By Student Advocates for the Arts
With funding from the ARAD Spring 2019 Microgrant, Student Advocates for the Arts (SAA) recently participated in the National Arts Action Summit 2019, a two-day training and direct advocacy experience in Washington D.C. This conference consisted of a training session and a day of meetings in Congress.
On day one, attendants received an informational handbook containing the year’s talking points and useful facts and figures to build their advocating cases to members of Congress. This first day allowed us to delve deeper into some art issues that interested each of us personally through engaging breakout sessions.
Working together with arts advocates from non-profit organizations, we put our acquired advocacy skills into practice during day two of the conference. Each SAA member was part of a different team and met with federal representatives or their staff to primarily ask for an increase in the National Endowment for the Arts budget for fiscal year 2020; then each of us made a more precise ask.
“Tell your story”, this phrase was one of the guiding points for our meetings on the second day of the National Arts Action Summit. Topics this year included, but were not limited to: arts education in pre-k through 12 and higher education, tax policy, the CREATE Act, public broadcasting, cultural exchange, visa processes for foreign artists, arts in health and the military, the Arts in Transit program, fair compensation for musicians, net neutrality, and wireless technology. Each SAA member attended a different breakout session according to their personal and professional interests, where we all learned more about topics close to our hearts.
This spring semester ARAD microgrant opportunity provided 100% sponsorship for transportation, housing, and conference registration fees for our four SAA attending members. This support allowed us to partake in ARTvocating and understanding firsthand the cultural policy structure that surround us in our every day as art professionals. This year SAA expanded its mission of engagement and collaboration by joining forces with New York University’s Advocates for Cultural Engagement (ACE). Our combined international group representing Canada, China, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States, proved that arts-reach and advocacy touches all. In addition, SAA fulfilled its core mission of enabling students to advocate directly to federal lawmakers for the arts. This experience also aligned with our goal to empower emerging arts leaders with hands-on lobbying, workshops on advocacy and cultural policy, and discussions on the United States system for funding the arts.
SAA attending members reflect on their experiences at the National Arts Action Summit:
Allison Remy Hall
“For me, the National Arts Action Summit was a crash course in the power of federal legislation with respect to the arts, and as such, the power of federal legislation with respect to my own community and personal/professional life. It was an education in the real impact of direct advocacy (and a great opportunity to meet other arts advocates in my home state of New Jersey). My overall takeaway is that arts advocacy should expand to target legislation that addresses broader issues of inequity and exclusion, as these represent primary areas of concern to grassroots and institutional arts communities alike. Without support from ARAD, this incredible opportunity for policy education, professional development, and arts advocacy would not have been possible.”
Ulrike Figueroa Vilchis
“As a Mexican woman experiencing the National Arts Action Summit was slightly conflicting. It made me question why I was attending, what I would gain from it, and what I could bring to the table. I must say that these doubts made my experience more enriching. First of all, it made me appreciate the level of involvement Americans have in advocating for what they believe in. I learned the importance of a personal story backed by facts and figures when advocating for what you believe in. As an international student and arts professional my story was a testament to the value of funding the arts and cultural programs, and I felt that my story and presence really added to our efforts. Personally, I hope that one day the National Arts Action Summit can be replicated in Mexico and that academics and arts professionals take action in advocacy and use the discussion panels and their pens to create a difference. I believe our participation in the National Arts Action Summit furthered SAA’s goals to bring members closer to the action and participate directly in a nationwide arts action event.”
“Attending the National Arts Action Summit was an excellent opportunity to take part in communicating to our elected officials the importance of the arts in society and to us personally. It was wonderful to be able to participate in supporting the arts at the federal level. Personally, I hope to work with elected officials in the future so it was great to be able to see what that process will be like. Going as a group with SAA allowed me, and my classmates, to work as a team to show our commitment to the subjects we have learned about in our classes. At the National Arts Action Summit, I was proud to be able to represent the ARAD student body through SAA.”
Carolina Cambronero Varela
“As an arts administration master student at Columbia University, this experience accentuated the privilege that we have as New York residents and hence the importance of Americans for the Arts’ yearly National Action Summit. I also had the pleasure of participating in Coming Up: Innovation, Evolution, and Progress in the Arts, Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium- hosted by students in the Arts Management program at American University. Both of these events denoted the passion and determination of our fellow colleagues in giving the arts their righteous place. It was also evident that this is a team effort, as in both cases they cultivated donors and relied on board members to support their endeavors. For example, our National Action Summit conference day one culminated with a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Here, Americans for the Arts’ President and CEO Mr. Robert L. Lynch lead a marvelous program that incorporated the inspiring voice of board member Mr. Brian Stokes Mitchell. Mr. Lynch then welcomed associate justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor to introduce Ms. Rita Moreno. Ms. Moreno emphasized the importance of the arts in her inspiring life story through an outstanding performance. This ceremony ignited the activism and advocacy within us prior to our meetings with federal representatives during day two of this conference.
As a firm believer in the transformative power of art, this trip augmented my vision and desire to ARTvocate even more, particularly for those that cannot or could not. By this I do not mean merely in the United States, but rather worldwide- as a human right, as noted in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966). Let ALL experience arts’ power to make us mindful about self and others! This participation echoes Professor Paulo Freire critical pedagogy: ‘For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other (Freire,1970/1993, p. 72).’ The dedication of all SAA and ACE members attending this conference made this a powerful ARTivist experience. Thank you for your team work!”
Student Advocates for the Arts (SAA) is grateful to the Arts Administration (ARAD) program at Teachers College, Columbia University for sponsoring our participation in the National Arts Action Summit 2019.