationally. Was it enough? Unfortunately no. What else could CAA do as an organization? Perhaps we can strengthen ties with its affiliated societies, which in sum represent over 300,000 people, and use a large collective voice in support of advocacy efforts. With the affiliates, CAA can design strategies to reach the political leaders who are in positions of making the tough budget decisions. With many CAA staff and board members involved in strengthening connections to affiliated societies and working on advocacy and outreach, I think this is entirely possible.