As a performing artist and an arts educator, I have witnessed how little opportunity and funding is allocated to communities of color. Many politicians come to D.C with promises of providing assistance and opportunities, only to gain support and win the hearts of the people during election season. It is frustrating to see the lack of support Ward 7 and Ward 8 receives from the DC Arts Commission. The only way these communities receive support is when outside organizations lead the charge for funding. Part of this phenomenon has to do with the lack of resources for East River organizations, compared to foundations like the Washington Ballet.
In the past, I have visited the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (theARC) in Ward 8, looking for a space to teach West African dance classes. In response I was told that they already have a teacher for West African dance class. They did not value the style of dance enough to provide the community with a variety, and more opportunities to learn. The fact that the only viable Performing Arts space in my community is run by people who are not a part of this community made it clear that my skills would not be valued, which ultimately left me feeling quite defeated. I ended up teaching West African Dance classes in the Takoma section of DC, 45-minutes away from the community I lived in.
I know that this is not entirely the fault of theARC’s or the Washington Ballet. The Washington DC Performing Arts scene has seen a steady shift in the significance of artistic projects, aligned specifically with the changes in the demographics of the city. As “Chocolate City” has become a lot less “Chocolate”, the policies around art education, what, real estate ownership, investment and even what’s considered a community, have all shifted towards what some would consider a more “progressively-exclusive” approach towards the aforementioned topics.
In the midst of all this change, the one thing that I’ve always noticed, is that certain communities don’t have the political lobbyist lobbying for what is needed in local communities. Wikipedia defines Lobbying as “the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in a government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies.”
Lobbying can be done in two ways:
- Contacting or urging the public to contact policy makers for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation
- By advocating the adoption or rejection of legislation
There are people making six figures to lobby for pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, gun makers, the tobacco industry and even the marijuana industry, however, I never see anyone lobbying for the concerns of disadvantaged communities. This is not to say that they don’t exist however I think that if there was a firm/person/organization out there lobbying for the needs of the lower tier of our economy, then things would look a whole lot better in many of these disadvantaged communities.
I had the opportunity to attend Arts Advocacy Day events on Capitol Hill during the first week of March. It was a great opportunity to look at what advocacy and lobbying looks like for performing arts and arts education organizations. The three-day advocacy project was an amazing educational experience on how I can advocate for the various performing arts projects that I work with.
The job of arts advocacy is something that programs in low-income urban communities need in a very big way. Understanding where the money for programming is allocated and who supports these initiatives is very important in understanding how programs can be supported with the appropriate funding from local, state and federal officials.