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Storytelling and Advocacy
Brandon Gryde, Director of Government Affairs, Dance/USA and OPERA America
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Original Content6/7/2011

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"What was your very first arts experience?"

This was the first question I received when I interviewed for the position of government affairs director. It's a softball question that allowed me to easily shift into storytelling mode. Yet it's also an impactful question because my first arts experience was also the first step that led to a life of arts participation as an audience member, a performer, an arts education director, as well as my current position with Dance/USA and OPERA America. My exposure to arts as a child increased my desire to want to learn more. As a student at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts I devoted hours of additional time to school commitments specifically because I loved what I was doing. My jazz studies focus in the ethnomusicology department in college was a perfect balance to my double major in American literature, offering me greater insight into American culture: The study of literature and music offered reciprocal learning opportunities that deepened my understanding of each field.

In April, the national arts community claimed victory in the reinstatement of FY11 funding for the Arts in Education program at the Department of Education. However in May, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA-52) offered the first ESEA reauthorization bill proposing to eliminate programs deemed duplicative or inappropriate for the federal government to fund in the Department of Education, including Arts in Education. While ESEA reauthorization may still be a long way off, it is important to let our congressional leaders know the importance of arts education to ensure a well-rounded education.

One way of doing that is to tell them about how arts education impacted your life. How did arts education lead you into your career as a dancer, as stage crew or as an arts administrator? For many of us, our arts education experiences served as workforce readiness training, providing us an opportunity to learn about the fields we eventually chose to work for.

These stories are powerful and, when combined with research, offer a strong case when speaking or writing to elected officials. The President's Committee on Arts and Humanities recently released a comprehensive report aggregating important research, suggestions and talking points to help arts education advocates better prepare for meetings with local, state or federal legislators.

If you plan on visiting the Washington D.C. area, please feel free to contact the OPERA America government affairs office for assistance in arranging visits with your state's elected officials. (You can also let us know if you have contacted your legislators through phone calls and e-mails.)

So what was my first memorable arts experience? Watching Sandy Duncan fly around the Shubert Theater as Peter Pan when I was four. You might say I was "hooked."

To contact Brandon Gryde, director of government affairs, call 202-375-7523 or send an e-mail to BGryde@operaamerica.org. To send an electronic letter to your elected officials, visit The Performing Arts Alliance.
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