This week I was in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill, right on the heels of the Nation’s historic health care vote. The Cherry Blossoms were in bloom and spring was in the air. Democracy was in action, free speech was exercised, sometimes in ways unbecoming of a civilized nation, and people from all across the country were on Capitol Hill to express their views about issues they feel passionate.
I was there on behalf of the American Association of Museum, on whose board I serve, and the Association of Art Museum Directors, of which I am a member and sit on the Education Committee, as well as Norman Rockwell Museum. A week of advocacy had been planned to speak up about the importance and value of museums to our quality of life, community education partnerships and economic development. Place Esteem is a phrase I learned from Congressman Paul Tonko of Albany, NY. He believes museums create pride of place in a community, and I couldn’t have said it better.
Together with other colleagues from Massachusetts, I called on the offices of our Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown, and met with Congressman John Olver’s staff to urge the reauthorization and re-appropriation of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Save America’s Treasures. These two programs support historic preservation, digitization and general operating support for museums across the country. Save America’s Treasures made it possible for Norman Rockwell Museum to digitize its rare collection of 18,000 photographic negatives for ProjectNORMAN and create online access for the Museum’s collections to provide anywhere anytime connectivity to the Museum from around the world.
The highlight of my week was testifying to the House Committee on Appropriations: Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. I learned that for two days each year for each subcommittee, citizens can petition to speak for five minutes about their issue, urging support of programs and projects of importance to their communities. Representing AAM, AAMD and Norman Rockwell Museum, I gave testimony to the importance of authoring funding for the National Endowment for the Art and National Endowment for the Humanities, whose budgets must be appropriated every year.
Funding from these two agencies has helped Norman Rockwell Museum share its art collection with twelve cities across America with our exhibition, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell. It will be seen by millions of visitors during its five year run. ProjectNORMAN and the Museum’s Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies have also benefited from grant support from these agencies, bringing the art of illustration to life online and in exhibitions and collections. Together all these agencies serve our country’s more than 17,000 museums.
I and my fellow art museum directors also spoke ardently in support of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which will foster museums as partners in education with schools and communities, teaching the whole child and recognizing the value of visual learning and experiential learning through museums which supplement classroom education. Teachers have been hard pressed in recent times to take field trips to museums due to the volume of standardized testing for which they must prepare their students. It has been demonstrated again and again, however, that fostering creativity through the arts helps students excel in science and math, as well as blossom in language and humanities.
Calling on Capitol Hill and letting your elected officials right in your districts know what is important to you in your community is a privilege and responsibility we have as citizens. Speak up for what you value for your community. You’ll find your elected officials willing to listen and happy to support projects beloved in their districts.