Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington
On February 27 and 28, I had the opportunity to represent the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Council of American Jewish Museums at the 2012 Museums Advocacy Day. Presented by the American Association of Museums, this advocacy event brought museum professionals, lay leaders, volunteers, and supporters from all over the country to Capitol Hill to lobby for federal funding for the Office of Museum Services through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
On Monday, I attend a series of workshops about how to lobby for museums and learned about the critical issues facing museums today. The primary issue AAM focused on this year was IMLS; they wanted delegates to support funding of at least $35 million in FY13 for the IMLS Office of Museum Services. Second, they wanted the delegates to know that museums have a huge impact on the economy, contributing $20 billion to the economy each year and providing 400,000 jobs. Third, they opposed President Obama’s FY13 budget proposal that would limit the deductibility of charitable gifts, thereby hurting museums and other nonprofits. Finally, since museums are critical partners in education, they wanted to make the delegates aware of our educational programs and the fact that museums partner with school districts to teach the curriculum.
After the instruction on Monday, on Tuesday I was ready to lobby! From Maryland, I met with staff members from the offices of Senator Ben Cardin, Senator Barbara Mikulski, Representative John Sarbanes, and Representative Elijah Cummings. Since I was representing CAJM, headquartered at the Center for Judaic Studies in Denver, Colorado, I also had meetings scheduled with Senator Mark Udall, Representative Diana DeGette, and Senator Michael Bennet. These meetings were scheduled back to back, and it was exhausting to run around the Capitol, from building to building. But, the weather was beautiful, and it was an invigorating experience.
The location and structure of each meeting varied; some were literally small group meetings of two or three people in the hallway outside the delegates’ office. As a side note, Research Historian Deb Weiner shared with me that lobbying actually comes from the custom of influence-seekers gathering outside legislative chambers: http:///www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=lobbying&searchmode=none. And I thought we were giving new meaning to the word lobbying!
Other meetings were much larger. The one with Senator Cardin’s office (first meeting of the morning, I should add) involved 20 people sitting around a conference table, where each person had enough time only to introduce themselves. In this meeting, JMM docent Robyn Hughes argued that museums have a huge impact on education, and therefore should be able to compete for these funds. For example, she elaborated on the JMM’s Student Immigrant Stories program where JMM staffers go into area high schools and facilitate storytelling with ESL students who have recently immigrated to the U.S. Eventually these students are able to tell their stories in front of their classmates and community organizations. As we were wrapping up, the legislative aid fondly remembered visiting the JMM for a staff retreat a couple of years ago, so I consider that a success.
Other meetings were much more intimate. Since I was representing CAJM, I also had the privilege of meeting with Colorado delegates. The most rewarding was the meeting with Sally Mayes at Senator Bennet’s office in the Russell Senate Office Building, and not just because my group ran into Senator Bennet in the elevator. This was my last meeting of the day, and by that time I had practiced articulating my case quite a few times. I talked briefly about the JMM’s annual Summer Teachers’ Institute, a professional development program where we educate teachers on how to teach the Holocaust to their students. My husband Tom talked about economic impact, and how his small technology startup company works with organizations that receive IMLS funding. The meeting was refreshing because Ms. Mayes was so engaged in the conversation, which made it easy for everyone to tell their stories.
Museums Advocacy Day was an extremely rewarding experience. It was my first time lobbying on Capitol Hill, and I got the opportunity to meet and connect with some really interesting museum professionals. I’ll definitely be back next year.