Enlisting one million arts advocates to mobilize support for the arts and arts education Join for Free!

News

Leveraging One’s Case for the Arts: AKA Maximizing One’s Visit to Lawmakers

Posted on: Aug 1, 2017

By Naj Wikoff


Preparation

Our Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R, 21st District, NY) supports federal funding for the arts and humanities by way of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. But Speaker Paul Ryan has advocated for the elimination of these two Endowments along with theCorporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute for Library and Museum Services; a stance that made me especially nervous last spring in light of President Trump’s proposed budget that included such language.

Knowing that our Congresswoman has a special working relationship with the Speaker—she worked on his debate team during the 2012 presidential campaign—I asked if she’d arrange a meeting with him for a delegation of arts representatives from her district. I pitched her following a community forum dominated by health care questions in early May that was hosted by our local PBS station. She agreed to do her best and successfully secured an appointment for us to meet with Speaker Ryan on Tuesday, July 19. The caveat was that we might not get the Speaker in person, but we would meet with a member of his staff.

A week later, I attended the annual meeting of the Adirondack Nonprofit Network. The coordinator, Cali Brooks, Director of the Adirondack Foundation, arranged a time for those in the arts to discuss the make-up of the delegation, one that would reflect a wide-diversity of agencies regarding size, the array of programming, and federal funding. Next, I called Nina Ozlu Tunceli of Americans for the Arts and the Executive Director of their Arts Action Fund. Her advice was three-fold, call George Tzougros, Director of the Wisconsin Arts Board for his insights on Speaker Ryan’s district, bring data on the economic, educational, and social benefits of the arts, and illustrate our situation with stories that personalize how federal funding makes a difference in people’s lives.

A note about where I live, our district is very rural, communities are spread far apart, household incomes are below the national average, and the population is aging (the oldest demographics outside western Florida). The landscape is stunning and some communities like my hometown of Lake Placid, are meccas for tourists. When I was a kid, there were no public performances, arts agencies in my village, but now every town, village and hamlet in the region have arts activities. Some of these nonprofit cultural organizations have become the largest employers and major attractions for tourists. Eliminating federal funding for the arts would thus be devastating.

The Lake Placid Sinfonietta, which is based at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, performing at the Wild Center (The Adirondack Natural History Museum).

In conference calls with Nina and her team, we prioritized our pitch, determined who would speak in what order, and discussed our ask. We also arranged meetings with the Congressional arts policy staffers for our two New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and thanks to travel assistance provided by the Adirondack Foundation and augmented by Americans for the Arts, we ensured that the smallest agencies and those with the tightest budgets could afford to attend. The Arts Action Fund provided economic impact
data recently compiled by Americans for the Arts along with information on federal funding in our and the Speaker’s district.


The Meetings in D.C.

Our delegation included David Kahn, Executive Director of Adirondack Experience: The Museum at Blue Mountain Lake, James Lemons, Executive Director of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, Stephen Longmire, President of the Upper Jay Arts Center (aka Recovery Lounge), Bill McColgan, President and CEO of Mountain Lake PBS, Holly Wolff, President of Pendragon Theatre and a board member of Adirondack Foundation, and myself, President of Creative Healing Connections.

We had three good meetings in DC with Eric Deeble, Senator Gillibrand’s arts person, Christina Henderson, Senator’s Schumer’s arts person, and Congresswoman Stefanik which included Cynthia Herrle, Speaker Ryan’s senior policy advisor. The timing was excellent as Congress was in the midst of determining the budget. The context was amazing because while we were there, the drama of healthcare was unfolding, sanctions on Russia were being voted on, and lobbyists and the media were pounding on their doors to gain access to members of Congress.


Advocates with Eric Deeble, Senator Gillibrand’s legislative assistant for the arts.
Advocates with Eric Deeble, Senator Gillibrand’s legislative assistant for the arts.


Advocates with Christina Henderson, Senator’s Schumer’s legislative assistant for the arts.
Advocates with Christina Henderson, Senator’s Schumer’s legislative assistant for the arts.


Arts advocates with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21) (center).
Arts advocates with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21) (center).

Our Congressional representatives were impressed by the variety of smaller agencies that provide a wealth of arts experiences, and how we personalized the arts. As an example, a full concert at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts is equivalent to 12 percent of the population of Lake Placid. We described how the arts connect with young people. Examples included Pendragon taking theatre into schools; Adirondack Experience engaging over 12,000 schoolchildren annually; The Lake Placid Center for the Arts’ wide-array of arts education classes for people of all ages; Connecting Youth and Community involving over 100 kids in the creation of a mural for Whiteface Ski Center; and Mountain Lake PBS being a pre-school provider for many low-income families.

Pendragon illustrates Pendragon Theatre’s performance James & the Giant Peach performed as a concluding event of their summer camp for kids.
Pendragon illustrates Pendragon Theatre’s performance James & the Giant Peach performed as a concluding event of their summer camp for kids.

