I came to Arts Advocacy Day for the first time this year not knowing exactly what to expect.
I’ve never considered myself a political person. I rarely sign petitions and have never campaigned for any one organization or candidate. I’ve just always been very passive when it came to politics, most certainly because of my Gen X mentality.
So, when my boss asked me to join her I was hesitant, wondering does my voice really matter? But, I’ve learned a lot in the business world, and one of those things is never to pass up an opportunity to learn something new. So, I quickly reconsidered the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill.
As I walked into day one, I was amazed by the congregation of over 500 advocates. I was especially surprised by the number of young people who were participating.
When I was their age, I would’ve never even considered joining something like Arts Advocacy Day. I grew up in the public education system in Southern California, which unfortunately did not have much of an arts-infused curriculum.
In elementary school we had a “music cart,” where once a week Mr. Nelson would roll into the classroom with his keyboard and pass out the maracas and tambourines. It was everyone’s favorite day of class, but unfortunately it didn’t come quite often enough.
The rest of my music education was from afternoons watching MTV, dance lessons from Soul Train, and the theatrical and visual arts were consumed from whatever television programming was offered at the time.
I remember wishing I could go to a school like the one portrayed in Fame. I was a child that was brought up on pop culture, just like most of us were. But despite my lack of formal arts education, I was still drawn to the arts, just like most of us are.
When I ask others about the arts education they received in elementary school, I often hear stories of the instruments they received in fourth grade or the recorders they were given as Hill Harper jokingly referred to as the “ghetto flute” during the Nancy Hanks Lecture. I actually had to ask someone what a recorder was because it wasn’t part of my educational experience. Funnily enough, I was kind of envious. I wish I had a recorder!
I wondered how many other kids grew up like me, never having the chance to pick up an instrument just to try it out.
This was the real reason why I wanted to participate in Arts Advocacy Day. Today, so many children in U.S. schools do not have the opportunity to experience music, dance, theatre, or visual art first-hand. And I wonder how their overall growth as an individual will be affected by this.
Will they be able to compete in the global economy?
Will they have the creativity to innovate?
The arts are an integral part of our daily lives whether we realize it or not from the ringtone on our phone to the screensaver on our laptop, someone created it, someone designed it, someone imagined it.
It is my hope that the conversations I contributed to at Arts Advocacy Day will motivate our leaders to take action to restore funding for impactful programs like the U.S. Department of Education’s Arts in Education and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities appropriations.
As a united voice, our collective efforts and combined passion for the arts have made a strong influence on our respective legislators. I am optimistic that we’ve reminded them that the arts are not a luxury and that we should do all we can to ensure that everyone no matter their economic or social status should have the chance to experience the arts first-hand either in school or within their local community.
Arts Advocacy Day was a first for me, and after this experience I know that my voice does indeed matter and it is further strengthened and volumized by our collective collaboration.