Thursday, March 3, 2011

What I Learned from Museum Advocacy Day 2011

SMAers Lauren and Lindsey visit their local representative as part of Museum Advocacy Day 2011.

SMA helped sponsor AAM’s 2011 Advocacy Day. A few SMA’ers and I attended. Here are some thoughts I came away with…

What I Learned From Museum Advocacy Day 2011:

  • Advocacy matters. Talking to our legislators at any level of government doesn’t guarantee funding for museums but not talking to them guarantees that they will not know the great work we do, the partnerships we create, the money we generate in our neighborhoods, the educational opportunities we provide, or the cultural heritage we preserve. By talking to them – and talking to them often – they are beginning to understand what a critical role we play in our communities and will help us fight for the funding we need. This was the third year of Museum Advocacy Day, and many attendees told me that some of the people they encountered remembered them from previous years. They felt that our message was beginning to sink in.
  • Lots of people really do care. Being in a room on Capitol Hill with 300 other attendees felt awesome. Walking around the Hill and running into those 300 other attendees felt awesome. Talking to our representative’s aides and finding that they cared was awesome. I couldn’t get over how many people were really interested in museums and what I had to say.
  • Both a lone voice and a big group are important. I quickly realized that each attendee needed to be both about the bigger message and selfish at the same time.  It’s vital to tell my museum’s story, to invite legislators to my museum, and to keep them informed about my museum. By connecting to those legislators in a group – be it other staff, volunteers, board members, members, educators, other museums, companies we partner with, etc – we were a real show of force and made a big impact. By having a focused message to drive home (e.g. sustaining IMLS funding, including museums in the reauthorization of ESEA, etc) and by connecting that message to personal anecdotes and economic impact statements, we were concise and powerful.
  • Advocating is easy. While it was a bit nerve-wracking to enter those marbled halls, everyone I spoke to was polite and responded well to our message. It helped that I had looked up my representatives’ websites ahead of time to see what they cared about and figured out how I could match their interests. Now that it’s over, I can follow up with emails and phone calls. Pretty straightforward. (Although I will admit that I was pretty tired from my six meetings with representatives from both Maryland and Tennessee – but a good tired.)
  • Don’t expect any actual answers. First, I spoke only to aides (who, granted, are the eyes and ears of the congressmen and women themselves, so I was happy to speak to them). They can’t say what the congressman/woman would choose to do. They couldn’t make any promises. But – they could relay what we thought, share the information packet we provided, and be a cheerleader for us behind the scenes. And they might take us up on our offer to contact us with any additional questions or concerns.
  • is invaluable. Sorry for the shameless plug, but seriously, the site really simplifies the process, provides the reference materials I needed, and helps me reach my federal level representation whenever I want.  
  • It’s not over. Just because I went once doesn’t mean I don’t need to go back next year (or sooner). Just because I spoke with my congressmen and women doesn’t mean I don’t need to speak to my city council members, my county executive, my state senators and my delegates. And just because I spoke to them doesn’t mean I don’t have an obligation to encourage others to speak to them too. 

What’s Next from SMA?

  • We’re going to discuss what you told us at the roundtables during the conference. Not there? Have something more to add? Email us at
  • We’re going to revamp the website ( We’ll be adding materials about advocacy on the local level and geared towards small museums during the next few months. We’ll also link to resources provided by other organizations’ sites, as there is a lot of good stuff out there now.
  • We’re going to help raise awareness of the importance of small museums. We’ll keep you updated as we figure out new ways to do so. Have an idea? Share it at

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