The Washington, D.C.-based American Arts Alliance (AAA), a national advocate for professional nonprofit performing arts organizations, has launched a revamped website, www.americanartsalliance.org. A major goal of the site is to drive individual and collective action on public policy issues that impact the performing arts.
Four national service organizations -- the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Theatre Communications Group, Opera America, and Dance/USA -- and their affiliates constitute the membership of the AAA. Rachel Lyons, the alliance's manager, says this adds up to approximately 3,000 organizations nationwide.
Yet the site is only the latest effort by the AAA to help the industry take grassroots action on policy issues and to exercise a degree of political muscle. During the run-up to the 2004 presidential race, for example, the AAA launched a campaign to persuade all major-party candidates to explain how their administration would treat the arts. Called Pledge for the Arts, the effort was successful in that virtually all the contenders for the Democratic Party nomination eventually issued arts policy statements. The incumbent, President George W. Bush, did not participate.
Lyons says the website intentionally takes a streamlined, user-friendly approach to disseminating information. Most prominent on the site at present are two "featured action items": the possibility that the U.S. Senate will permanently repeal the estate tax (which "would severely hurt nonprofit performing arts organizations and the audiences we serve") and an effort to persuade more senators to join a bipartisan arts caucus "committed to highlighting the positive impact of the arts in America." A link leads to a letter that can be individually customized and then emailed to the appropriate elected officials.
"We expect the part of the website that will be updated most frequently are the actionable items -- updates on issues and the kinds of actions people and organizations can take," Lyons said. "Other parts of the site, such as our 'Stories From the Field,' will be updated less often. Overall, we want the site to feel like a home where, if you're all fired up about something, you can come, see what you can do about it, and then use some really great tools, such as tailoring a letter that goes to your member of Congress to let them know what you think and how you feel."
Lyons noted that many artists and organizations are not especially skilled at political lobbying -- that there is a fear factor built into the idea of interacting with elected representatives: "We hope the site will allow people to say, 'Now I'm not so scared,' because the best advocates for the performing arts are really performing artists. They have to know how to do this."
If it is true, Lyons says, that people and groups differ on which arts issues they see as important, it is equally true that they have "common issues -- like funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. All the groups care about improving the visa process for foreign guest artists. All the groups want a good environment for charitable giving. And an arts education is certainly a growing issue because, although the federal government has a relatively small role in that, artists do need an educated audience. Without it, performing arts organizations will cease to exist. So if we speak with a bigger voice, we increase our power."