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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 79&80/365 - National Arts Advocacy Day

I mentioned that I was traveling and days would get a little mixed up. I thought about either trying to make them up later, or changing my interpretation of the prompts. But then I realized that this was a great place to talk about where I was and what I was doing.

I went with a group of OSU students and emerging arts leaders from Columbus. We attended National Arts Advocacy Day, sponsored by Americans for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. For anyone not living under a rock, you know what a timely event this was. Just the week before, President Trump announced his suggestion to completely cut funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Museum and Library Services from the national budget. It's important to note here that the funding to all four of these agencies COMBINED is less than 1/2 of 1% of the national budget.

At this event, we were specifically focused on funding to the NEA. Currently the NEA's budget sits at $147,800,000. Try to put that into perspective. (I know that always gets difficult when you think about hundreds of millions of dollars.) Try this: "The annual combined Federal budgets of the NEA & NEH equals 4hrs & 23min of spending on the US Military." Numbers like this have been flying around for the last week or so. But this one comes from Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I'm not as enamored with him as some, but he does tend to back up his statements with actual evidence.

This was a two-day event. The first day was filled with workshops, giving all 700+ attendees (a record in the 30 year history of this event), who represented all 50 states, all the tools, facts and figures we would need to properly advocate for support of the arts at the national level.

Also important to note in the first chart is the levels of funding the NEA has seen in its lifetime. This chart isn't adjusted for inflation. You might remember in the early 1990s, the NEA was under attack for its decision to fund a controversial project by Robert Mapplethorpe. That was also when the NEA reached its peak in funding at $176,000,000. That number was equivalent to $.11 of every $100 spent by the US government. Today, that percentage has dropped to just $.03 to every $100.

Very few industries enjoy the sort of ROI that is seen in the arts. For every $1 a patron spends on the arts, the community it serves gets $9 back. As a national average, in addition to their ticket or admission to the arts offering, the attendee will spend, on average, an additional $24.60. This could be dinner, concessions, drinks, etc. If the person attends from outside the county of the arts event, that number goes up to $46.00 per person. Arts and cultural productions contribute $730 billion, or 4.2%, to the national GDP. And they do that on less than $150 million in funding.

The second day takes attendees directly to Congress. Our delegation was organized by Ohio Citizens for the Arts. The day started in the Kennedy Caucus Room in the Rayburn Congressional office building. We were cheered on by numerous members of congress and celebrities from the screen and stage.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Jr. - MD
Rep. Debbie Dingell - MI
Rep. Nancy Pelosi - CA
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici - OR

Sen. Lisa Murkowski - AK

Jane Chu - NEA Director
Rep. John Lewis - GA
Ben Vereen
Sen. Tom Udall - NM

Gabrielle Ruiz
Brian Stokes Mitchell

Next up we went directly to the congressional offices. My group met with Rep. Bob Gibbs from OH-7 and then Rep. Joyce Beatty from OH-3. The first was a little trickier. He's a staunch conservative from a district that is heavily populated by farms. We were taught to do our research and know our ask. There it was "the arts are thriving in your district", "funding from the NEA touches every congressional district in Ohio", and "PLEASE DON'T VOTE TO CUT THE NEA FROM THE BUDGET". 

The next one was much easier. Rep. Beatty is one of 3 members of congress that represent Columbus. She is a long time supporter of the arts and funding them. There, the first thing we're told to do is thank her for her continued support. Then the ask is to get more involved and join an arts-friendly caucus. In this case we asked her to join the congressional STEAM caucus.

A quick hike across the capitol grounds, a metro and escalator ride and another 5 block hike and we were back to the bus to take us home.

So, yeah. I slacked on my project. I'll admit to it. But I think what I was spending my time doing was pretty important. The fight is not over. Now that it's been suggested that the arts don't matter, at least in terms of them being funded by our government, it will be suggested again. And again. But there will always be those that will fight for them. Those that know how important the arts are to a well-rounded education. Those that know how integral the arts are to their communities. And we're not going to keep quiet about it.

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