Advocating at the State Capitol

By Jessica Mele, Executive Director

The State Capitol - Arts Advocacy Day

It’s hard to muster enthusiasm on a crisp early Tuesday morning. But, standing on the train platform with Performing Arts Workshop staff, we buzzed with chills of anticipation (and maybe a little from the cold). We were turning our eyes toward the state capitol, and heading to Sacramento for a day of lobbying in support of arts education!

Amtrak Station

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 was National Arts Advocacy Day. At this time of year, I’m usually developing blisters and sweating through my cardigan as I climb capitol steps in Washington with my fellow arts advocates. Americans for the Arts organizes this event each year, and the Workshop has been a proud participant for the last three years.

This year, however, we elected to celebrate in a different way. Why should I get to have all the fun? Advocacy has been in the Workshop’s blood since those first teens in Gloria’s class spoke truth to power through dance and theater. So that’s how, at 7:40 in the morning, I boarded a train to Sacramento with four staff members.

We were treated to a personal tour of the Capitol from Joe Landon, Executive Director of the California Alliance for Arts Education. Ducking past school groups and suited lobbyists, Joe showed us the main Assembly and Senate Halls, committee rooms, secret staircases, and even got us a meeting with the Assembly Speaker’s Arts staffer!

The State Capitol

Over the course of the day, we had five legislative visits, and we had planned our talking points carefully. Arts education policy touches so many policy areas – education, art, health and wellness, families – that we had plenty to discuss when we met with staff at Member Ammiano’s (SF), Skinner’s (Berkeley/Oakland), and Levine’s (Marin) offices. In particular, we were struck by Ammiano staffer Wendy Hill and Speaker’s Office staffer Eric Astacaan’s personal experience with and enthusiasm for the arts.

Of course, each staffer received an invitation to our student showcase – Bravo! @ The Brava on May 12!

Our final meeting of the day was with Senator Mark Leno himself, who flashed us a smile and fiercely delivered our own talking points about the importance of arts education to a young person’s development and education! He discussed his own ideas for supporting the California Arts Council’s budget, and hinted that he may consider taking action on this issue during his remaining years at the Capitol (Sen. Leno terms out after the 2016 session).

Workshop staff with Senator Leno

It was a long day, and we certainly saw, heard and learned a lot. On the train ride home, we were swarmed by a group of elementary students from Martinez, still bursting at the seams with energy after a long day visiting the Capitol. We started playing “Head’s Up!” – a game similar to charades that requires players to act out a word, so the person in the hot seat can guess what it is. Kids were screaming and jumping and encouraging each other. It was a bit chaotic, but that’s when it hit me: We work all year to make sure that young people have access to a deep, meaningful learning experience that takes them out of their desks and outside of their classroom. For this year’s arts advocacy day, we reconnected with that goal, by getting ourselves out of our desks and beyond the office. Sometimes you need a change of scene to remind you to keep learning.

Click here to view photos from our Arts Advocacy Day! 

Advocacy day photos

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