Democracy is a Practice: Students Visit Capitol Hill

Democracy is more than an ideal. It is a practice. And there are perhaps no better places to practice than in school and in the United States Senate. Below, Amy Shimshon-Santo (Head of the Arts Management MA program in Los Angeles) reflects on her recent field study trip to Washington D.C. with students.

 


Reprinted with permission from Amy Shimshon-Santo and Sotheby's Institute of Art

 

Every year, Americans for the Arts (AFA) sponsors Arts Advocacy Day (AAD) in Washington D.C., which helps people weigh in on public policies and investment in the arts. Weeks before gathering, the Trump Administration had proposed cutting all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH). Public investment in the arts and humanities were at stake.

In anticipation of this annual event, we formed an educational team of student delegates from our LA campus to participate. The AAD California consortium (co-lead by Arts for LA’s Executive Director, Sofia Klatzker) welcomed us, and together we crossed the country to meet with our congressional representatives and report back to our local networks. Shortly after we returned to LA, we received word that federal budgets for the NEA and NEH had been restored. The effort of arts and culture activists across the country had paid off.

Meet the Student Delegation

The range of perspectives in our student delegation was an asset to our advocacy. One voice from urban black America. One voice from rural white America. One voice from the Arab world. All voices for the arts and respected members of our graduate learning community. As we prepared for the journey, our student participants began to notice our common ground: Badir McCleary and Katelyn McClure were both born in Pennsylvania, Waheeda Al Hadhrami and Badir share the same faith, and Katelyn and Waheeda are both women.

Participating in Americans for the Arts’ Arts Advocacy Day allowed us to reach beyond our local coordinates, take command of our own stories, and be attentive to how the arts and culture intersect with broader issues — from education to economic development, and health to immigration. Most importantly, we put our values into practice through participation.

On the trip, we asked our student delegates to write about the experience of visiting our nation’s capital to advocate for the arts, meeting with senators and community leaders, and witnessing democracy in action. Here is a preview of their accounts:

Badir McCleary was a military contractor from Philly who now activates urban spaces for contemporary art. “I felt it was my duty to be at Arts Advocacy Day,” he wrote, imagining that “President Obama would be as proud of me as I am of him.” Two iconic artworks we viewed in D.C. framed his experience: the monument to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Lei Yixin, and the portraits of President Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley and Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. Inspired by their example, he writes: “I want my face to be seen and my voice to be heard.” Read Badir’s account.

Katelyn McClure, wrote that there were “more deer as neighbors than people” where she grew up. As a child, she loved studying the arts in school and was devastated when arts education programs were slashed due to cuts in public funding. Her essay toggles between advocating for the arts in Pennsylvania and in California. She argues for including both urban and rural realities in our national vision for the arts and culture. “Equity in the arts,” she concludes, “is not just an urban issue.” Read Katelyn’s account.

As an international student from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Waheeda Al Hadhrami was pleased to “speak of the importance of cultural exchange, education opportunities, and easing access for international students from the Arab world.” The arts and culture can fortify connections across the human family — regardless of nationality or identity. Participating in AAD helped her meet people who are “actively changing global mindsets, engaging communities, and educating various audiences through the arts.” Read Waheeda’s account.

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Dr. Amy Shimshon-Santo is a writer and educator who believes the arts and culture are powerful tools for personal and social transformation. Her interdisciplinary work connects the arts, education, and urban planning.