The Educational Theatre Association convened its first Theatre Education Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., on July 21, as part of the organization’s annual Leadership Summit that gathers state chapter directors and board members. Ninety attendees from 30 states participated in a day of advocacy training that included sessions presented by co-sponsor Americans for the Arts, before heading to Capitol Hill to visit more than 100 offices of senators and representatives. The event also included two receptions, the first a luncheon at which the first annual EdTA Legislator Leadership Award for Arts Education was presented to Republican Congressman Leonard Lance, who represents New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District..
Lance, co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus, was selected for the award because of his strong support for continued funding of the National Endowment for the Arts and for his advocacy regarding wireless microphone access for educational and performing arts entities. In accepting the award Lance said, “I have great respect for the work that you all do. You play a significant role in helping young people become better readers, writers, thinkers, and, ultimately, the next generation of leaders in our society.”
The advocacy event’s second reception was held at the Alexandria, Virginia, office of the National Arts Education Association (NAEA) and was attended by leadership of NAEA, National Association for Music Education, Arts Education Partnership, and Americans for the Arts.
A pre-Capitol Hill breakfast held in an office building on Washington’s Constitution Avenue included remarks by Americans for the Arts Executive Director Robert Lynch in which he urged EdTA members to “take the fight for arts and arts education to your legislators.” Lynch summarized the impact of arts advocacy with a question, which he then answered: “What is the ROI for your work? Better child, better town, better nation, better world.”
In their visits to legislators’ offices, EdTA members “made the case” for financial support for a series of programs that impact theatre and other arts education, including the NEA; Title IV, part A funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act; and 21st Century Learning Centers that fund after-school programs. They also asked for supporttheatre education’s access to wireless microphones.
EdTA Executive Director Julie Theobald called the advocacy day a tremendous success. “It is a new moment for the Educational Theatre Association. I’m thrilled that so many of our state leaders chose to come to Capitol Hill and advocate on behalf of theatre education and the arts. When we are unified in our message and commitment, there is nothing we cannot do.”
In a wrap-up session on the following day, members shared their Capitol Hill meeting stories and offered thoughts on how they might use their training and experience in the future.
From California attendee Vanessa Montgomery: “Empowered. This is what I am after my advocacy training and trip to the Hill. My voice made a difference. Even in the face of adversity I was able to ask and get understanding for what I was asking for.”
And from Michigan’s Todd Avery: “This experience helped validate me as an expert in theatre education! After teaching and being on the front lines of theatre education for 28 years, I know what I’m doing, and I’ve seen first-hand the benefits to students of an educational theatre experience. I now know that I have an obligation to share my stories with policymakers so they understand what the legacy of theatre education truly is.”
North Carolina’s Medina Demeter said, “My biggest takeaway from Advocacy Day is that communicating with our representatives isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. They want to hear from us. They need to hear from us. And it’s our duty to make our voices heard.”
For more quotes from attendees about their experience, see the Advocacy Day blog from Jim Palmarini, EdTA Director of Educational Policy.