At the beginning of this month I participated in the American Association of Museums (AAM) Museums Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. This year is the third time that AAM organized and implemented Museums Advocacy Day and it was my first time participating in the effort. Over two days I had a chance to meet with other museum professionals around the county, learn about important issues effecting museums and their ability to be positively impact the community, and advocate for certain key issues to Members of Congress on Capitol Hill.
This year I had the honor of not only representing The Jewish Museum of Maryland, but also representing the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM). Because the CAJM conference overlapped with Museums Advocacy Day, the CAJM staff was not able to be in two places at once. It was decided a few months ago that I should be the JMM and CAJM representative because this falls under my responsibilities as Community Outreach Coordinator and I live in Capitol Hill in DC where the advocating takes place. I do have to say, there was something really wonderful about being able to walk five minutes to work on the day I advocated on the Hill. Don’t worry though – I’m not leaving my position at the JMM to become a lobbyist on the Hill anytime soon.
AAM’s Advocacy Day was very organized and prepared me well for speaking informatively and confidently to Congressman and their staffers. I fully admit that although I am passionate about museums and my work at the JMM, I was not prepared to speak intelligently about major issues currently affecting the museum field. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous. As soon as I began the training, however, I realized that there was no reason to feel this way. AAM’s philosophy in regards to Advocacy Day is that it is important that all museum representatives stand together and focus on a few key issues. The main issues that we focused on include: funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Office of Museum Services and promoting stronger museum/school partnerships in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). To read more about these issues, visit AAM’s Speak Up for Museums website. In addition to learning about key issues AAM was smart and gave participants time to meet with other representatives from their so that each state group could strategize about their message and delivery when speaking to Congressman. I joined the Maryland delegation and together we decided who should share what stories and who should deliver our message.
Day two was spent entirely on Capitol Hill. I found the experience of meeting with Congressman and their staff to be exciting and exhilarating. In the morning I met with Senator Cardin’s staff from Maryland and then I ran across the Capitol Campus to make it to a meeting with Representative Cantor’s staff from Virginia. I learned my lesson that day. Do not wear heels when meeting with several Members of Congress within a short period of time because you most likely will have to literally run from one meeting to another and chances are those meetings will not be located near each other. In the afternoon I met with Representative Cummings’ staff from Baltimore. Despite the large size of the Maryland group I had a chance to speak in each meeting about my IMLS funded job as Community Outreach Coordinator.
At the end of the two days I was tired, but enthused about my time spent advocating for museums on the Hill. Now that I have this experience under my belt I hope to be a better museum advocate throughout the year rather than limiting myself to Museums Advocacy Day. I invite anyone who is interested in learning more about advocating for museums and cultural institutions to contact me or visit AAM’s advocacy website at www.speakupformuseums.org.