Each year in February, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) hosts Museum Advocacy Day (MAD) in Washington D.C. For this event, museum professionals from across the country gather to discuss issues, share data, and learn about effective advocacy. After information gathering and training, meetings are held with congressional delegations to share success stories, express needs, and request specific congressional action benefiting museums.
ALHFAM is a supporter of and participant in MAD. This year, like so many other events around the world, MAD was held virtually. ALHFAM Past President Pete Watson and I participated on behalf of ALHFAM. AAM set the meeting times and notified us of the date and time. Not having been a part of MAD before, I was a little surprised to be part of the Oklahoma delegation since I represented an organization that encompasses the country, but it does make sense. Senators and Representatives are, after all, only interested in what their constituents think. As Tip O’Neil long-time Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, once said, “All politics is local.” Though we were both representing ALHFAM, Pete and I never saw or spoke with each other during the event since we were on different teams.
In preparation for our meetings, we received polling data, talking points on policy issues and resource material. Among the nuggets of information we could use with our delegation was the broad-spectrum support expressed for museums in national public opinion polling:
- 97% believe that museums are educational assets for the communities
- 89% believe that museums contribute important economic benefits to their community
- 96% would think positively of their elected official taking legislative action to support museums
- 96% want federal funding for museums to be maintained or increased.
This is great news for museums! In the contentious political climate in the United States, one of the few things we agree on is support for museums. This is worth mentioning to every elected official at every level.
You can download the full report at www.aam-us.org/programs/advocacy.
While no museum’s needs are the same as another’s, there are common policy issues that affect all of us. For MAD, policy issues were reduced to a select few to send a clear message to Congress. This year those issues included:
- Provide $42.7 million in FY2021 to the Office of Museum Services within the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and include within that increase $2.5 million to fund projects and explore establishing structural support for a museum Grants to States program similar to the library grants available through the IMLS Office of Library Services.
- Increase funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts to $170 million each.
- Changes to tax policy included three specific requests:
- The establishment of a universal charitable deduction to enable taxpayers to deduct their charitable contributions, regardless of whether they itemize.
- Allow artists to claim fair market value deduction for donations of their own work to a collecting institution.
- Passage of the Legacy IRA Act, which would expand the IRA charitable rollover.
Unfortunately, one of the requests has already failed. We asked that the fixed seating requirement be removed for closed venues applying for COVID relief funding. Without this provision, more museums would be eligible.
Museums in the United States are vital economic drivers contributing over $50 billion to the economy annually. Though most museums operate as non-profits, they generate $12 billion in tax revenue to federal, state and local governments and support 726,000 jobs.
You can download the full economic report at http://aam-us.org/EconomicEngines2017.
It is important to remember that advocacy is not just for Congress. You should make sure your elected officials at the state and local level know about your institution, the important contributions you make to your community, and how they can help you.
Kathy Dickson is the director of museums and historic sites for the Oklahoma Historical Society and currently serves as ALHFAM vice president.