L to R: Ian Boley-Theatre Communications Group, David Wolber-Performance Network Theatre, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Kim Dabbs-Michigan Youth Arts Association, Jackie Parker-Deputy Legislative & Senior Policy Director for Sen. Levin
In the week and a half since attending Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, DC, and for the first time ever trying my hand at congressional lobbying, I’ve been pleased to discover the incentives for which I first chose to attend, such as the opportunity to see Ben Folds perform at the Kennedy Center, have not become the most vivid memories. These perks have instead taken a backseat in my mind to the several pleasant surprises I encountered while there.
The first and least consequential of these was the opportunity I had following the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Monday night to revisit and photograph the White House and many of its surrounding landmarks. While most constituents were returning gratefully to the comfort of their hotel rooms, I was snapping night photos of the Old Executive Office Building, US Chamber of Commerce, Department of the Treasury and Washington Monument. Among the many truths observed by the week’s various celebrity guests was one expressed earlier that night by keynote speaker Alec Baldwin: that nothing makes one feel more patriotic than admiring the beautiful architecture of our great capitol city. Though I have been to DC and witnessed these majestic structures several times before, it remains a great pleasure of mine to view them each time I return.
As the week’s festivities evolved beyond tourism and celebrity sightings, my most unique experience became the privilege I had to meet personally with Senator Carl Levin (MI). Pictured above, Levin is a man whom I have admired for many years for a variety of reasons, including and most especially his consistent support for the arts. Running a close second to this was the moment when, in my delegation’s excitement at having viewed the Shuttle Discovery’s flyover from the balcony outside Representative Camp’s office, we returned inside only to send dozens of papers flying off staff member desks and across the room in various imitations of the shuttle itself. Camp’s staff weren’t particularly happy with us for opening their doors so quickly.
Following a long list of Hill meetings – some more productive than others – and punctuating the day’s efforts was a reception and screening of Ovation TV’s “Motor City Rising”, a documentary depicting the resurgence of the arts industry in downtown Detroit. This event provided for me, a Michigan native and lifelong supporter of the city of Detroit, a vividly cathartic summation on the gravity of our efforts that day and beyond. To know as only a Michigan kid can the intense trials through which our once great city has suffered, to understand the audacious sense of dignity with which it has been left, and to witness the channeling of that audacity into a set of artistic endeavors designed to lift us up, that we may rebuild and revive our precious city together, is nothing short of breathtaking. It will literally bring you to tears.
Perhaps the greatest takeaway from my experience in DC, however, has been the somewhat comical realization that in the ongoing battle for arts funding, and by extension the battle to preserve our nation’s creative soul, we are not alone. I realize, of course, that many if not most young adults share a stubborn though well-deserved mistrust of and skepticism toward our current political system. We are largely hesitant to participate in any legislative or governmental discourse, preferring instead to stand idly onshore pointing fingers toward an increasingly violent political tide pool. We gaze into this storm wondering what if anything can be churned out of it, and whether or not it will actually serve the good of our nation.
However, to those who fear becoming engaged, to those who see only a hyperbolic bloodbath where there should be a pool of coexisting ideas, I would say: the greatest crimes are, and have always been, those of omission. So dive in. There are allies to be made in more places than you realize. Have the courage to take a side, and the comfort of knowing your opinions will change as you learn and grow. We need not be fearful. We need only to follow through on our requests and hold our elected officials accountable, politely making our case wherever possible, and offering our sincerest gratitude wherever earned. For all these reasons and in all these ways, I will continue to fight for the arts, and sincerely hope that among professionals my age, I will not be alone.
Ian Boley currently interns with TCG’s Government & Education Programs, and is pursuing a career in Public Policy and Non-Profit Management. A graduate of Central Michigan University’s Music Theatre BFA program, Ian landed in New York City after two years spent traveling as a Director and Educator with Missoula Children’s Theatre