By Alyssa Foster
Current ARAD Student, Arts & Humanities Writer
On March 24th and 25th this semester five Arts Administration representatives from the Students for Arts Advocacy (SAA) group traveled together to Washington D.C. to attend the annual conference on arts rights and regulations. Hosted by Americans for the Arts, the conference known as National Arts Advocacy Day included two days of workshops and seminars on an array of topics from arts education policy to nonprofit tax benefits and charitable grant funding.
“I attended the 2014 Arts Advocacy Day as an observer and without pre-conceived expectations,” says Nana Lee, SAA member and first year MA student in the ARAD program. “The experience was eye-opening regarding advocacy preparation, training sessions and on-site advocacy improvisation.”
The conference provided an opportunity for students and current arts administrators to meet with politicians and learn the tools used by advocacy groups today. Not all of the speakers turned on their charm.
“The atmosphere of the advocates was as expected – active and sincere, but I was not satisfied with the politicians,” explains Xiaobei Jia, also an SAA member and first year ARAD student. “The advocates were friendly and devoted in the conference, but sometimes I felt they were more interested in promoting their own organizations, not advocating for the arts in a broader sense.”
On the first day of the conference, the SAA members attended a training called the Congressional Visit Role Demonstration during which the conference participants were asked to assume the role of politicians to simulate the conversations on Capitol Hill that they would facilitate with actual congressmen the following day. The following day, however, their role playing proved more substantive than the reality.
“Our team had been assigned seven congressmen,” recounts Xiaobei “only one congressman would meet us in person. . . He seemed in a hurry, so every time we spoke he showed impatience and stopped us several times. He was more interested in letting us know his achievements in advocating for the arts in New York, rather than listening to our opinions.”
The conference included a series of sessions at which key Capitol Hill staff members and high profile advocates complemented the statistical data presented with their anecdotal discussions.
“I would say the highlight was the evening at the Kennedy Center,” recalls Xiaobei. “The talks delivered by Maureen Dowd and Alec Baldwin were so interesting and witty, totally different from the daylong training.
“The most memorable session was the Legislative and Political Update,” reminisces Nana,” in which a staff member of Louise Slaughter gave an attitudinal profile and voting history analysis of the members on the hill and among the administration. The session provided behind-the-scenes information that gave the most up-to-date information.”
Since the conference was cosponsored by over 85 arts organizations from around the country, the students met with advocates from all corners of the United State which gave them a fuller perspective on the current state of arts funding and resources available.
“I feel the current state of the arts in the US now is developing on a healthy track,” says Xiaobei. “There are problems, for example, insufficient funding, not implementing art as part of the Common Core, tax issues with the artists and difficulties in cultural exchange. But I could see people are trying to solve the problems: the advocates coming from almost every state in the US, organized by Americans for the Arts, united to make their voices heard.”
“My impression is that funding for the art is deeply associated with budget appropriation and authorization,” describes Nana, “which is beyond the mere attitudinal question of being ‘supportive’ or not. It is a mixture of rather complicated political concerns, especially when the impact of any law or bill will effect more than just the arts.”
The National Arts Advocacy Day conference has given the participants fresh ideas for the future of their own SAA group, and also on how the conference itself could better serve the needs of advocates nationally.
“Very little information was provided in the conference on the methodology of how the annual asks for the Advocacy Day were formulated,” muses Nana. “As art administrators, and in the hope of becoming more effective advocates, it is important to know the mechanism behind how the asks were compiled each year. What SAA can do on a regular basis is to provide a transparent conversation channel with the Americans for the Arts before the actual Advocacy Day to provide a more comprehensive picture of the advocacy currently at work.”
“I hope our SAA group will actively reach out to make connections with other student organizations, collaborate with school departments, and even city, state, and federal-level organizations related to the arts,”says Xiaboei. “The different subcommittees of the SAA are working on this to promote our group, and try to make our voice heard.
“It was definitely a precious journey,” concludes Nana about the conference, “that gave first-hand experience on how regular, long-term dialogue and monitoring mechanisms are enabled by advocacy groups.”
“I also hope the SAA group is actively involved in the Arts Advocacy Day every year,” adds Xiaobei,” that would be a precious experience for future arts administrators.”
By Alyssa Foster
Arts & Humanities Writer