CNY Arts attends Arts Advocacy Day 2018
By Sarah Anson, CNY Arts in Education Coordinator
Stephen Butler, Executive Director at CNY Arts was happy to oblige when Americans for the Arts asked him to serve as the New York State Advocacy Captain for their Arts National Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. this year on March 12th and 13th. Much of this work entailed outreach to arts organizations from across the state to encourage their participation, as well as outreach to the New York State Congressional Leaders to schedule meetings with groups of attendees either from their districts or for the statewide agencies with members in their districts, to talk about arts issues and policies, specifically to support the National Endowment for the Arts.
Supporting the Executive Director in this endeavor, I also attended. This was my first year, and it was an amazing experience! About 700 people from all 50 states and every single arts background that you can think of came together at the Grand Hyatt Conference Center to hear from speakers and panelist about how to develop talking points and approaches to advocate for the arts at the National level. Our first day was filled with information about how the legislative process works, information about funding for arts education, arts as a healing form for veterans, the aging, and people with mental issues, cultural and ethnic diversity in the arts, and our main goal of NEA funding. I met people as varied as arts therapists, copywriters, artists from all disciplines, arts labor union members, grant writers, executives, and students; it was amazing to know we all had one common goal. As the Arts in Education coordinator for CNY Arts, the breakout sessions that I attended through the afternoon included how school arts programs are extremely valuable in non-arts subjects and the effect that arts have on test scores, school performance, and graduation rates. One aspect that hit home for me as a recent grad with student loans was the discussion of doing away with the student-loan forgiveness program as well as many of loan and grant opportunities.
The main point that all 700 of us were there to advocate for was for Congress to prevent the suggested elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts in the Executive branch’s recommended FY2019 budget and to fully fund this agency and others (i.e. National Endowment of the Humanities, Public Broadcasting, Museum Services), and well as discuss the impact of the new Tax Law on charities and not for profits. The late Rep. Louise Slaughter of Rochester, Chair of the bipartisan Arts Caucus had introduced a letter that was currently circulating through the House of Representatives asking for an increase of $155 million to put more arts programs into effect in 2019. Called the “Dear Colleague” letter, this was given to every Congressperson in every state with a request asking for their support and signature. I am happy to report that many legislators on both sides of the aisle had already signed including Representative John Katko here in Central New York. Sadly we could not obtain an appointment with Rep. C Tenney so we do not know if she has signed the letter or not. The 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act also has serious effects on arts organizations and museums, as charitable contributions can only reduce your tax bill if you itemize your taxes. (Taxpayers generally only itemize when the combined total of their anticipated deductions—including charitable gifts—add up to more than the standard deduction). Many of our workshops were ways that we could make our case when we met with our legislators the next day. Later, all the attendees from New York State met and got into smaller groups to discuss the talking points and strategize what to say when they meet with Congressional staff on Tuesday
Tuesday was a whirlwind of a day. As the organizer of the New York State group, CNY Arts had divided the 70 NYS attendees into teams of 3-8 people to meet with 2-3 Congressional leaders and staff, and do drop offs of materials at representatives offices where we were unable to secure appointments, made our way up to Capitol Hill. My team met with staff from Rep. Tonko’s (Albany) and Rep. Katko’s (Syracuse) staff. We also put together information for Rep. Tenney’s (Madison) and Rep. Reed’s (Ithaca) office that was dropped off for review. Rep. Stefanik from the North Country sat down with us herself to discuss her goals for arts in her district and we talked about the need for NEA funding in order for her goals to be carried out. She was extremely gracious and interested in what we had to say, and spent about half an hour talking with us. Stephen and his team meet with representatives from Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, and Rep. Slaughter’s offices and then he joined us for the visit to Rep. Katko’s office. In the end, everyone that my group met with said they were on board to sign the “Dear Colleague” letter.
It was amazing to all have one voice in the arts, and the sense of pride knowing that what we were doing was making a difference. Through this event, it felt really good championing for something that I truly believe in and helping to ensure arts for future generation. I think that our request was heard, loud and clear!
So what can you do? Make your voice heard too! Visit the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, where you can hear from well-known names in the field and sign the petition. To read the “Dear Colleague” letter, click here.