Hill Visits: Bring the Stories to the Hill

by Laurie Baskin

in Advocacy

Post image for Hill Visits: Bring the Stories to the Hill

(Photo credit below. Leading up to Arts Advocacy Day on March 24-25, TCG is sharing reflections from our board and National Council for the American Theatre on our February visits to Capitol Hill.  Learn more about TCG’s advocacy efforts here, and how you can get involved with Arts Advocacy Day here and here.)

Julie Morris, National Council for the American Theatre

The common thread connecting our visits was the positive feeling people have about theatre arts. Each legislative assistant expressed how they wished they had more “time” or “opportunity” to enjoy the theatre as the experience was always enlightening. The concept of STE”A”M and how vital adding in the “Arts” to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and was welcomed and agreed on by all. In addition, the overwhelming message was the need for anecdotal “stories” to bring to the Congressmen and Senators.

We discussed this at the end of the day and suggested that TCG members could share and we could send these to our legislators. Everyone contributed and shared a concrete story or example of how their theatre is impacted by NEA funding and donor support as well as the educational support integral to their community. In short, for a first time arts advocate in DC, I had an eye-opening experience, deepened my relationships with my colleagues, and gained expertise about issues directly impacting the American theatre.

Chris Jennings, Managing Director, Shakespeare Theatre Company

I had lobbied state legislatures before on other issues but had never done a Hill visit on behalf of the arts. It was truly a great experience. First, TCG did a fantastic job in preparing us as well as having an experienced lobbyist guide us through. It was further enhanced by going with such well-spoken and passionate colleagues. I was surprised at the ease in which each of us was able to hand off the discussion to one another to best make our points. I was also equally impressed that we all found ways to put forward the human face of the arts – telling real stories of lives impacted –not just facts and figures. I often get discouraged living in DC where we don’t have a true political voice. But I was happy to see that our voice was certainly important in adjoining states as well as serving as a face to those representatives who work here locally. I hope that more and more people will become active and share their stories.

Max Leventhal, Owner’s Representative, The Woodruff Arts Center

From the great state of Georgia, the offices of Senator Johnny Isakson and Representative John Lewis were represented by staff who were open to hearing our concerns and generous with their time. I would say that both their focuses seemed more pointed towards the issues of preserving the charitable deduction and the IRA Rollover donation than discussing the budget of the NEA, the Education Department, or the auction of frequencies that might impact wireless microphone transmission.  I will leave it to our Maryland colleagues to comment on their elected officials, but the sense I had was they were more open to hearing about the broader landscape of our collective concerns. My colleagues were a fun group and extremely thoughtful.

John Hauge, National Council for the American Theatre

The staff members of Senators Isakson, Mikulski and Cardin and Representative Lewis were receptive to our presentations of the importance of the performing arts in the lives of our fellow Americans, including the need to retain the size of the NEA federal budget grant and preservation of the incentives for charitable giving. The TCG talking points allowed us to keep the focus on the critical issues, especially in enabling specific asks tied to specific pieces of legislation and not just “support the arts.” The contributions from the full complement of TCG members present demonstrated the broad constituency of non-profit art organizations that exists.

Having served as a staffer to Senator John Chafee decades ago, it did not surprise me that the staffers we met had to keep options open for their principals, but it was clear, especially for the two Maryland senators, where their hearts were (for example, Mikulski is Co-Chair of the Senate Cultural Caucus with Mike Enzi; Cardin supports the tax deduction).

Some points I think particularly resonated were:

  • arts organizations do not just entertain but serve the community as civic partners by educating through the arts;
  • STEM with the arts makes STEAM;
  • the importance of integrating popular work with high art, as an access point to the fundamentals of civilization is not always Shakespeare but popular culture (which Shakespeare himself was in his time).

It would be interesting to know whether arts people vote as a higher percentage than the U.S. electorate at large, because that matters to Congressmen.

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director, Center Stage

These were my first ever Hill visits and I have to say I found it terribly exciting. The group I was in was extremely articulate and politically savvy, so advocating for the arts in general, and issues closer to us as theatrical practitioners specifically, seemed to be handled with ease. In truth we got better as we went along. What was really inspiring however was the interest displayed by the congressperson/senators’ special advisors.  They seemed to listen.  And we can ask no more of them than that.  Apart from doing what we have asked them to do.

(Photo Back Row: Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director, Center Stage; Lynn Deering, Trustee, Center Stage (National Council for the American Theatre); Chris Jennings,  Managing Director, Shakespeare Theatre Company;  John Hauge, Trustee, Shakespeare Theatre Company (National Council for the American Theatre); Julie Morris, theatre Trustee (National Council for the American Theatre); Brandon Gryde, Director of Government Affairs, Dance/USA and OPERA America/Performing Arts Alliance. Front Row: Kevin Moore, Managing Director, TCG; Max Leventhal, Owner’s Representative, The Woodruff Arts Center.)

laurie_baskin_2Laurie Baskindirector of research, policy & collective action, joined TCG in 1997 as executive assistant to the executive director. In 1999, she was named director of government and education programs and in 2013 was named director of the newly formed department of Research, Policy and Collective Action. Ms. Baskin serves as TCG’s liaison to the Performing Arts Alliance. Prior to joining TCG, Ms. Baskin served for 15 years as executive assistant to the Chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts, working for then-Chairman, Kitty Carlisle Hart. She attended Mount Holyoke College, earned her B.A. from Colgate University, and a degree in arts administration from Adelphi University.