Last week I had my first opportunity to practice advocacy at the national level, and I loved it.
In January, Americans for the Arts, the national arts advocacy organization we worked with to conduct the Arts and Economics study, invited me to be the state captain for North Dakota at Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. I quickly accepted because it was an excellent opportunity to network with other state leaders and to meet with our national elected officials.
This travel, like all of the work travel I have done in the past six months, was made possible by the Consensus Council grant we were awarded last summer. The grant was to visit other locations and learn about how the business sector is utilizing the arts to achieve their goals and needs in terms of attracting and retaining employees, growing the economy, building cultural capital, as well as addressing access and creating a positive sense of place - all needs with which our metro is also wrestling.
I visited a number of museums in my five days in D.C, among them the beautiful National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Portrait Gallery, where I saw both of the Obama portraits up close and personal. I also made my way through the Torpedo Factory, perhaps the most famous of art incubators.
The actual conference was outstanding and the learning was valuable to the work we're currently doing at The Arts Partnership and the strategic work we're planning to do going forward.
I attended a session on the value of the arts to mental and physical wellbeing. It's now been proven that employing the arts dramatically reduces the length of hospital stays and the use of medication, diminishes medical visits and depression and improves recovery time.
I would argue that these are excellent benefits in and of themselves, but for skeptics of these hard-to-measure benefits, let me suggest that all of them also reduce the cost of healthcare, which ultimately benefits every taxpayer.
I learned from Massachusetts Sen. Stan Rosenberg that it only takes about 15 personalized calls, letters or emails to activate his staff to an issue.
Think about that. Fifteen constituents is hardly any number at all to begin to get a nationally elected official to pay attention to an issue that matters to you. His answer suddenly made advocacy that leads to real change feel possible.
North Dakota's long-serving senator, Carolyn Nelson, the other person from our great state, and I visited the with staffers from both Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's and Rep. Kevin Cramer's offices to share our desire to see the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts not only reinstated but increased because of the overwhelming facts about the tremendous value of the arts to every corner and pocket of this country, including throughout our state.
My trip to DC was highly successful. I was proud to represent North Dakota and to be part of a much larger conversation around the value and impact of the arts.
And I came home renewed to continue advocating at the local level, too.
Dayna Del Val, president and CEO of The Arts Partnership, writes a monthly column for Variety. For more information on the arts, go to theartspartnership.net.