I am writing from American Alliance of Museums’ Museum Advocacy Day where 300 museum professionals will be speaking up for museums on Capitol Hill, in Washington D.C. — 26 are from 18 of New York’s Congressional Districts comprising the largest delegation represented.
New York State Congressional Representatives are critically important to federal funding for museums. The new Chair of the House Appropriations Committee is Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY17). Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) is the author of the Institute of Museum and Library Services re-appropriation letter in the U.S. Senate. Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY20) is one of the bill sponsors in the House.
On our visits to Congress today, we will be thanking our legislators for their support of the IMLS, NEH, NEA and other federal agencies who fund museums. We will be asking for an increase in funding to the IMLS and for changes to the current tax laws. We have an especially energetic group with us, but most museum people I know are not natural political activists. As I traveled around the state last fall, I asked a few well-spoken and passionate museum leaders to join us and got some very blank looks, a couple of head shakes, and at least one “no way.”
So why is it that museum professionals who can stand in front of an auditorium filled with 500 peers or in a gallery with 30 kindergarteners don’t feel comfortable talking to their assembly members or congressional representatives? Is it an extrovert vs. introvert thing? I don’t have an answer because if you haven’t noticed, I really enjoy talking to anyone, anywhere, anytime about why museums are important. But I can tell you that advocacy takes assiduity, which happens to be the motto of the City of Albany and is defined by Miriam Webster as “persistent, personal attention.”
I want to be sure to bring everyone up to speed about what happened with the Museum Education Act (MEA). The MEA would have created a grant program within the New York State Education Department that could have funded things like school groups and school buses, publishing curriculum on websites, teaching classes to adult learners, and creating exhibitions that align to New York State education standards in museums located in high need, low resourced communities.
MANY board and staff, legislators, Members of the Board of Regents, New York State Education Department Commissioners and staff, Museum professionals and supporters, worked for more than a dozen years, and we took it to farthest possible point in the legislature. It passed both houses unanimously – which I have since learned is not a common occurrence. The MEA was vetoed by Governor Andrew Cuomo with a note about how the bill would duplicate funding in already in the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) budget.
Disappointed? Yes. Discouraged? No. Because whether we can speak out in Washington or in Albany, we do know how important our field is to education, to tourism, and to our community as we are the anchor institutions who tell the stories of art, history and culture in, for, and with our communities.
The more the Museum Association of New York (MANY) has grown over the past couple of years (on February 22 we had 646 active members) the more I’ve learned that as an organization of our size and scope, it is important for us to build an advocacy platform upon which all museums, regardless of their location, budget size, or discipline can stand on together. It is important that MANY moves forward in ways that include as many of of members as possible and help them serve as many of their constituents as possible.
You can join us as we advocate for museums in Albany March 11 and 12 at Tourism Action Day and or if you can’t make it to Albany, please let us know how you are speaking out for your museum.
Photo of NYS museums delegates with Senator Chuck Schumer, Museums Advocacy Day 2019 provided.