Policy (or just general) Issues (still) Facing the Arts in 2016

Arts Advocacy Day 2016 DEBRIEF

Concerns have arisen for me during this year's Art Advocacy Day...and they're not all policy driven... some of them are personal, highly personal, centering around an imposter syndrome that I still feel after participating in this process 5 times previously, but I'll get to that later. First, we begin with Art Advocacy 101:

DAY ONE - Art Advocacy 101

I attended the ADVANCED Advocacy sessions. I don't remember the conference host making distinctions between advanced and novice attendees before...but perhaps I wasn't looking. I sat in a room where no longer were we talking about HOW to talk to a politician, but WHICH politicians are on the committees we needed to influence. And what those politicians/committees are up against so that we have a better understanding of their political landscape. Plus the current landscape of DC politics in general. Ooooh election years, you're used as an excuse for so many failed attempts at good governing. And then my inferiority complex really sets in - I was in a room full of 100+ actually "advanced" arts advocates and I had to wear my own business card as a nametag because the registration table fucked up. I was feeling so, so out of place and unwelcomed at the very start, though I know mistakes happen, it knocked me off my game. Once I settled in with a hot cup of coffee (that burned my mouth) and the wonderful Julie Hawkins sat down in front of me, I could finally concentrate on the issues:

The key arts policies presented to us this year, 2 main ones:

  • National Endowment for the Arts funds - asking for $155 million this year
  • K-12 Education, the Every Student Succeeds Act - restores state and local control of education needs (CONCERN: some people are terrified of this because they insist a national standard is optimal, when that standard is creating happy, healthy, well rounded kids, at least.)

The breakout sessions I attended had to do with the:

  • Artist Museum Partnership Act (God I love me some Representative John Lewis)
  • Cultural Exchanges and National Service for Artists (which I selfishly attended due to my upcoming move out of the US, and no, not because I'm scared that Donald Trump will become POTUS. CONCERN: the agency that handles cultural exchanges of artists DON'T HAVE DATA. And from my understanding, another agency HAS the data but because the exchange program itself is not it's own line item on a budget, it's enveloped by another bigger program, the exchange program doesn't even know what it's exact budget is!)

I didn't attend the Nancy Hanks Lecture after all the 101 sessions, which is something I usually look forward to, but because I was feeling a mix of inferiority, fear of going back to my AirBnB solo after the sun went down, and unapologetic about the 2 syllabi I need to heavily freshen up for the classes I'm teaching next quarter, I went home after our Capitol Hill prep meeting with our state captain, Jenny Hershour. I booked it back to the subway and I admit...I ended up not working on any syllabi. I instead ordered enough Mexican food for 2 people and, with glee, ate it all on the couch while I watched Return of the King. I admitted defeat not long into the meal and settled in for a night of relaxation and bloating.

DAY TWO: Capital Hill

Congressional Kick Off Breakfast - I flew this one solo. I got in early enough to grab a biscuit, a coffee, and a seat from which I didn't move because I like to pick a spot and claim it for the entirety of my visit. Unfortunately, that seat was in the back of the room so I saw none of the speakers. But they all spoke eloquently. I left the breakfast early because the woman-sitting-next-to-me's assistant said she needed an hour to get to the Cannon House Office Building, the same place I was headed for my meeting with Senator Robert Brady. 

What happened in the Cannon Building has never happened to me before. 

I had the undivided attention of Brady's scheduler for 10 entire minutes: the usual length of an entire meeting, where you're only one of 8 to 10 people. Because of the tip during breakfast, I got there 20 minutes early. I walked in, took a seat and two Drexel students filtered in after me. 10 minutes later we're sitting with the scheduler of Brady's office, the Drexel students staring at me in desperation to do all the talking (I WAS the veteran there, after all). So I went for it. I got to talk for 10 minutes about why the arts, the NEA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Artist-Museum Partnership Act and why arts and entrepreneurship is a growing and vibrant field in south eastern Pennsylvania and why that should matter to Brady. 

If you've ever lobbied for something, you know what a big deal that is.

I'm going to be boasting about it for a while. Mainly because, little did we know, the President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (the person who by most accounts SHOULD have had the scheduler's ear for 10 solid minutes) was patiently waiting for the clock to strike 10:30am (the time of our appointment) before stepping into the office. The Alliance definitely got their time in, and apologized for stepping on MY toes as they entered while I was talking. I was just grateful that for once, after 6 visits to Capitol Hill as an arts advocate, my voice was heard.

Why did it take so long? I'm sure it's a mix of my own inferiority / imposter syndrome, my lack of confidence and decisiveness of words in speaking when I'm put on the spot, my generally introverted nature, the mass amount of information and strange new people that are thrown at you the day before and the designed-to-be-intimidating-and-disorienting political complex that houses all these offices. Thankfully, for many reasons, this trip I talked a lot. A lot. Even after designating this trip the one where I'd do more listening. I hope I will find the confidence to talk more often and not only on Capitol Hill. On this blog. On my other Artistic Rebuttal platforms and during events.

I encourage you all to speak up for the things you are an advocate for. Speak up loud and often.