Dancers on the Hill: Arts Advocacy Day 2011

On April 4 and 5, 2011, more than 500 arts advocates from across the country met in Washington, D.C., to tell their elected officials about the important role the arts play in the lives of constituents and the communities where they live.

Participants spent Monday learning about the current legislative climate and were briefed by staff from Americans for the Arts and members of the Legislative Planning Committee (of which Dance/USA participates) on the issues they would address with their legislators. These ranged from requesting level funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Arts in Education program in the Department of Education, to such less known issues as advocating for the support of net neutrality and laws that allow musicians’ instruments as carry-on luggage during air travel.

On Tuesday, after  actor/director Kevin Spacey’s outstanding inspirational speech at the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Public Policy and the Arts, the 500-plus advocates joined artists from their states and spread out across Capitol Hill to visit their legislators.

  • Jana La Sorte, executive director of Urban Bush Women, and former UBW dancer Francine Sheffield, now a student in the arts administration masters program at New York University, joined fellow New Yorkers on the Hill and advocated for support for the NEA.
  • Greg Becker, former intern for Kim Konikow, Dance/USA’s events manager, and current staff member at the Illinois Arts Alliance, informed us of kindred spirits in the legislative offices. A congressional staffer for Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) participated in an amateur dance company and Rep. Mike Quigley’s (D-IL-5) scheduler was a professional dancer in her previous career.
  • Lacey Althouse, development/program associate from Dance/NYC, remarked, “This year I was able to attend with one of our constituents, Brittany Beyer, who is a dance artist and administrator. The experience of going with a working, under-the-radar dance artist demonstrated how important advocacy is to protect the livelihoods of individuals in order to retain their priceless artistic contributions to society.”

While these conversations with our elected officials and their staffers may feel too brief to matter, the offices track each visit and what their constituents are advocating. Numbers of constituents and personal stories do make a difference.

On Tuesday, April 12, the House released the final Continuing Resolution proposal that funds the NEA at $155 million and reinstates the Arts in Education program at $25 million. While any cuts to the already small federal arts budget are cause for concern, the cuts were not nearly as deep as many feared. (In fact, AIE had been completely eliminated in a previous CR budget.)

What does this mean for arts advocates? It means we must continue raising our voices around the many benefits of federal arts support, including the economic impact, the connection to student achievement, increased accessibility, and, of course, the intrinsic cultural value to our nation’s character.It means we must continue raising our voices around the many benefits of federal arts support, including the economic impact, the connection to student achievement, increased accessibility, and, of course, the intrinsic cultural value to our nation’s character.

President Obama’s proposed FY12 budget makes an even deeper cut to the NEA at $146.255 million and eliminates the AIE line-item by consolidating it into a larger funding pool. We still have letters to write, phone calls to make, and stories to tell. Here are few things you can do:

1. Visit The Performing Arts Alliance and send a personalized email to your elected officials;
2. Contact the Dance/USA government affairs office to schedule legislative visits the next time you are in Washington;
3. Send us stories of how dance benefits your community. In your absence at legislative visits, we will speak on your behalf when we visit your legislators and tell them of the wonderful work Dance/USA members are doing.

If you have any questions or want to learn more about policy issues, please email

Brandon Gryde is director of government affairs for both Dance/USA and OPERA America. For the past two years he served as director of communications for Youth Service America, an international youth engagement organization, where he worked to increase awareness about the positive impact children and youth make in their communities through service and service-learning. Prior to moving to Washington, D.C., Brandon spent more than seven years at Jump Street, an innovative community arts organization in Harrisburg, PA. He managed a state re-granting initiative in partnership with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and launched AND Magazine, a quarterly arts and healthy lifestyles publication written by teens, for teens. Brandon has a B.A. in ethnomusicology and American literature and culture from UCLA and an M.A. in American Studies from Penn State.


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