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Arts and Culture Public Officials Breakfast 2015

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Report from Capitol Hill

Outside U.S. Capitol Building

Earlier this week, I joined over 500 artists, arts administrators, arts educators and students in Washington, D.C. to advocate for favorable arts and cultural policy at the federal level. I have to confess, this is the first time I have ever been to the National Arts Action Summit and Arts Advocacy Day. My years of experience have demonstrated that the best relationships with public officials are built at home over time – long before you have to make an ask of them. What makes this year special, then? In short, for a second year in a row the President has proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts – an action that would have material impact on the arts and society. Going to Washington would ensure I can sleep at night, knowing that I had left no advocacy opportunity vacant.

Group of Ohio advocates
Megan and Ohio advocates pose outside Congresswoman Marcia Fudge's office

In fact, I found the whole experience invigorating. There’s nothing like sitting in a legislative office with arts and cultural colleagues from your community (shout out to the CARE program team at the Cleveland Play House) and watching young arts advocates experience their first legislative visit (shout out to the students from Baldwin Wallace University and The Ohio State University). We fed off of each other’s energy in each meeting – sharing facts and stories of impact, while never forgetting to make that closing ask for support. Pragmatically speaking, the National Arts Action Summit provided me with an opportunity to understand the current status of a number of arts-related legislative issues beyond funding for our nation’s cultural agencies. And, I’m coming back with a whole lot of ideas for how we can strengthen our advocacy efforts at the state and local level.

So, what did I learn that you can use in your advocacy efforts, now? Here are some of the high points:

Status of Funding for the Nation’s Cultural Agencies

The federal government still hasn’t adopted a budget for fiscal year 2018, even as discussions are taking place about fiscal year 2019. While an omnibus spending bill was expected to go to the floor this week – it is possible negotiations will continue into next week. Advocates are encouraged to send letters to their senators and representatives and ask for $150 million for National Endowment for the Arts funding in 2018 and no less than $155 million in 2019. As a reminder, 40% of NEA funding goes directly to the states and in Ohio that money is entirely re-granted to arts and cultural groups. *A note here: Rep. David Joyce OH-14, Rep. Marcy Kaptur OH-9, and Rep. Tim Ryan OH-13 are on the House Committee on Appropriations. Joyce and Kaptur are also on the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. So, a targeted message about this is worthwhile.  

Tax Reform

There was a lot of discussion about the increase of the standard deduction and the effects fewer people itemizing will have on charitable giving. While we should continue to advocate for a universal charitable deduction, which would expand incentives for charitable giving, the cost of such a deduction is likely to be a point of contention for its adoption. The main message for advocates is twofold: track the changes in individual giving patterns at your organizations over the coming year, so that we can fully understand the effects of tax reform on nonprofits, and remind legislators that our field relies upon contributions from individuals throughout the economic spectrum. *A note here: Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown are on the Senate Committee on Finance and Representative Jim Renacci is on the House Ways and Means Committee. So, a targeted message about this is worthwhile.   

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

Legislators will soon be turning their efforts to reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The PROSPER Act has a few features that arts leaders were concerned about – namely elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and placing a cap on the amount of financial aid/student loans that individuals can receive based upon earnings potential. In the latter item’s case, the concern is that it gives the impression that certain majors aren’t good because they don’t have good earnings potential. Data from the SNAAP project tells us that people who pursue arts majors finds themselves in an array of fields upon graduation. Make sure our legislators know that study in the arts at the collegiate level is a valuable endeavor that influences creativity and innovation in wide range of fields and oppose any legislative efforts to discourage pursuit of majors based upon earnings potential.

*A note here – Representative Marcia Fudge is on the committee that is working on this. So, a targeted messages is worthwhile here.

There’s a lot more to share, but I’ll close for now. To find out more about all of the issues that were being discussed, I encourage you to review the 2018 Congressional Arts Handbook. And to get connected with your public officials and other advocates closer to home, I encourage you to participate in Arts Day & Governor’s Awards for the Arts on May 16, 2018 or save the date for CPAC’s Public Officials Recognition Breakfast on June 15, 2018.

Categories: advocacy, Arts Education, Connecting with Policy Makers, funding

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