A record-breaking number of arts advocates gathered in Washington, D.C. for our national Arts Advocacy Day conference to make the strongest possible case to their elected representatives to support the arts in America, a cause more important than ever in light of the Trump Administration’s recent budget proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other federal cultural agencies.
Preserving and expanding funding for the NEA was just one of the issues Arts Action Fund members overwhelmingly voted to champion on Arts Advocacy Day, along with fully implementing the arts provisions in federal K-12 education law and preserving charitable tax deductions for nonprofit arts organizations.
Our advocacy efforts are being given a big helping hand by the services of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the second largest lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. Brownstein has committed to doing everything it can to advance the cause of the arts on Capitol Hill, and it is doing it pro bono thanks to its COO and our Arts Action Fund board member Steve Spiess.
One of our most exciting advocacy strategies of the new year is the placement of ads in regional newspapers around the country that are based in the states and districts of key GOP Members of Congress. More than two dozen ads will appear in local newspapers during the May Congressional recess periods. Read our blog for details and more examples.
Record Number of Arts Advocates Lobby Capitol Hill
More than 700 arts advocates representing all 50 states gathered in Washington, D.C. for the 30th Annual Arts Advocacy Day, part of the National Arts Action Summit on March 20-21. Presented by Americans for the Arts in partnership with 87 national arts organizations including Americans for the Arts Action Fund, this strong, unified coalition has been instrumental in helping to advance key legislative initiatives for over a quarter century.
They were joined by legendary Tony Award-winning artists Ben Vereen and Brian Stokes Mitchell, and actress Gabrielle Ruiz. This year’s events took place just days after the release of President Trump’s proposed “skinny budget,” calling for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Several members of Congress came and spoke out against the budget proposal, including Congressional Arts Caucus co-Chair Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and STEAM Caucus co-Chair Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). Also providing motivating and inspiring remarks at the Kickoff were House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and civil-rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Check out event highlights and learn about ways to keep the advocacy momentum going at AmericansForTheArts.org/AAD.
Ford Foundation President Delivers Nancy Hanks Lecture
“Art is not a privilege. Art is the soul of our civilization; the beating heart of our humanity; a miracle to which we all should bear witness, over and over again,” declared Darren Walker as he began his lecture on the heels of a special performance by Anna Deavere Smith at the 30th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy. The lecture was presented by Americans for the Arts at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in a packed Concert Hall of 2,000 people on March 20, 2017. After an introduction by Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum, Darren made the case for creativity in all aspects of the economy and personal life. He further addressed the need for public funding in the arts during his remarks, stating “We must invest in our ambition, in our aspiration, in that American spirit of ingenuity and sense of imagination that has always propelled this great nation forward. This is no time for a poverty of imagination in our country.”
From a Petition, to a Song, to a Movement
In mid-January, just before Inauguration Day, an opera musician in New York City read rumors of how the Trump Administration was likely to propose terminating annual funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and other cultural agencies. Being an artist-and one that strongly opposes such a proposal-Jonathan Estabrooks launched an online petition. With his social media skills in play, Jonathan’s petition grew to almost 50,000 signatures within days.
Jonathan then called Americans for the Arts and through a series of conversations, and building upon his network of creative entrepreneurs, brought together a diverse group of singers, actors, dancers, writers and others to record an “Anthem for the Arts” and to film a video which would bring awareness of the importance of arts funding.
In conjunction with national Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., hundreds of artists recorded the iconic Beatles song, “A Little Help From My Friends” to support the arts in America, and the net proceeds of the song (available on iTunes and Broadway Records) is being donated to Americans for the Arts to support advocacy efforts.
As of this publishing, the song’s video has been viewed over 75,000 times in under a month and is an incredible example of what a few dedicated, committed people can do to build support for a cause they believe in.
Appropriations Win; New Legislation; New Leadership Announcements
Congress has approved a $2 million increase for the NEA and NEH, now fully concluding work on the FY2017 budget. Ahead remains the larger threat-the President’s proposal to close out the cultural agencies in FY2018. His request has been met with strong opposition from Congress and arts advocates from across the country, evidenced by the record numbers on the “Dear Colleague” letters led by pro-arts members of Congress and the recent success in securing a funding increase for the current year. Join our #SAVEtheNEA campaign to stay abreast of the latest and to weigh in with your elected leaders.
Additionally, there’s good news to share about the CREATE Act, which was reintroduced in advance of Arts Advocacy Day-this time in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. Check our full resources on our landing page: AmericansForTheArts.org/CREATE.
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) has also reintroduced the Artist-Museum Partnership Act! We also welcome Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Susan Collins (R-ME) as the new co-chairs or Senate Cultural Caucus. As always, the Arts Action Fund will be working with Members of Congress and their staff to protect the NEA and other cultural agencies to build pro-arts support on broad legislative initiatives.
State and Local Update
Thank You to the State Arts Action Network
The Arts Action Fund would like to recognize the active state arts advocacy and service leaders in Americans for the Arts’ State Arts Action Network (SAAN). The SAAN is a national network of state arts advocacy and service organizations that lead civic action on the state level to enrich lives, economies, education, and communities through the arts. The SAAN represents the on-the-ground expertise and power to influence grassroots advocates for coordinating overall efficient federal and state advocacy campaigns.
Your support of your local SAAN is crucial as we carry on the good fight at the local, state, and federal levels to advocate for the arts, culture and arts education.
The Arts Action Fund hosted a PAC Fundraising Reception with Tony Award-winning actors Ben Vereen and Brian Stokes Mitchell, in conjunction with Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. In a record-breaking year, the Arts Action Fund PAC had over 135 attendees at the reception and was able to raise over $12,000 to support pro-arts Congressional candidates. Both artists emphasized the importance of arts and arts education, as Ben Vereen said “we are the spiritual enforcers – enforcing love through the arts. That’s who we are.”