This blog originally appeared on March 16, 2018 on City Theatre's blog. Ryan Ferrebee, staff member at City Theatre, joined 16 other arts delegates from Southwestern PA on March 12 - 13 for National Arts Advocacy in Washington, DC. Ryan is also co-chair of the Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Network, a peer network of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. More about the Southwestern PA delegation in the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council press room, here.
I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Washington, DC, where I represented City Theatre at National Arts Advocacy Day organized by Americans for the Arts. Over the course of two days, advocates underwent training and took to Capitol Hill, urging elected officials to take actions on arts policy. These ranged from very public issues like funding the National Endowment for the Arts and enacting a universal charitable deduction for all taxpayers, down to including tool replacement grants under FEMA for self-employed artists effected by disasters–under current policy, for example, a self-employed potter whose kiln is destroyed during a hurricane is ineligible to receive a tool replacement grant from FEMA.
On top of all that learning, we had really great meetings with legislative teams from across Pennsylvania. I felt listened to and supported by our legislators and—most importantly–I feel like they understood just how important the arts are for the residents and the economy of our region. In total, the Pennsylvania delegation stumped for 18 arts-related issues to 13 of our elected legislators. It was, quite literally, all in a day’s work.
I learned a lot during the training sessions and my visits. Another Pennsylvania advocate said trying to take in all the information was “like trying to drink from a fire hose,” which I totally agree with. Since I can’t list them all, here are my top three favorite things I learned while repping City Theatre at Arts Advocacy Day 2018:
1. Arts Advocates are Fierce.
Rest assured, the people who go to DC for arts advocacy day take it very seriously! Many of them are spending their own money and using vacation days to spend 20 hours training and advocating for your arts organizations. More than 700 advocates from 49 states (where were you, Montana?!) and DC showed up, trained hard, and pounded the pavement and hallowed halls of Capitol Hill for the arts.
Me? I logged over 10,000 steps in 6 hours going from meeting to meeting. That’s a lot of walking!
2. The Arts Are Great for the Economy.
In the last recorded year, what industry added four times more to the U.S. economy than the agricultural sector and $200 Billion dollars more than the transportation sector?
Answer? The Arts!
The arts sector is a huge boon to the economy. Locally, according to the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, City Theatre’s economic impact was $3.7 million last year. That includes $905,362 in audience direct spending on food, beverage, parking, lodging, babysitting, and other associated expenses. That breaks down to about $30.64 per person per visit, much of which goes to local businesses like Streets on Carson and The Urban Tap.
Let’s look at it another way—everything you buy on top of your ticket when you come to the theatre amounts to supporting 28 full-time, local jobs.
Great work! Celebrate by ordering yourself another round next time you visit us.
3. The Arts Are Bipartisan.
A lot of people today feel like the arts are a one party issue based solely in spending philosophy. Conservatives would rather cut the NEA to save the country money while Democrats want to expand arts funding at the risk of increasing the deficit, right? Wrong!
It’s not that black and white. People on both sides of the aisle understand the value of and support the arts! 161 out of 435 members of the House of Representative and are members of the Congressional Arts Caucus and 33 Senators are in the Senate Cultural Caucus —they span the whole political spectrum. It’s important to remember that our legislators are real, three-dimensional people, elected to represent the interests of all of their constituents. I may not agree with a certain legislator on all their policy issues, but I can still meet them, learn where they stand on what’s important to me, and provide them the strong information on why it should be important to them.
I met with Democrats and Republicans. It may have taken different strategies to get everyone on the same page, but within 15 minutes—whether through discussing economics, Veterans affairs, or education—it was clear that each one of them saw the value of the arts for their districts and was willing to help ensure their constituents had the access to the arts that they deserve.
The arts are a big part of our economy and our identity as a nation. They help everyone—from children in community programs to veterans suffering from PTSD (both of which are NEA-funded projects, by the way). Nearly everyone has had a life-changing experience with the arts at some point, and those are the stories we tried to tell.
So, what’s next? Advocacy, much like the seasons, is cyclical. Now my job is to keep the arts at the top of our legislators’ minds by calling, writing letters, scheduling more meetings, and (most importantly) thanking them when they take action that positively impacts the arts. Want in on the action? Pick a day in April, call your representative, and let them know that you would support their decision to fund the NEA at $155 million for the 2019 fiscal year!
Thanks for reading!
Ryan Ferrebee is the Development Officer—Institutional Funding for City Theatre. In his six years as a fundraising professional, Ryan has raised over $5.5 million to support programming at nonprofit theatres. He lives in Swissvale where he spends his free time renovating his 90-year old house and trying to provide the best lives possible for his two rescue dogs, Dottie Mae and Boomer Ray, his cat, Freddie Purr-cury, and his husband, Kevin.
You may remember a time in the early 90s when the National Endowment for the Arts was the object of great political controversy for having supported (however indirectly) contemporary art works deemed obscene or sacrilegious by some vocal, political activists. Some objections were over content, others rejected the very idea that funding the arts and culture, however minimal the dollars spent at the federal level compared to the private sector, was something the federal government should do.
Since that time, the NEA has generated less controversy and less "bad" news. There are good reasons for this. The NEA, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, has made certain that ordinary Americans are more integral to its decision-making about grant-making. The agency has also broadened its focus to serve an even more diverse range of constituencies. There's the Our Town initiative which uses the arts in "creative placemaking" programs to revitalize urban, rural, and suburban communities. Another publicly popular initiative is Blue Star Museums, a collaboration among the NEA, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and 2,000+ museums across America to offer free admission to the nation's active-duty military personnel and their families.
So, with such good will already generated by these and other programs, why is the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, on March 23-24 leading the SWPA delegation to National Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, DC, an annual gathering of several hundred arts & culture advocates from around the country? Well, it's not only to hear Norman Lear, the legendary TV producer, who will deliver the 28th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on the Arts & Public Policy at the Kennedy Center.
No, we go primarily because it's a special opportunity to demonstrate to our elected officials how the arts & culture can continue to serve a range of public purposes if there is support and funds for the NEA, the arts education programs of the U.S. Department of Education, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. We'll also talk about how preserving charitable giving to the arts, tax fairness for artists and writers, and protection of Internet neutrality are essential for a vibrant American culture.
Our delegation, using a mix of the latest research on the public benefits of the arts and our own stories, will share our messages with the offices of Representatives Mike Doyle, Keith Rothfus, Tim Murphy, and Mike Kelly, and Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey.
Another upside to the trip? We get the chance to meet with our PA colleagues from Citizens for the Arts in PA and the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance to discuss PA arts policy issues, such as the potential implications of Governor Wolf's budget proposal for the arts and culture.
An integral part of our delegation is 13 students in the Master of Arts Management program at Carnegie Mellon University. Arts Advocacy Day is a chance to show these future arts administrators how becoming an advocate will be an essential part of their job descriptions going forward.
You can download your own Congressional Arts Handbook, here and read up on the latest facts, figures, and federal issues in the arts.