Lindsey Steward is a museum education professional with seven years experience in the field. She has a Masters of Arts in Public History from Central Connecticut State. A version of this article originally appeared on Medium. You can find Lindsey on Twitter @Steward2Lindsey.
Museums Advocacy Day 2017 took place February 27-28th. Each year since 2009, museum professionals from across the country go to Washington, D.C. to meet with their legislators and legislative staff about the significance of museums in our society. People are also able to participate from home using social media and by contacting their federal and state representatives sending letters stressing the importance of museums to our nation and the vital need for continued financial support. This year, advocates specifically called for re-authorization and continued funding for the Office of Museum Services of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), continued funding for the National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts (NEH and NEA) and the preservation of charitable giving incentives in the tax code. According to AAM, 387 museum professionals went to Capitol Hill this year to make the case for museums with a total of 423 Congressional office visits including all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Demonstrating that you can ‘advocate from anywhere‘, I participated in Museums Advocacy Day remotely by following along and participating using social media as I’ve done for several years. I promote the significance of museums by posting facts and reposting information from onsite attendees on Facebook and Twitter. I also used templates provided by the American Alliance of Museums to write to my legislators to help them understand how important museums are to our nation.
The first day of Museums Advocacy Day was spent briefing advocates on the issues and helping them prepare for Congressional meetings. AAM’s President and CEO, Laura Lott, welcomed advocates by addressing why they were there and what is at stake in 2017 for museums, which was especially poignant considering looming implications of large cuts in store for the U.S. domestic budget. Dr. William (Bro) Adams, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, gave an overview of NEH while presenting its current priorities and explained how the agency partners with museums. The Director of National Public Engagement at the US Department of Education, Karen Stratman, provided an overview of the department’s priorities and gave details on how its programs can support museums’ work. Wendy Clark, Director of Museums, Visual Arts & Indemnity at the National Endowment for the Arts, discussed how the NEA supports museums. Paula Gangopadhyay, Deputy Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, explained what IMLS is, its priorities, and the number of ways the agency supports and serves the entire museum field. Each of these discussions echoed the importance of the federal funding ecosystem to museums. AAM had state snapshots outlining how much IMLS, NEH and NEA funding has gone to museums in each state (you can download one for your state.)
Various sessions helped prepare advocates for meetings with legislators and provided information about public policies and how to use them when discussing with legislators. Towards the end of the day, advocates practiced talking points and planned for visits to the Hill with their state cohorts.
— Anna D’Ambrosio (@A_T_DAmbrosio) February 28, 2017
Day two of Museums Advocacy Day started with a Congressional Kick-Off at one of the Senate office buildings providing inspiration for advocates as they prepared to meet with legislators. The entire day is filled with meetings on Capitol Hill – 423 meetings! At the end of the day, there is a Congressional Reception located in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress to celebrate a long day of advocating for museums.
Many museum professionals like me who did not go to Washington still got involved by participating on social media and sending letters to local legislators. Advocates on and off-site used social media to quote presenters discussing museums and museums advocacy – at one point on Monday #MuseumsAdvocacy2017 was even trending nationally! For instance, the United States Department of Education, AAM, and the American Alliance of Museums Education Committee were tagged with this quote on Twitter: “Nothing is more important than kids getting a broad education including museums”. I agree with that statement because museums provide lessons that will help supplement lessons taught inside the classroom, and help students develop skills that will be useful once they enter the working field.
— Sage Museum Ed (@MuseumsP12) February 27, 2017
Another tweet tagged the National Endowment for the Arts with this quote on arts and museums: “The arts are everywhere, they are all around us, belong to everyone & enrich our lives”. Another tweet: “We are from A-Z, Art Museums to Zoos & need to tell the truth, advance your mission. Always be advocating for museums!” resonated with me because even when Museums Advocacy Day has come and gone I always stress the importance of museums in my daily practice as a museum professional; I also discuss museums impact on our society with my friends and family to help them understand what I do and how the museum field works.
The American Alliance of Museums provides resources to assist museum professionals in being advocates. On AAM’s website they present five ways to advocate today; the five ways are to speak up, engage your board members, visit legislators locally, raise awareness, and join the cause. Museum professionals can speak up by customizing and sending template letters to Congress on the issues you care about, including supporting NEA and NEH funding, supporting funding for the IMLS Office of Museum Services, and demonstrating your museum’s economic impact. Also, AAM started a museum trustee initiative that gives museum professionals an opportunity to download a copy of Stand for Your Mission to inspire discussions with your board about how their role is significant in advocating for your museums and museums overall. The site also provides resources on how to make appointments with local legislators or invite elected officials to visit your museum. There’s even a Publicity Toolkit that makes it easier to write an op-ed, craft a media pitch, write a press release, or be on talk radio to get viewers’ and listeners’ attentions.
What I have learned from each Museums Advocacy Day is that we can all participate whether we are in the area or located across the nation. Also, I learned that advocacy does not have to be practiced in one day but it can be continued throughout the year. Every now and then, no matter what happens within our nation, we still need to remind people of how museums are important resources for our society.
How has your organization participated in Museums Advocacy Day? What ways do you advocate for museums? What information from your organizations do you share to show how important your resources are to the public?
You can see all of AAM’s advocacy resources at www.aam-us.org/advocacy.