Arts Advocacy Day is an annual event held by Americans for the Arts that brings together artists, scholars, students, and government officials to advocate for the arts. As a graduate student from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pursuing my master’s degree in Arts Management in Los Angeles, I was honored to have been selected to represent not only my academic institutions (Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Claremont Graduate University) but also my country, during the Arts Advocacy summit. I was surrounded by over 650 individuals that came from all around the U.S. to participate in this national event and to join their voices to advocate for the arts. As someone who is passionate and dedicated to promoting and advocating the arts and creative industries in the U.A.E, I particularly wanted to take part in this national arts action summit to better understand how advocating is performed internationally and develop the required skills.
Youth and the Arts
Our journey started by attending the Turnaround Arts Talent Show at The Kennedy Center, where we watched impressive performances by students in schools from 12 different states around the U.S.—from New Orleans all the way to Hawaii. I enjoyed seeing how students from different backgrounds and genres came together and performed in front of hundreds of guests with so much excitement. I could also feel the incredible energy that came from proud parents and teachers, who were there to represent schools and other arts education institutions.
The Big Day
Arts Advocacy Day kicked off with a morning conference highlighting multiple speakers from the arts industry who guided us through key facts and figures about the current status of the arts in the U.S. Important issues were brought to light including: arts in the military, public transportation, health, and education.
During the summit, I was a part of the California delegation run by Arts for LA’s Executive Director, Sofia Klatzker-Miller. Arts for LA set up all the necessary meetings with the senators for the California delegation, which I had the chance to attend with fellow program colleagues, Badir McCleary and Michelle Chavez. We couldn’t have done it without the guidance of both Sofia and the Head of our Arts Management program, Dr. Amy Shimshon-Santo, who also accompanied us during this exciting venture. We personally met with the staff of Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Kamala Harris, where I got to speak of the importance of cultural exchange, education opportunities, and easing access for international students from the Arab world, such as myself.
During my time in Washington D.C., I also had the opportunity to meet with key institutions that are doing great work for my region. First up was the U.A.E. Embassy, where I got to meet with the Head of the Heritage and Social Affairs Department and hear about the initiatives they work on such as their cultural diplomacy and exchange programs, philanthropic efforts, and partnerships with local institutions. I was proud to learn of all the different programs they have carried out in the U.S. to highlight the U.A.E.’s art and cultural scene. One specific example was Past Forward, a major touring exhibition of twenty-five Emirati artists that went on tour for two years. The exhibition was coupled with workshops by the artists and educational outreach and public programming to engage communities. The arts are an interactive way to raise awareness of the Gulf region with American audiences, and to promote the U.A.E. as the cultural capital of the Middle East.
Bridging the East and West
The second institution I met with was the Arab Gulf State Institute in Washington where I got to have close discussions with Ambassador Marcelle Wahba, the President of the institute and previous U.A. E. ambassador to the U.S. Embassy.
I was exposed to the remarkable research and publications being made on the Arab Gulf States in different fields from economics, politics, and investment, to social changes and the arts. “The UAE’s Emergence as a Hub for Contemporary Art” is an example of one of their publications that caught my attention. Both meetings helped me build important connections with key institutions that are actively changing global mindsets, engaging communities, and educating various audiences through the arts.
Advocacy is a Journey
Participating in the summit helped me understand the importance of advocacy and how it is an ongoing process. I learned about how the arts can be used as a strategy to improve local communities; the arts can be the voice of expression and a way of truth (especially in our era of forged news and political unrest). The arts can help create jobs, generate commerce, drive tourism, and build the economy. Most importantly, the arts can improve the overall wellbeing of individuals and societies.
If there is one thing I took away from this enriching experience it’s that advocacy in the arts is not only about proving the facts and numbers but about sharing real, compelling stories. Our powerful stories, which have brought personal or public transformation, can inspire policy change in the arts.
Waheeda Al Hadhrami is an Arts Management graduate student currently based in Los Angeles from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. She has several years of work experience in community engagement, public programming, and creative talent development. Her passion lies in building bridges to grow the U.A.E.’s arts, culture, and creative fields.