For the past five years, Student Advocates for the Arts has attended the nation’s largest arts advocacy event: the National Arts Action Summit and Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. This year, one of the largest SAA groups, composed of eleven members from across the Arts and Humanities department, was due to attend the summit from March 28-31.
To support our participation, we received an ARAD microgrant for our registration fees and accomodation in Washington D.C. We are grateful for the program’s support of our members, many of whom would not have been able to participate in the planned summit without these funds. Early in March, however, the COVID-19 crisis changed our plans.
In response to the health crisis, the in-person annual conference was cancelled. While we had already been in touch with our members to prepare them for possible cancellation, we quickly began implementing actions to cancel the travel plans and seek reimbursements on our expenses. This planning pivot was just a small taste of some of the issues that arts and cultural organizations have been experiencing around the world. How would we move forward to ensure that as many costs as possible were reimbursed, but that SAA members could still gain part of the experience of a national advocacy event?
ARAD’s unwavering support allowed us to repurpose our microgrant funds towards any unrefunded expenses. Luckily, most of our expenses were fully reimbursed. Today, with ARAD’s support, our members have repurposed the microgrant funds towards new professional development opportunities.
On March 30th, the day that the in-person Summit was scheduled to start, American for the Arts announced its swift move to a virtual National Arts Action Summit hosted on Zoom from April 27th to May 1st. Thanks to ARAD’s generosity in allowing us to repurpose the funds for other professional development opportunities, SAA members were able to participate in several of the virtual conferences that shared information on topics ranging from arts education and sustainability in times of COVID, to new legislations and immigration-related issues.
SAA member, Michelle Parkins (Ed.D. Dance Education) attended the entire conference online. She shares her thoughts with you:
I was thrilled to attend the National Arts Action Digital Summit this past week and enjoyed learning about a wide range of policies that impact the art from multiple perspectives, including those that are currently responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. One session that spoke to me and is relevant to my career path was the breakout session regarding k-12 education policy and the arts. I was able to share opinions and concerns regarding support for arts education, particularly at this moment in history. This conversation has led me to connect with others in ongoing advocacy effort conversations.
SAA member, Camille Weisgant (M.A. Arts Administration) also attended several sessions. She reflects on her experience here:
I was happy to be able to participate in the National Arts Action Digital Summit despite not being able to advocate in person this year. I attended sessions on how federal and local relief efforts for COVID-19 are affecting arts and culture and a session on supporting cultural exchange for international artists. The session on cultural exchange was especially resonant as I have worked with international artists in the past and have experienced how trying the visa application process can be. I am inspired to advocate for a more straightforward and timely process in the future!
SAA also organized a small group discussion following a virtual session on Supporting Cultural Exchange and Visas For International Artists. In that session, Najean Lee from the League of American Orchestras presented key advocacy efforts to increase funding for international exchange programs and expedite artist visa processing. Our group came together for discussion and shared personal experiences advocating with governments and how to strategically align art interests with the interests of the funder. We also reflected on our shock to learn during the session that USCIS, the government body that processes visa requests to the U.S., is mandated to process O and P visas for artists within 14 days. Though USCIS agents have said that they understand the timeliness necessitated by visas for artists, who are often contracted to perform or present on specific dates, they simply have failed to adhere to that 14-day period. Finally, we explored ideas about how the nature of cultural exchange may adapt to post-Covid world, such as localized cultural exchange opportunities, for example between Chinatown and the Bronx in New York. We reflected on the available cross-cultural opportunities that may exist in our own cities and countries.
While we were excited for the opportunity to bring such a large and enthusiastic group of student advocates to attend the Summit in person in DC, it was a great learning experience to see how the event played out online as well. This experience has taught us the value of adaptability, the need for financial commitment for the arts, the timeliness of advocacy, and the necessity for inclusion of the arts, artists, and arts professionals in the larger policy efforts. Many of us intend to put the remainder of our ARAD Microgrant awards toward professional memberships and subscriptions for the coming year. In this way, we will keep up on the trends across the art sector and stay informed to continue in our own arts advocacy efforts.
Student Advocates for the Arts is currently led by Arts Administration Masters students (2020) Ulrike Figueroa-Vichis, Carolina Ide-Carvallo, and Sarah Lamade.