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Over 700 arts advocates gathered in Washington DC for Arts Advocacy Day – a record-breaking crowd for the annual event. Grassroots advocates joined representatives from cultural and civic organizations across America to raise awareness for arts policy issues and call for support of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which is currently under the threat of elimination.
On Monday, March 20th, arts activists were briefed on the latest policy issues and legislative developments with emphasis on the NEA, tax policy, and arts in education programs. Subsequent breakout sessions armed participants with critical case-making tools and provided detailed training on effectively advocating for the arts.
That evening, Darren Walker – President of the Ford Foundation – delivered the Americans for the Arts 30th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy entitled “The Art of Democracy: Creative Expression and American Greatness”.
On Tuesday morning, arts advocates prepared to storm Capitol Hill and make their case to members of Congress. Before departing to meet with their legislators, the activists assembled for final words of advice and inspiration at the Congressional Arts Kick-Off. NEA Chairman Jane Chu, Tony Award-winners Ben Vereen (Pippin; Wicked) and Brian Stokes Mitchell (Kiss Me Kate; Ragtime), and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Gabrielle Ruiz attended the event and voiced passionate support for the arts.
Several members of Congress also pledged support to the cause. “Art is the universal language. Investment in the National Endowment for the Arts gives opportunity to all,” insisted Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). “The arts are what tie us together,” remarked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). U.S. Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis (D-GA) said simply: “I love the arts”. Lewis moved many in attendance to tears with his passionate defense of the arts as an instrument for social change.
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced newly updated legislation – the Comprehensive Resources for Entrepreneurs in the Arts to Transform the Economy (CREATE) Act – to strengthen the nation’s workforce and creative economy. “For anyone to call the arts a luxury is just not acceptable!” said Representative Dingell. “It is critical that we continue to invest in and grow this vital industry.”
Other Congressional Arts Kick-Off speakers included Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ), and Tom Cochran, the Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The event concluded with a powerful spoken word performance by the youth of FRESHH Theatre Company.
Armed with the knowledge and training to make their cases, arts advocates dispersed throughout Capitol Hill to meet with representatives and spread the word! Here are photos and tweets from just a few of the delegations: