Amplifying Our Voices: Advocating for Dance

By Brandon Gryde


As the national service organization for the field of professional dance, Dance/USA represents dance groups across the United States in front of Congress, the White House and Federal agencies. The issues that impact dance and the performing arts are broad and varied – from the expected advocacy around funding for the arts to the impact spectrum auctions will have on wireless microphone users.

Dance/USA also represents the field as a National Co-Sponsor during Arts Advocacy Day (this year April 8 and 9) in Washington, DC. Leading up this convening of approximately 500 arts advocates, we work in coalition with colleagues from other disciplines analyzing the political landscape to determine the best “ask” for the arts community. Standing alongside symphonies, theaters, opera companies, choruses, museums and arts therapy organizations, we represent thousands of arts organizations and ensure that the language created for lawmakers speaks for all of us. The arts community may not have money to throw around in Washington, but do our best to amplify our collective voice by sticking together.

Below are samplings of the issues we work on, along with some context to highlight why they are important. The more comprehensive “issue briefs” used for Arts Advocacy Day, which include talking points and backgrounds, are available on the Dance/USA website (

Support for the NEA
Advocates are once again asking Congress to appropriate $155 million to the National Endowment for the Arts. Over the last 15 years, the NEA has slowly increased its levels of funding, though never quite reaching the apex of 1992 with $176 million. However more than $20 million in funding was cut in the last two years in an effort to decrease spending. This resulted in fewer and smaller grants to arts organizations.

Preserving Charitable Giving Incentives
As much as the NEA often serves as the flagship issue for the arts, the issue I spend the most time on is preservation of charitable giving incentives, including the charitable deduction and the IRA Charitable Rollover. All nonprofits, large and small, would be impacted if lawmakers limited the charitable deduction. On average, approximately 40% of the revenue to nonprofit dance companies derives from private contributions. Dance/USA works in alliance with other nonprofits through Independent Sector and the Charitable Giving Coalition to advocate on behalf of the field. We face challenges on both sides of the aisle with proposals to cap the deduction at 28% for wealthy individuals or with a monetary cap of $25,000. These limits would result in less giving: estimates of a loss of contributions range from $1 billion to $7 billion for the percentage cap, whereas the monetary cap would virtually eliminate the charitable deduction. Congress is laying the groundwork for comprehensive tax reform and the charitable deduction will be on the table.

Arts in Education and ESEA Reauthorization
Arts advocates are working on two sides of this issue: appropriation for the Arts in Education program at the Department of Education and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (commonly known as No Child Left Behind). The funding for the Arts in Education program was drastically cut a couple years ago, from $40 million to $25 million – yet this funding serves national programs and allows the arts and education community to collect data that supports the role arts have in student learning and engagement. Under ESEA, the arts are also considered a core academic subject, alongside language arts and math, and our advocacy revolves around making sure that the arts maintain this status.

International Issues
Dance/USA works with a variety of federal agencies to increase opportunities for artists to travel abroad and to improve the efficiency of bringing foreign artists to the United States. We have been urging the U.S. Department of State to increase their spending on cultural exchange programs and to make the program outcomes and availability more transparent. Initiatives like DanceMotion USA selects a handful of dance organizations to tour various regions of the world. Dance/USA members such as Trey McIntyre Project and Urban Bush Women have been able to use dance as means of U.S. diplomacy, combining performances with education and outreach programs. We also represent the field of dance before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, urging them to keep the amount of time it takes to process visas for foreign guest artists to a minimum. (Issues around foreign guest artists also require collaboration with the State Department because of the need for consular processing and the IRS for taxation purposes.) Dance/USA regularly assists members in their petitions to hire foreign artists.

What Can You Do?
It’s important to advocate on a local level, speaking on behalf of your work or organization to municipal and state lawmakers, demonstrating the impact dance has on your community.

It’s easy to communicate with lawmakers. In fact it can be as simple as a phone call or an email. What should your message entail? For national issues, download the Arts Advocacy Day issue briefs, which include the national “ask” as well as talking points and history.

However it’s equally compelling to tell your personal story, both yours and your organization’s. Here are a few questions to ask yourself in preparation for speaking with a representative: How did you first get involved in dance? What keeps you passionate and dedicated to your work? What project are you most excited about? How many audience members/community members/students do you reach? Who do you partner with (schools, community or faith-based organizations)? Do you address any critical issues in your community (at-risk youth, underserved populations, healthy lifestyles)? How many people do you employ and what is your economic impact? (It’s great when you can demonstrate expenses to wages and benefits as well as the cost of fabric, set materials, rental spaces, transportation costs, etc.)

In fact this personal story is key, because you’re not only serving a district’s constituents, but you are a constituent. You have a constitutional right to share what’s important to you and to lobby on the issues that impact your organization.

The Issues are Nonpartisan
Members of the arts community often forget that the issues we work on are nonpartisan issues. And for nonprofits advocating on these issues, this is especially important to remember. Remember, we’re not just asking for increased funding for the NEA. We’re asking Congressional leaders to look at issues around tax revenue, immigration, diplomacy and education. We find support on both sides of the aisle for each issue.

Additionally, support doesn’t always arrive directly. When Congressman Tim Walberg (R-MI) proposed to further cut funding to the NEA, Congress had already proposed a decrease in funding. This amendment would have been devastating to the NEA budget. While most Republican lawmakers did not endorse an increase in funding, many of them – including several newly elected Tea Party candidates – voted against the Walberg amendments. These votes were crucial to ensuring that the NEA’s budget was not decimated and I continue to join arts advocates in visiting these Republican offices to shore up support against potential amendments to cut funding in the future.

In addition to using Dance/USA’s online advocacy tab as a resource, the following sites also provide very helpful and important information to help you make your case.

The Performing Arts Alliance (PAA) – Dance/USA is a founding member. In addition to sending out timely action alerts and policy updates, the PAA allows you to find your lawmakers and provides email templates for each of the issues we work on.

Independent Sector – This advocacy group for the nonprofit and philanthropic sector provides important data and resources on the value of the nonprofit sector in communities. I find the state profiles that detail the nonprofit impact extremely useful.

Artists From Abroad – This site, built in partnership between the League of American Orchestras and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, walks petitioners through the process of applying for visas for foreign artists. The RSS feed also provides timely updates for applicants.

ArtsEdSearch – Created in 2012 by the Arts Education Partnership, this site synthesizes and summaries 200 of the most important arts in education studies, providing talking points and policy implications for advocates.

This article appeared in the April 2013 issue of In Dance.

Brandon Gryde represents Dance/USA and OPERA America before Congress, the White House, and Federal agencies. He has previously served as communications director for a youth engagement organization in Washington and spent seven years in Harrisburg, PA as a program director for a regional arts organization. Brandon was born and raised in Los Angeles and received a B.A. in Ethnomusicology and American Literature and Culture from UCLA and a M.A. in American Studies from Penn State.