Advocacy Alert: May 24, 2011

Senator, Mayor and Schools Superintendent Urge Museum Field to Act

Thousands of museum professionals were urged to get more involved in advocating for museums today at the first-ever " Museum Town Hall " as part of the AAM Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo in Houston, TX. AAM President Ford W. Bell set the stage for the interactive Museum Town Hall, which featured questions submitted via Twitter and text messaging. "Broadly defined, advocacy is about articulating the important value proposition," said Bell. "Museums are not luxuries or amenities. Museums are essential." 

After a welcome by Houston Mayor Annise Parker, attendees heard from Senator Jack Reed (RI)—who participated live via satellite from Rhode Island—Dr. Terry Grier, Houston schools superintendent; Gwendolyn Goffe, interim director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Minnette Boesel, director of cultural affairs in the Office of the Houston Mayor; and Associate Professor Carol A. Lewis from Texas Southern University, who served as moderator. 

Parker proclaimed 'American Association of Museums Day' in the city of Houston and noted, "Museums aren't just about bringing people in. The museum of tomorrow is opening the walls and taking public art out to the public, or taking the museum out into the local community." 

Panelists discussed how museums are often misunderstood by policymakers and other key stakeholders and illustrated how our institutions can position themselves as essential to our nation's economy, educational infrastructure and cultural literacy. This session comes at a critical time for our nation's museums—when museums and other institutions of culture, history, art and science are threatened by funding cuts from all sources. 

Dr. Grier cited the challenges he faces in his role as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District . "Many parts of our educational endeavors are underfunded as it is," he said, urging museums to continue designing a curriculum network to help meet the objectives. "We need to make sure that kids have an opportunity to be exposed to the objectives being tested." 

Senator Reed noted the importance of constituents getting involved in advocacy. "I was pleased to sign on to a letter to increase funding for museums," he said. But he emphasized that constituents make the real impact with their legislators. "They will hear me, but they will listen to you. They will listen to you because you can tell them about the impact at home. Not some grand global macro-economic view of museums, but what the museum in their community does, how it interacts with the local education system, how it provides jobs for local citizens." 

Senator Reed played a key role in the bipartisan effort to pass legislation in late 2010 to reauthorize the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. To thunderous applause, Reed noted that the reauthorization bill was based on recommendations from the museum field. "The challenge to fund these improvements is significant." The Senator further stressed the importance of a museum telling its story to legislators: "If [Congress] doesn't know about a vital, valuable museum helping your school system, employing your constituents, and providing tourist dollars, you're likely to be overtaken by other [competing interests]. That's why it is so critical. Don't be intimidated." 

AAM's advocacy website—www.speakupformuseums.org—makes it easy to communicate the value of museums to your elected officials. Take a moment to send a letter today to tell them about the vital role your institution plays in educating local schoolchildren. (Better yet, invite schoolchildren to share their experiences at your museum directly with lawmakers themselves.) Show your legislators the economic impact your museum has in your local community. Or highlight your programs and exhibits firsthand by simply inviting them to your museum. 

"One message was clear from today's session: we need to do more to ensure that policy makers at all levels understand how essential museums are to our schools and communities," said Bell. "We cannot assume they know all the great work that museums do. It's up to all of us to tell them." 

As further evidence of the vital role museums play in our society, the White House today announced the launch of "Let's Move! Museums & Gardens," a part of First Lady Michelle Obama's initiative to address the problem of childhood obesity, noting that museums of all types have impressive reach and great potential on community efforts to impact childhood obesity.