FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 29, 2015

The American Alliance of Museums Announces Museums Advocacy Day and the 2015 Great American Museum Advocates

250+ museum professionals from across the country will visit Capitol Hill February 23–24

Washington, DC—Next month, more than 250 staff, students, board members, volunteers, supporters and independent professionals who work for and with museums will travel to Capitol Hill from across the country to advocate for federal support of America’s museums. Organized by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the seventh annual Museums Advocacy Day, February 23–24, will present Congress with powerful research and stories on the economic, educational and community impact museums make locally and nationally.

“Museums are essential to communities everywhere, as part of our educational infrastructure, as economic engines and as community assets that improve the overall quality of life,” said Alliance President Ford W. Bell. “We are pleased to provide an opportunity for museum colleagues to join us in delivering these critical messages to Congress.”

The Alliance reports the following figures that exemplify the importance of museums:

  • Museums invest more than $2 billion in education programs each year;
  • Museums welcome more than 55 million schoolchildren each year;
  • In direct expenditures alone, U.S. museums inject $21 billion into the economy, and employ roughly 400,000 Americans;
  • Museums receive more than 850 million visits annually, more than all major league sporting events combined;
  • For every $1 invested in museums and other cultural organizations, $7 is returned in tax revenues.

Advocates from nearly all 50 states will arrive in Washington for a day of issue briefings on Feb. 23, followed by a day of visits to Congressional offices.

All museum supporters are encouraged to advocate from anywhere by sending letters to elected officials, submitting op-eds and sharing messages through social media, using #museumsadvocacy.

Congressional Honorees

During Museums Advocacy Day, the Alliance will present awards to members of Congress who have demonstrated exemplary support for museums. The 2015 Congressional Honorees are: Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) and Rep. David Price (D-NC).

The Honorees will be recognized at a reception on Feb. 24 from 5 p.m.–7 p.m. in B-338-9, Rayburn House Office Building. Members of the media are invited to attend, R.S.V.P. to kguiter@aam-us.org.

Great American Museum Advocates

The Alliance also announces its 2015 Great American Museum Advocates, selected from nominations submitted by museums of all types and sizes, from coast to coast.

The winners are Robert Gray, a first responder at the Pentagon on 9/11, nominated by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, and Fernando Valles, an Iraq war veteran, nominated by the Chicago Botanic Garden. Chosen for their dedication to their respective museums and the ways in which these institutions have affected their lives, the winners will be both honorees and participants in Museums Advocacy Day.

In September 2014, Robert Gray visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum as the last stop on his “Ride 2 Recovery,” an extraordinary bicycle trip Gray took from Boston to New York with a group of veterans, firefighters and law enforcement personnel, all struggling with profound medical and emotional injuries.

A captain with the Arlington County, Va., Fire Department (ACFD) in 2001, Gray spent weeks fighting the fires at the Pentagon and searching for and recovering the remains of those killed on hijacked Flight 77 and at the Pentagon. Gray would share his story a few years later with curators from the 9/11 Memorial Museum, speaking specifically about two cherished items – the fire helmet he had worn throughout his career and a special yellow helmet issued to responders who were working under hazardous conditions in the collapse zone at the Pentagon. Eventually, he made the decision to donate the protective yellow helmet, tagged with a sticker honoring the 343 New York City firefighters who had died at the World Trade Center.

On September 12, a day after the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 150 riders arrived in lower Manhattan for an emotional tour of the 9/11 Memorial. A goal of the visit was to reunite Chief Gray with his donated helmet, placed on view in the newly opened Museum. Surrounded by supportive members of his R2R community, and in the company of the Museum’s oral historian, he faced the case displaying his helmet and wept openly.

In a Facebook message following his visit, Gray described the 9/11 Memorial Museum itself as an example of recovery. Not long thereafter, he was ready to entrust the other fire helmet to the care and custody of the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

“We could not be more touched by the selection of Chief Robert Gray as this year’s Great American Museum Advocate. When he saw the helmet he had worn during the Pentagon recovery efforts on display in the Museum, it was transformative, connecting his own journey of recovery to that of our city and nation,” said Alice Greenwald, 9/11 Memorial Museum Director. “Bob’s donations have enabled us to share the inspirational story of all first responders on and after 9/11. Even more importantly, they testify—just like Bob Gray—to the human potential for resilience and renewal.”

Iraq war veteran Fernando Valles is a participant in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s collaboration with Thresholds’ Veteran Project—a new, groundbreaking program in horticultural therapy that supports veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional challenges. Thresholds is a community-based mental health agency with a mission to transform the lives of people struggling with mental illnesses.

Based on the healing power of nature and plants, the Botanic Garden’s project consists of a series of six retreats for 15 veterans and their therapists. During monthly half-day retreats, participants engage in a variety of activities, from journaling to planting and harvesting projects to creating memorial garden stones.

The program serves veterans from all branches of the military services, particularly focusing on those returning from recent conflicts. The sessions are designed to ease reintegration and provide a peaceful environment for artistic expression and self-soothing.

During one of his visits, Valles described the garden as a “safe” space for the veterans. “It’s very important to have a safe space because when we were in other places of the world defending this country, we never felt safe.”

Valles served for 11 years in the military as a medic in the Navy; he was stationed in Iraq, Japan and multiple other locations in the Middle East. He is currently earning a master’s degree in counseling from National Louis University.

For 30 years, the Chicago Botanic Garden has provided opportunities for healing, stress reduction, physical exercise and endless learning through its Horticultural Therapy Services. The Garden is a world leader in providing therapeutic horticulture experiences to visitors through its Buehler Enabling Garden. The programs explore the many health benefits that are available in nature.

Watch a video segment on the Thresholds Veteran Project.

“Many of us find stress relief in a garden. In this program, we sought to demonstrate a number of ways to engage with the natural world for the purpose of coping with stress. We were so gratified to share the Garden with these men and women who have returned home from military service,” said Barb Kreski, Director of Horticultural Therapy, Chicago Botanic Garden.

The 2015 Great American Museum Advocates were chosen from dozens of nominations, all compelling testimonies to the power of museums. These and other poignant stories will be shared with legislators, media and the public during Museums Advocacy Day to emphasize the profound ways in which museums are serving communities.

“We are honored to welcome Robert and Fernando to be a part of our seventh Museums Advocacy Day,” Bell said. “These two inspiring stories of public service to our country will impress upon Congress how essential museums are to individuals and communities.”

About the American Alliance of Museums

The American Alliance of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. With more than 21,000 individual, nearly 4,000 institutional and 300 corporate members, the Alliance is dedicated to ensuring that museums remain a vital part of the American landscape, connecting people with the greatest achievements of the human experience, past, present and future. For more information, visit www.aam-us.org.

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