9th Museum Advocacy Day: February 2017

By Susan Funk, Executive Vice-President, Mystic Seaport Museum

The energy and urgency was palpable. Almost 400 museum professionals, from every state in the nation and representing museums of all sizes and genres, convened in Washington, DC for a day of advocacy workshops followed by a day of congressional meetings on Capitol Hill. This year saw a record-breaking number of participants, up by almost 50% from previous years. New England was well-represented by NEMA members, with about 25 advocates, including staff and board members.

The message is clear—museums are essential to their communities. Singly and collectively, our institutions are important in maintaining quality of life, serving as economic drivers and stewards of our country’s collections, stories and heritage. However, we face the reduction or elimination of critical funding streams. One way to advocate for the continuation of these funding opportunities is to be an active participant in the AAM Museums Advocacy Day.

I’ve spoken to many colleagues who have considered attending Advocacy Day, but were concerned about justifying the travel expense and time commitment, or don’t feel qualified as an advocate. They are not sure what they will get out of the experience.

AAM answers these concerns in their design and delivery of this important event. The format is educational, with many opportunities for collaboration and networking with colleagues from across the country. Participation is free. Monday workshops for new and for experienced advocates include basic advocacy strategies, reviewing the direct economic impact of museums, powerful stories of how museums impact their audiences, and a Capitol Hill briefing. A discussion of the future of museums floats compelling new ideas. The directors of national foundations such as NEA, NEH, IMLS and NSF share their perspective on the current museum priorities and vulnerabilities. And active social media threads keep everyone well connected.

On Tuesday, the real work begins, as museum professionals meet with their state legislators and staff. The meetings are arranged by AAM. During the meetings, there is the opportunity to thank legislators for their past support (if applicable!) and to share ways in which the federal grant lines have made a significant difference to institutions and audiences. Advocates ask for specific support on pending legislation and funding. This year the request was for ongoing support of IMLS and NEH, and opposition to the proposed cap on tax incentives for charitable giving.

AAM Museums Advocacy Day concludes with an upbeat congressional reception for legislators and staff. This year the reception honored Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and the 2017 Champions of Museums awardee Margaret Benjamin. What a fine way to acknowledge the collaborative work that defines the mission and vision of each museum.

The resources from Advocacy Day are available online at http://www.aam-us.org/advocacy/museums-advocacy-day. From policy briefs to the legislative record to state-by-state museum infographics, this site is full of information to continue the work of advocating for our field throughout the year.

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