As is painfully apparent around Jackson Hole, indeed across Wyoming, the arts are taking an economic blow to the belly. Local arts entrepreneurs are pulling together, a healthy and overdue development.
What follows is an exerpt from a letter written by Ford W. Bell, of the American Association of Museums, calling for museum advocates to rally and contribute in response to the recently passed Coburn Amendment (See “Gambling with the Arts,” posted 2/8/2009). The amendment bans stimulus package funding to museums and other entities tied, erroneously or not, to the arts. The letter goes on to ask for contributions, but doing such will be left to the reader.
February 24, 2009
I write to you having just returned to my office from Capitol Hill, where I enjoyed breakfast with 310 AAM friends and advocates from 45 states, all gathered here in Washington, DC for AAM’s Museums Advocacy Day. Following the networking breakfast, we were honored to hear poignant and motivational remarks by Congressman John Lewis (GA-5), followed by heartfelt welcomes and personal museum stories by Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN-4), Congressman Louie Gohmert (TX-1), Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Congressman Lacy Clay (MO-1) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN). Having spent the majority of yesterday refreshing their collective “Advocacy 101” skills with a remarkable group of teachers, Hill-insiders and even an “Advocacy Guru,” today the assembled group of advocates appeared eager and well-prepared to carry our unified message that MUSEUMS MATTER to their elected officials.
We have real strength in numbers and, after the Coburn amendment in the Senate, it is more important than ever for us to use our voices and to use them well. For those of you who have not heard, an amendment was passed – overwhelmingly – by the Senate on February 6 prohibiting any economic stimulus funding from going to museums. In that amendment, museums were joined by casinos, stadiums, golf courses and swimming pools, among others, in being barred from stimulus funding. The fact that museums would even be considered in a list like this illustrates how critical it is for us to educate our legislators on our mission and contributions to our communities. Museums are a vital part of our economy and of our nation’s educational infrastructure. They employ more than a half million Americans and partner with schools to educate our children.
And while the passage of this amendment was initially a setback for our community, our collaborative action in response to that misguided provision was a watershed moment for our field.
Together we have started a movement, and with our field-wide response to the recent developments in Congress, our Museums Advocacy Day and your engagement in e-advocacy activities, we now take that movement to Capitol Hill. We all should be quite proud that we were able to mobilize a massive field-wide effort to prevent a funding ban on museums in this bill. Through nearly 4,000 letters and emails and untold numbers of additional calls directly into legislators’ offices, our consternation was heard! The troubling fact is that Congress – and specifically the U.S. Senate in its February 6 vote – initially saw fit to exclude museums from funding. Further, the truly disheartening fact is that zoos and aquaria will be prohibited from competing for most economic stimulus funds made available through this bill. You and I both know that zoos and aquaria have tremendous public benefit for environmental education and wildlife conservation, while contributing greatly to our nation’s economy by spurring tourism. The omission of zoos and aquaria magnifies the need for our field to resoundingly make the case for all museums in all communities.
The presence of AAM’s Government Relations team at a number of regional and state association meetings, along with the direct cost for our advocacy alert systems and the service that allows you to look up your legislator on our site, www.speakupformuseums.org, are not insignificant….
Ford W. Bell