Arts Advocacy Wave Hits Washington

Arts advocacy is a year-round effort, and the current climate in Washington can make advocacy a frustrating job.
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It's nearly impossible to have a conversation about the federal budget these days without the words "deficit," "debt," or "reduction" entering into the mix. In the times we live in, a willingness to cut funding is sometimes deemed courageous or bold, and success is measured by how much someone is willing to take away.

Yes, everybody is concerned about the need to balance the budget, and that's understandable. But often lost in the conversation, at least in the past few years, is the fact that economic growth is still needed. Even as the economy recovers, businesses and individuals continue to struggle. In this time of economic uncertainty, it's important that we focus on supporting programs and initiatives that drive economic recovery.

That was one of the messages nearly 500 arts advocates from 45 states brought to Washington, D.C., last month for National Arts Advocacy Day, which is organized by Americans for the Arts and cosponsored by more than 85 national organizations. The timing could not have been better. The arts are currently facing many challenges that are impacted by decisions made on Capitol Hill. These very challenges present opportunities to demonstrate to our elected officials the many critical roles the arts play in education, in the economy and in the culture and tourism of states, cities and towns across the country.

Our advocates know they're competing with many other voices and interests for the attention of their members of Congress. But they continue to advocate, because they've seen their work produce results. Last year, our advocates were a part of a coalition that fought back against a proposal to cut the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts by nearly half. We not only avoided the cuts, but saw an $8 million increase in the NEA's funding.

This year, our advocates discussed multiple arts-related issues with members of Congress and their staffs during about 300 visits. While we did address specific issues like arts funding, arts education initiatives, and protecting the charitable-giving tax deduction, we went in with the overarching goal of positioning the arts as an important economic and educational policy issue. Did we convince everyone? Of course not. However, we opened the eyes of many elected officials to the true impact of cuts to arts funding and arts education in their communities. Nine members of Congress newly joined the Congressional Arts Caucus after these visits. Record numbers signed funding requests to the U.S. House & Senate Appropriations Committees in support of federal funding to the NEA. If we continue our strong advocacy efforts, more of our leaders in Washington will come to recognize the amazing potential of the arts to stimulate the economy, create jobs and change lives.

It's also encouraging to know that we continue to have some great champions of the arts representing us in Congress. We recently presented the 2014 Congressional Arts Leadership Awards to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). The national cosponsors of Arts Advocacy Day visited with White House officials at the fourth White House Briefing on the Arts.

Arts advocacy is a year-round effort, and the current climate in Washington can make advocacy a frustrating job. But consider what's on the line for the nonprofit arts and their audiences: 4.13 million full-time jobs, $86 billion in household revenue, more than $135 billion in total economic activity, and countless opportunities for students to learn and develop creative skills that are essential in many industries. As we made clear to members of Congress during our visits, these are issues that could transform lives, grow local economies, and cross party lines.

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