A Very Different Arts Advocacy Day

By Laurie Baskin posted 04-02-2020 14:33


Every year, about 500 arts advocates join together in Washington, DC, for a two-day event – the national arts advocacy day. After a day of rigorous training, advocates navigate the marbled halls of House and Senate office buildings and make the case for various issues that impact the arts field.

This year was different. In keeping with COVID-19 related cancellations across the arts field and every sector, the in-person Arts Advocacy Day which was slated for March 31 was canceled. But, TCG had already confirmed 5 Hill visits – so we inquired about conference calls instead. And, Hill staffers rose to the occasion!

TCG always assembles an Arts Advocacy Day team of TCG board members and trustees from TCG’s National Council for the American Theatre. Advocacy is largely storytelling about need and impact. Those stories were kicked off by constituents: Will Davis, Director & Choreographer, New York, NY; Derek Goldman, Co-Founding Director, Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, Director, Playwright/Adapter, Professor, Washington, DC; Mara Isaacs, Founder and Executive/Creative Producer, Octopus Theatricals, Princeton, NJ; Laurie McCants, Co-Founder, Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, Bloomsburg, PA; Julie Morris, Advisory Council, Playmakers Repertory Company, Chapel Hill, NC, and National Council for the American Theatre Member; and Hana Sharif, Artistic Director, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, in addition to TCG staff Teresa Eyring, Executive Director, Erica Ortiz, Director of Marketing, and Laurie Baskin, Director of Research, Policy & Collective Action.

TCG’s team met with Hill staffers in the offices of: Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12-NJ). As one might imagine, the conversation was mainly focused on the catastrophic impact of the Coronavirus on the professional, not-for-profit theatre field. TCG shared a summary of our research about canceled performances, layoffs, furloughs, and the overall economic impact of this crisis on the sector. The Hill staffers were uniformly engaged, supportive, and responsive. As Senator Cardin is the Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, his staffer was extremely knowledgeable and helpful about relevant CARES Act provisions. The staffer in Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman’s office told us a funny and poignant connection – that her sister was a recently laid-off Assistant Stage Manager who had worked with Will Davis on DUAT by Daniel Alexander Jones at Soho Rep! [Small world!]

Toward the end of each visit we made sure to quickly identify all of our top priorities: increased funding for the NEA in its FY21 appropriation, funding for arts education at the US Department of Education, improved visa processes for artists from abroad, enhanced and improved tax incentives for charitable giving, and protection of wireless microphones used in the performing arts. But the biggest case we made was that the impact of COVID-19 on the theatre field is tremendous and that the federal relief packages to date will help but will not solve the problem and that there is much greater need for relief. All of the Hill staffers heard us and all of them urged theatres in their districts to contact them if help and guidance around the CARES Act is needed, or if those legislative offices can help further. They really do want to hear from constituents and they should be contacted with stories from the field. And we all promised to stay in touch about future relief packages. It was different, but a day well spent.