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The Passing of an Arts Advocacy Legend Louise Slaughter

Posted on: Mar 16, 2018

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Americans for the Arts Action Fund mourns the loss of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York, who died today in Washington, D.C. at the age of 88. Louise has been a champion of the arts for decades and our organization and its members are profoundly saddened, but still spirited in her honor and grateful for all she has given in service to her constituents at home and nationwide through her passionate support for the value of the arts and arts education.

We will always remember Louise’s kindness, toughness, and effectiveness. She was elected to Congress in 1986 and was a fierce advocate for the arts and arts education and co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus for 23 years.  

Passionate about her personal love for the arts, Louise once told an Arts Advocacy Day crowd about a conversation with her husband the night she was first elected to Congress: “My husband swears I told him this…after we’d gotten the results that I’d just won a seat in the House of Representatives, I said to him, ‘Well, all I really wanted to do was be a blues singer.’” Congresswoman Slaughter sang with a big band in college and her husband would often proudly show off a photo of Louise fronting the band.

Our Arts Advocacy Day crowds will miss her spirit, her encouragement, and her vision that the arts should be much better funded in America. Congresswoman Slaughter received the Congressional Arts Leadership Award in 1998 from Americans for the Arts and The U.S. Conference of Mayors, and every year she rallied thousands of arts advocates to speak to their Members of Congress about the value and importance of the arts. With what she described as a fire in her belly, Louise inspired everyone from art students in high school and heads of major cultural institutions to nationally recognized artists, including Lin-Manuel Miranda and Kerry Washington. 

“It has been my honor to stand with Louise Slaughter on over 100 occasions in the last 23 years as she fought for arts support while she chaired the Congressional Arts Caucus,” said Robert L. Lynch, President and CEO of the Americans for the Arts Action Fund. “I have called her a friend and friend of the arts for the entire 32 years she has been in Washington. I’m not sure there has ever been, or will be, an arts advocate who has more tenacity, fight, humor, and spirit of generosity than Louise Slaughter.

My favorite memory is when she was giving one of her signature passionate rousing talks about the arts and how she feared for young people losing opportunity. She suddenly spied a high school-aged boy in the group, my own 13-year-old nephew Ian. She looked at him and called out, ‘are you reading anything today?’ and he answered back citing a book of poetry and one on political action. Louise was so excited that she ran over to him, hugged him, and turned to crowd and said, ‘There is hope for America.’”

Recently Congresswoman Slaughter co-authored an Arts Advocacy Day letter to her Congressional colleagues calling for support of funding for the arts and arts education at the national level saying, “The American public wants and needs an affordable investment in the arts” and “Federal investment in the arts provides all Americans with expanded opportunities to engage with the arts in each state and district.”

As Louise often stated and lived herself, "the power of the arts transcends our differences, transports our imaginations, and teaches our children." Her longtime passion and energy for the arts and arts education are also reflected in her dedication to the people she served, and when it came to Congressional debate, Louise was an eloquent advocate who never, ever let up. Americans for the Arts will miss our friend but continue to be inspired by her leadership.

An integral part of Arts Advocacy Day both onsite and offsite, Congresswoman Slaughter composed op-eds to further champion the cause—in 2017, and in 2015 with Congressional Arts Caucus co-chair Leonard Lance (R-NJ). Louise’s rousing speeches to arts advocates at Arts Advocacy Day can be viewed here: Arts Advocacy Day 2013Arts Advocacy Day 2014, and Arts Advocacy Day 2015.

Pictured: Arts Action Fund President and CEO Bob Lynch pictured with Louise Slaughter at her official Congressional portrait dedication ceremony on April 15, 2015, in honor of her serving as Chairman of the Rules Committee.