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From The Classroom To Congress: How EMU Is Training The Next Generation Of Arts Advocates

Mar 15, 2016

Credit Dred Geib

Finding the next generation of advocates for non-profit arts organizations is vital for the Michigan economy. That’s why Eastern Michigan University is expanding the reach of its Arts Management programs and sending students to represent the state at National Arts Advocacy Day in Washington D.C.


It’s early afternoon on a chilly Sunday and Zenah Mitchel is practicing her elevator pitch.

Mitchel and around two dozen classmates are in an intensive training course at EMU that teaches students how to be policy advocates for the arts.

There’s an increasing need for new leaders for arts nonprofits.  Organizations that were founded in the 70's and 80's by the baby boomer generation are now seeing a shift in leadership as many administrators near retirement.  Susan Booth heads the arts administration program at EMU.  It’s her students who are in D.C. for National Arts Advocacy Day this week.

She says,

“This generation, they want to see that the actions that they take are going to make an impact.”

At the conference, grad student Jerry Williams says what he’s learned here and in the classroom is going to help him work to expand arts education in public schools.  "We need to have more federal funding for more programming within the school systems," he says.

For Dave King, one of the biggest takeaways he’s had so far is learning the financial impact the arts have on the economy. And those numbers are astounding. In Michigan, arts and cultural tourism brought in $2.5 billion in 2012. That’s with only 5.2% of funding coming from the state government.

Sarah Triplett works for Creative Many Michigan, the group who complies reports of the financial impact of the arts in the state.  She says, "And these students, being here in DC, they have the chance to talk about the importance of the arts directly to lawmakers before they’ve even graduated."

Booth says her students plan to keep in contact with the legislative staff they met on the trip. They’ve also been asked to expand an EMU student advocacy group called AMP to other universities in Michigan.

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— Amanda LeClaire is a reporter and producer for 89.1 WEMU News.  Contact her at 734.487.3363 or email her aleclair@emich.edu