Hillary Bliss is CAA development and marketing manager.
Last week CAA sent two representatives to participate in the twenty-eighth annual Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. Anna Cline, CAA development and marketing assistant, and I joined 550 grassroots advocates representing forty-eight states to lobby for strong public policies and increased funding for the arts. CAA also supported the event, which is organized by Americans for the Arts, as a national cosponsor.
Monday, March 23
Cline and I attended a full day of training that included legislative and political updates, in-depth briefings on our three primary “asks” (more on those later), and facts and figures to make a compelling case for the arts. We also heard an inspiring keynote address by Jane Chu, the recently appointed chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). A role-play demonstration for congressional visits was incredibly helpful in illustrating how advocacy teams can manage the varying personalities and political agendas of senators, representatives, and their staffs to communicate clear messages and secure commitments of support in the form of caucus enrollment or letters addressing particular funding levels or policy positions. The most important takeaway was to strategically couple facts and figures—whether they be economic impact reports, matching-fund statistics, or art education’s effect on drop-out rates and SAT scores—with personal stories to create memorable and meaningful visits with legislators.
The three primary issues for Arts Advocacy Day were:
NEA Funding: We sought support for a $155 million budget for the NEA in the fiscal year 2016 Interior Appropriations bill. The broad reach and impact of the NEA can not be overstated: the agency awards approximately 2,300 grants per year to organizations in every US congressional district, reaches more than 38 million people through live art events, and helps to leverage roughly $600 million in matching funds from other state, local, and private sources. Closer to home, CAA has received support from the NEA every year since 2010 for ARTspace, a free and open component of the Annual Conference.
Arts in Education: We urged Congress to support $30 million for the Arts In Education (AIE) programs in the fiscal year 2016 Labor-Heath and Human Services-Education appropriations bill and retain it as a distinct grant competition for programs that strengthen the arts as a core academic subject of learning. Consolidation into an appropriations bill would risk compromising the program. We also sought support for retaining the arts in the definition of core academic subjects and for strengthening equitable access to the arts in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
Tax Reform: Since many arts organizations operate as nonprofit entities, tax reform regarding charitable giving is a critical issue. We asked Congress to preserve incentives for donations by protecting full value tax deductions for all forms of charitable gifts; we also advised against the adoption of “caps” or “floors” for deductions. We also urged Congress to make the IRA charitable rollover permanent so that donors can achieve the greatest impact with their planned giving. We also asked representatives to support the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, which would allow artists to take an income tax deduction for the fair market value of their work when they donate it to charitable collecting institutions.
There was no shortage of issues this year: advocates addressed arts in health, net neutrality, protection of wireless technology for the arts and media, and visa processes for foreign guest artists in short training sessions throughout the day. You can download American’s for the Arts’ 2015 Congressional Arts Handbook for facts and figures on all of these issues.
Closing the prelude to Arts Advocacy Day was the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy, this year given by the television writer and producer Norman Lear at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. You can view Lear’s moving lecture, introduced by the hip-hop recording artist Common, on YouTube.
Tuesday, March 24
The packed Congressional Arts Kick-Off on Tuesday marked the official start of Arts Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill and featured speakers such as Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Representative Leonard Lance (R-NJ), cochairs of the Congressional Arts Caucus. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico received the Congressional Arts Leadership Award in recognition of his distinguished service on behalf of the arts.
Cline and I were on separate advocacy teams representing the New York City area that included undergraduate and graduate students and representatives from arts organizations such as Actors’ Equity Association, Fractured Atlas, POV, and others. We met with the offices of Representatives Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Grace Meng (NY-6), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Lee Zeldin (NY-1), Peter T. King (NY-2), Steve Israel (NY-3), Kathleen Rice (NY-4), Gregory W. Meeks (NY-5), and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8). Overall the meetings went extremely well. Our groups were able to address the key public policy and funding issues mentioned above, as well as to communicate the work of CAA and its members.
In a visit with Nadler’s office, Cline thanked the congressman for his vigorous efforts to pass the American Royalties Too (ART) Act, which would ensure that visual artists are compensated when their original artwork is resold; she also offered CAA’s continued support for this legislation. Though a meeting was originally scheduled with a member of his staff, Rep. Israel met with my team to discuss the NEA budget. As a member of the House Committee on Appropriations—and more specifically, the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which covers the NEA budget—Israel spoke about the budget process and stated that its current proposal includes $155 million for the NEA. Time will tell what the final approved NEA budget will be.
Visiting the congressional office buildings reinforces the fact that senators and representatives work for you. I noticed a marked difference in visits to representatives for whom we had a constituent on our team. Multiple staffers told us that they needed more vocal support for the arts to pass the legislation and public-funding increases we were requesting, so I encourage you to contact your legislators and express your support. Americans for the Arts has a useful site that includes not only information on issues and supporting materials like facts and figures, but also links to tools for finding and contacting your legislator.
The US Capitol Building in Washington, DC (photograph by Hillary Bliss)
Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico accepting his Congressional Arts Leadership Award at the Congressional Arts Kick-Off event (photograph by Hillary Bliss)
My advocacy team after meeting with Representative Steve Israel. From left to right: Lawrence Lorchack, Actors’ Equity Association; Lynn Koos, New York University; Representative Steve Israel; Alison Ribellino, Towson University; Mary An, POV; and Linni Deihl, Andrew Anzel, and Haven G. Mitchell-Rose, New York University (photograph by Hillary Bliss)