Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Washington DC IRL

Funny how we are raised to imagine certain cities as part of our collective thread and historic consciousness. New York City, where immigrants from ravaged European countries arrived on steamy ships in black & white film; Chicago, where pin-stripped suited gangsters carried violin cases and raged war on banks and cops, filmed in black & white; San Francisco, where the fog doesn't allow you to imagine it in color so you settle for sepia-toned ships sailing across Alcatraz to the smell of clam chowder in a bread bowl on a chilly morning; Miami, where tanned and slick-haired Cubans men in wife-beaters smoke cigars and shapely blondes walk the beach in tiny bikinis, in full tropical color; and Los Angeles, where the colors are in vibrant shades and spotlights blind you from the diamond-encrusted celebrities and bold murals that race across the sky hovering over dirty sidewalks.

Then que Hail to the Chief  . . . enter Washington, DC. Not a city, not a state. A district? What that means, we shall never fully understand but I digress. Images of larger than life monuments and bloody battles between men in white wigs, coat tails with inflated chests atop elegant stallions parade across our text books and encyclopedias of years past. These visions of heroism did not dissipate on my first trip to DC.

I was selected to participate in the NALAC Advocacy Leadership Institute this past April, a two-day intensive, in-tense-ive, hands-on training that builds advocacy skills and knowledge about the role of government and public institutions in the arts field. We met with legislative staff from our respective congressman's offices and made some very important points about the positive impact the arts have on society and the economy. The small group of 12 participants hailed from Arizona, California, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, and Texas. Our mentors, aka fearless leaders, included Maria Lopez De Leon, Executive Director of NALAC; Adriana Gallegos, Deputy Director of NALAC; Rosalba Rolon, Artistic Director of Pregones Theater in the Bronx, NY; Abel Lopez, Associate Producing Director of GALA Hispanic Theatre and new Chair of Americans for the Arts; and Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Executive Director of BAAD! Bronx Academy  of Arts and Dance. In January 2013, President Obama appointed Maria to serve on the National Council on the Arts. In 2012, she was named among the nation’s 2012 Fifty Most Powerful and Influential People in the Nonprofit Art. Read more about her here.
Two days of intense advocacy meeting arts supporters such as congressman Joaquin Castro and Jose Serrano, visiting with White House staff, stepping foot on historic sites, and learning to navigate the political landscape with the support of other arts administrators and artists from across the country thanks to NALAC.

Surrounded by arts leaders in a political environment was an amazing experience. So often, artists and arts leaders bury our heads, create wonderful works and projects but deflect any work that involves the bigger picture that keeps the arts afloat. We study the art of drawing, we practice our instruments for hours on end, we exhaust our hearts seeking inspiration for our next poem and forget that there are people who hold our very livelihoods in their hands. These people are legislators, lobbyists, and active citizens who either stand up for us without our knowledge and input or advocate for our demise without our consent.

Some of the main points we made included appointing Latinos to national committees/boards/positions. We need to be at the table where decisions on the arts are made. We also discussed the significant contributions of the arts to the economy. We spend our funding on canvas, paint, instruments, tools, events, food, drink, rent, parking, exhibit openings, recitals, consultants, contractors, construction, caterers and drive business to local restaurants, hotels, shops, you name it. People visit any city and hope to see a play, art, local culture, learn the local history, take a tour, visit a cultural attraction. The arts provide the reason for spending in a local economy and improve the quality of life of its residents. We also encouraged congress to keep charitable giving incentives. If people don't want the arts to be funded by the government, then allow individuals, corporations, estates, and everyone else to receive a tax break on their donations. This is currently in danger and we hope that these tax incentives remain in place for the sake of all non-profits. We also advocated for the Smithsonian's National Latino Museum on the Mall. These and other local issues were raised with our respective congressional members.

The rest of the week, I took the chance to explore the Mall and visit the National Museum of American History as well as National Museum of the American Indian which had a fantastic exhibition on Central American ceramics called CerĂ¡mica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed. I saw Dorothy's red ruby slippers, an amazing Mayan stone calendar, awesome WWII propaganda, Celia Cruz's wigs, Michelle Obama's inaugural gown and more amazing pieces. My favorite place, however, and surprisingly has to be the Lincoln Memorial. Nothing compared to the sheer size of this structure with Lincoln's robe floating in the wind, the movement of his clothes and the solidness of his figure was just striking beyond compare. Then to turn around and see the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood and spoke to millions of people . . . just wonderful, beautiful, peaceful and moving experience.

I left DC in awe. It was more than I expected. It stirred something in me that made me hopeful for MY future. I would even consider moving there for a great job opportunity, for a chance to be part of a national arts movement that would sincerely make a difference in the story of this country. Thank you NALAC, Maria De Leon, Adriana, Rosalba, Abel and everyone who believed in us and opened our eyes to the possibilities that await.


1 comment:

  1. Hi
    Its really nice to see this post..i wonder on seeing your culture,your way of style is such an adorable.. specially national museum of american history is superb..interesting too..

    revista cultural