An art class for kids at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.
An art class for kids at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

We described connecting people through the arts such as Adirondack Center for Writing’s writing workshops in prisons and storytelling-slams in bars; Creative Healing Connections’ use of the arts to help women veterans living with PTSD and MST tell their stories; and the Recovery Lounge’s casting of plays by recruiting people from all walks of life—many of whom had never acted before. We shared the array of innovative uses of the arts that got their start here, such as the creative arts therapies in Saranac Lake ; films premiered by the Adirondack Film Society; how dancers Martha Graham and Paul Taylor re-invigorated their careers via summer residencies; and how the first arts Olympiad at a Winter Olympics took place in Lake Placid.

Mountain Lake PBS did a series of videos called Veterans Coming Home, one of the videos Finding Your Voice) profiled Creative Healing Connection’s retreats for women veterans held at the Wiawaka Center for Women on Lake George, the oldest retreat center created by women for women in the US.
Mountain Lake PBS did a series of videos called Veterans Coming Home, one of the videos Finding Your Voice) profiled Creative Healing Connection’s retreats for women veterans held at the Wiawaka Center for Women on Lake George, the oldest retreat center created by women for women in the US.
Ripcord, a play by David Lindsay-Abaire at the Upper Jay Art Center (Recovery Lounge), featuring retired school teacher Joy McCabe in her first performance on stage and public advocate lawyer Susie Doolittle (about his 6th time on stage).
Ripcord, a play by David Lindsay-Abaire at the Upper Jay Art Center (Recovery Lounge), featuring retired school teacher Joy McCabe in her first performance on stage and public advocate lawyer Susie Doolittle (6th time on stage).

We described the $2.5 million economic impact the Hyde Collection’s exhibit on Georgia O’Keefe had in Glens Falls and the thousands of people attracted to the region by Fort Ticonderoga, the Wild Center and Adirondack Experience. We described how these three organizations are the lead employers in their communities. We discussed how the arts have been key to the revitalization of communities like Saranac Lake and Plattsburgh, and how The View Art Center serves as a multi-faced anchor, education, and exhibition venue for the Old Forge area.

Techung is a master Tibetan musician featured in their award-winning documentary Arts in Exile: Tibetan Treasures in Small Town American, which chronicles the creation of the Tibetan arts festival held last year in Plattsburgh, NY exploring how the city was moved by the culture of Tibet from across the globe.
Techung is a master Tibetan musician featured in their award-winning documentary Arts in Exile: Tibetan Treasures in Small Town American, which chronicles the creation of the Tibetan arts festival held last year in Plattsburgh, NY exploring how the city was moved by the culture of Tibet from across the globe.

During our time with her, Congresswoman Stefanik spoke passionately about the arts, discussed ideas for expanding awareness to her colleagues on how important the arts are to rural areas like ours, and only lamented about her challenge of attending events up here sans entourage. While doing so, she provided a strong endorsement for the arts to Cynthia Herrle, Speaker Paul Ryan’s senior policy advisor who took many notes.

We tied our situation to the Speaker’s district, to the commonalities we had with the rural parts of his district and described how in Plattsburgh the arts were being used to help attract new business and revitalize the downtown after the loss of a major employer (Janesville, WI lost GM, Plattsburgh lost an air force base).

Congresswoman Stefanik, along with our Senators’ arts policy advisors in separate meetings, promised to support full funding for the arts, asked to be kept abreast of upcoming events, and was impressed by how interconnected our arts agencies are with each other and the communities they serve.


Did it matter?

“I thought this was a valuable opportunity to be able to speak directly to the folks on the Hill about the work we are doing every day and the fact that it’s so interconnected and vital in underserved communities,” said Bill McColgan, President, and CEO of Mountain Lake PBS. “We demonstrated that though we are small organizations, we are very cost-effective regarding the amount of money we can bring in to leverage federal funding. I was very encouraged by the support we got from Congresswoman Stefanik as well as the offices of Senators Gillibrand and Schumer.”

“This was my first meeting with the Congresswoman, and I was thrilled to hear her concerns for the arts and how she is interacting with her colleagues to present our perspective,” said David -Kahn, Executive Director of Adirondack Experience. “I was very pleased to learn that she and the Senators are going to support full funding for the NEA, NEH, IMLS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

“I felt that Congresswoman Stefanik’s reaching out to Speaker Ryan demonstrates the deep level of commitment she has for the arts and culture of our communities,” said James Lemons, Executive Director of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

As a follow-up, we are getting articles about the trip in local papers, encouraging local arts agencies to send follow-up letters of appreciation, gathering stories for our Congresswoman to publish on her website and in Congressional in-house newsletters, and reviewing next steps with Nina and the Arts Action Fund. Already our Congresswoman has tweeted a link to an article about our visit to her network.