Personal Reflection from AAM’s Museums Advocacy Day February 2018
Kevin Cabrera with Congressman Lou Correa.
Thanks to the assistance of the California Association of Museums (CAM), I had the opportunity to participate in my first Museums Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. Before I begin with the overall experience, I want to share a bit of information about me. I have been in the museum field for 6 years and have held an upper management role for almost 3 years at the Heritage Museum of Orange County. My time in the field has opened my eyes to the great work that museums do around the country and the amazing programs that are offered to our community in a variety of fields to a large diverse demographic. I have also had the opportunity to meet museum professionals who are passionate about the work they do. And while I was aware of museums and professionals doing amazing work, I was completely unaware of the advocacy that occurs in the background to provide support for all museums. So when I was chosen to be CAM’s California Advocate, I was excited, nervous, and anxious about all that I would learn about and be exposed to. I knew that I would meet with congressional leaders from my state, but I was not sure of the topics I would talk to them about.
On Sunday, February 25th, AAM held a Legislative Study Hall, which was a great introduction to what was in store the next couple of days. I was tasked to begin researching the members of Congress that I would be visiting. AAM scheduled all the meetings so it was good not to worry about the logistics of that. The research turned out to be an enriching experience because it forced me to learn about the committees and areas of interest of the Congressional members. This allowed me to make personal connections and to know what angles to hit when the time came.
Later that night AAM hosted a welcome reception. It was great to see so many people from around the country come together to support and advocate for museums. I networked with quite a few museum representatives that night. I knew the next couple of days would be very busy. Monday, February 26th was a full day of orientation and workshops. Laura Lott, President and CEO of AAM, gave a wonderful talk about the economic impacts of museums, which completely surprised me. I had no idea how much museums give back to our national GDP and how much public opinion approves of government funding for museums. Stephanie Vance gave a great talk on Advocacy Essentials, and there were updates on the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Next we learned about the legislation we would be advocating for the following day and met with our fellow state advocates. I learned that funding for the Office of Museum Services, which provides $38.6 million in support to museums across the country, might be eliminated.
I ended the day by meeting with other California advocates to prepare for our legislative visits. It was great to meet and network with other museum professionals from California. We developed a plan of who would speak, provide personal stories, and make the asks to our representatives. The knowledge and experience of our group, as well as the workshops and research provided earlier that day eased my anxiety over the upcoming meetings.
We started Tuesday with breakfast, which gave our group one last opportunity to talk prior to meeting with Senator Kamala Harris and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s offices. I did not know what expect because some people said that visits can sometimes take place in offices or in hallways, and that some go really well while others are not as well received.
Our first meeting with Senator Harris’ staff member went very well. We introduced ourselves and talked about the legislative items that can drastically affect museums. Senator Harris’ office staff representative was very attentive and supportive of what we all do to support, educate, and teach our communities. I walked out of that office ecstatic; it was such a great experience. The next meeting was with Senator Feinstein’s representatives and our group, but I had to leave early for an individual meeting with my local member of Congress. I began to get nervous because I was on my own this time, and I was meeting with my actual Representative, Lou Correa. Once the meeting started, it went very smoothly. I stumbled a few times on my talking points, but Congressman Correa was very receptive and surprised to learn about museums’ impact on our community and economy. I even had a chance to speak about the Heritage Museum with the Congressman and some of the programs we are doing with our elementary and high school students.
After meeting with Congressman Correa, I had three more visits back to back. My visits took place between three different congressional buildings, so I spent a lot of time walking from building to building. The majority of the staff of the congressional offices were welcoming, and receptive to the message of supporting museums. I ended my last visit exhausted, but felt accomplished about making an impact for the museum field.
The day went by like a blur, but reflecting back on everything, it was such an enriching experience. I have a few takeaways after participating in Museums Advocacy Day. First, educating our elected representatives on the impact that we make on our communities is so important. What I found the most interesting is that most representatives are not always aware of all the great work museums do for our communities. Second, everyone in the museum field should have the opportunity to participate in an advocacy day. I am so grateful for this opportunity and will definitely do all I can do in the future to attend more. Third, the comradery of over 300 museum representatives coming together was empowering. It convinced me that there is always more that I can do to represent museums in general. Lastly, networking with other museum professionals was a great experience. I met leaders from across the nation and had a chance to develop great relationships.
I wish to thank CAM for granting me a scholarship to participate in Museums Advocacy Day. CAM has turned me into a lifelong museum advocate. I encourage everyone to go to Museums Advocacy Day 2019 if they have the opportunity.