Strength in Numbers
In advocacy, there’s enormous value in the large numbers of voices coming together, unified around an issue. Arts Advocacy Day brings together more than 500 individuals who are passionate about the policies that support artists and audiences in their communities. Those who visit Washington, DC each spring roam the halls of Congress, meet with Congressional members or their staff, and follow up with thank you letters and stories. We bombard lawmakers with a lot of information, facts, and anecdotes, bringing a wave of enthusiasm for pro-arts policy-making.
But what happens throughout the rest of the year in DC? As government affairs director for both Dance/USA and OPERA America, two distinct member service organizations and National Partners for Arts Advocacy Day, I represent the interests of the dance and opera communities in Congress, the Administration, and federal agencies. I work with my members to engage in year-round communication with their lawmakers, provide policy updates on conference calls and at meetings, and speak on behalf of the field through direct lobbying. Yet approximately 20% of my work takes place in coalition meetings.
Outside of Arts Advocacy Day, I join my colleagues from other national arts and non-arts organizations to replicate the scope of an advocacy day. At any given time, I participate in five or six different coalition meetings with the goals of sharing information and developing strategies to move our policies forward, but also to come together to increase the size of our voice in Washington, DC.
We continue to work on the very same issues presented during Arts Advocacy Day, including appropriations for the National Endowment for the Arts, tax policy for nonprofits, immigration issues for foreign guest artists, arts education at the U.S. Department of Education, protecting performing arts organizations as users of wireless microphones, and others. When we come together, I bring my members in the dance and opera fields and combine forces with the membership of the League of American Orchestras, Theatre Communications Group, American Alliance of Museums, the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, and of course Americans for the Arts. We also regularly partner with many non-arts organizations including United Way Worldwide, YMCA of the USA, and American Red Cross. We have the ability to find constituents in each district and to share stories about how policy impacts a broad spectrum of arts and cultural organizations and the nonprofit sector as whole.
Leading into Arts Advocacy Day, the Legislative Planning Committee, made up of dozens of National Partners, works together to revise and update the issues briefs, which include talking points and legislative asks to members of Congress. It is truly a collaborative effort to ensure that the policies we’re seeking work for the greatest number of people and organizations in the arts sector. We merge our ideas and edits through in-person meetings, subcommittee phone calls, and ongoing emails in order to craft the most useful language that is accessible to both advocates and policymakers. Depending on the year and the climate, some issues require a much more delicate navigation, yet our commitment to progress for artists, arts organizations, and the communities we serve results in everyone’s respect for the time and effort that is brought to the table.
As someone who is already shared by two different organizations and therefore works with two different staff cohorts, I often think of my government affairs colleagues as a third cohort. In fact, some weeks I see and interact with them more those in my own organizations.
Progress on various policies is always the result of collaborative efforts. And I’m fortunate to work on behalf of my fields and the arts with a dedicated group of arts advocates.