TCG Represents the Theatre Field in Washington, DC

By Laurie Baskin posted 03-15-2019 15:31


Arts_Advocacy_Day.jpgL to R: Laurie Baskin, TCG, Raymond Bobgan, Cleveland Public Theatre, James McNeel, City Theatre, Julie Morris, Playmakers Repertory Company, Kristen Coury, Gulfshore Playhouse, Adrian Budhu, TCG

The theatre field was well-represented in Washington, DC on Arts Advocacy Day on March 5! Learn more about the who and what of our delegation here I co-presented the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Issue Brief during the training sessions on March 4th, and also presented the status of wireless microphones at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). After a full day of training on a wide range of policy issues, we headed to the Kennedy Center for the Nancy Hanks Lecture. It was an extraordinary evening with songs beautifully performed by Brian Stokes Mitchell, an introduction by Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, and a talk by the legendary Rita Moreno who told the story of her journey to New York City from Puerto Rico with her mother and how she got into the arts. Moreno noted how important it is for the NEA to have the funding necessary to make it possible for others coming after her to have access to the arts. The energy, warmth, passion for the arts, and humor on display by both women were amazing.

Our team, representing the national professional, not-for-profit theatre field spent the next day visiting Capitol Hill offices as a group with a constituent taking the lead in each meeting. Raymond Bobgan described Cleveland Public Theatre’s service to its community in meetings with staff in the offices of Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Kristen Coury impressed staff in the offices of Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) about the importance of both direct NEA grants and grants from State Arts Councils which receive 40% of the NEA’s funds each year. Julie Morris made sure that her elected officials and their staffers in the offices of Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) Representative David Price (D-NC) understood the importance of NEA and arts education funding as well as the concerns in the not-for-profit community about the effect of the 2017 tax legislation on charitable giving. And, James McNeel reinforced the concerns about charitable giving with staff in the office of Senator Patrick Toomey (R-PA) and helped bring staff in the office of Representative Michael Doyle (D-PA) up to speed on FCC rules regarding wireless microphones.

“Storming the Hill for Arts Advocacy Day is always one of the more rewarding opportunities of my year. As cynical as we all can be—and rightfully so, at times, about the state of our politics—it is still an inspiring moment experiencing democracy in action. To be part of the TCG cohort and to visit the Congressional offices with TCG colleagues from across the country filled me with hope about the bi-partisan support the National Endowment for the Arts enjoys and the value representatives and their staffers place on arts education and the role of theaters in our communities. A highlight, for sure, was hearing from so many of the individuals working at Congress who had personal experiences on how the arts have positively impacted and guided their lives, even as they are now in public service. Personally, it was a delight to spend so much time with fellow theater-makers and learn about the extraordinary work and community-building they’re creating every single day.” James McNeel, managing director, City Theatre Company, Pittsburgh, PA

“From time immemorial, theatre tells society’s relevant stories... stories that keep us engaged, empowered and human. I could not think of a better way to spend my birthday this year than joining the TCG team on Capitol Hill to tell our powerful theatre stories. As we advocated for the public policy and appropriations that are crucial to the theatre arts, we illustrated how collaborative and unifying theatre can be for a community and country.” Julie Morris, advisory council, Playmakers Repertory Company, Chapel Hill, NC

“I was enthralled by the experience of advocating for the arts on Capitol Hill.  It was a most educational and memorable experience and has definitely positively impacted my thinking as theatre-maker and citizen.  Many thanks to TCG for making sure that our voices are being heard in the hallowed halls.  And deep thanks to Americans for the Arts for fully informing us on the issues, inspiring us about our art, and making it possible for us to effect change.” Kristen Coury, founder and producing artistic director, Gulfshore Playhouse, Naples, FL

Two additional TCG staff members were sent to Washington, DC this year to help advocate for theatre on Arts Advocacy Day. Annabel Guevara, Executive Assistant to the Executive Director and Anne Ciarlone, Membership Associate, participated as members of the New York State group of arts advocates.

Here ate their observations from AAD:

“During one of the preparatory sessions at the Arts Action Summit the day before our scheduled Hill visits, a speaker reminded us that even if we’ve never done this before, WE are the experts on our field. This eased some of the anxiety I was feeling around not being well-enough prepared or informed to advocate for theatre issues on a federal level.  Similarly, I’ll never forget how Brian Stokes Mitchell spoke about how just the act of being part of this advocacy makes us American. When it came to the Hill visits, my team and I took turns sharing the key points of advocacy that affected our respective fields. I spoke about the requested NEA budget of $167.5 million for FY20 and about the need for a universal charitable deduction to undo the devasting effects that the current tax policy will have on not-for-profit performing arts organizations that rely on individual donations as about 40% of their income. The Congressional staff members we met with were all receptive to what we had to say, and I was struck by how *not* intimidating the experience was in the end. It was exciting and humbling to represent TCG and the not-for-profit theatre field in this way.” Anne Ciarlone, Membership Associate, TCG

“As a product of public-school arts programs, I was incredibly excited to join a cohort of arts practitioners on the Hill last week. Not only did I advocate for the importance of arts funding as it pertains to my current organization, TCG, and the U.S. not-for-profit theatre field, I also spoke out for youth all over the country who will benefit from robust arts programs in their schools, just the way I did. I couldn’t help but think what an incredible impact both playing the violin and joining drama club early in my life had on my current career path as an emerging leader in the theatre field. I am very grateful to have represented Theatre Communications Group in this significant way.” Annabel Guevara, Executive Assistant & Board Liaison

Arts advocacy has always been bipartisan and we were well-received in all of these offices. Every staffer we met expressed support for the National Endowment for the Arts on behalf of their bosses and said we could expect at least level funding, and some offices suggested that to the extent it would be possible given budget caps, they would support an increase.

Next steps . . . we are waiting for the President’s full FY20 budget to be released soon, and we expect he’ll once again propose elimination of the NEA – it’s heartening to know there is strong support for the arts on Capitol Hill!