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Advocacy: Do’s and Don’ts From New York

Advocacy is important (aec-music.eu/news-article)

Activists have returned to Albany, and some lawmakers don’t like it

That was the headline of a recent article in New York. The advocacy issue here is secondary to advocacy decorum. Now that legislative buildings are open again, the quiet of Covid has been disrupted by the pleas of in-person advocates. Here is how one such incident was reported:

The argument [between the advocates and the representative] did not come to public attention until [Bronx Assemblyman Michael] Benedetto released a defiant video Tuesday claiming that he had been “bullied” by the housing activists – who Benedetto claimed were targeting him as he runs for reelection. His response sparked a new round of controversy over whether he was overreacting or whether the activists had stepped over the lines of political civility.

“Maybe he doesn’t remember how Albany works when people are allowed inside,” Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator of the tenant advocacy group Housing Justice for All, who was present at the March 9 meeting, said in a text. “That’s not bullying. It’s lobbying. It’s a normal part of the political process.”

Benedetto told City & State on Wednesday that he did not feel physically threatened by the activists, though he felt they violated standards of decorum. “All these people chanting – and in my office and demanding that I sign onto the bill – can be rightfully looked upon as a type of bullying,” he said. “Other people, I could suspect, would be rather intimidated by the yelling.” Some of his colleagues have made similar criticisms in the past of activists and colleagues who have used direct action tactics in legislative organizing.

To the best of my knowledge the history and preservation community advocacy sessions aren’t so memorable and let us hope that it remains that way.

EBLAST ADVOCACY

Here is a two examples of a different type of advocacy. This time it is not in person but via email.

Colleagues!

The budget process is nearing the end, and we hope you can help with ONE FINAL PUSH.  Please contact your local assembly member and senator and tell them, in your own words, that we hope NYSCA will receive $50 million in additional funding for COVID recovery.  The field is desperate and in need of major state support.

Thank you,

Liz Reiss
President
ArtsNYS

In this example, a statewide organization is mounting a push for a very specific ask – additional funding for Covid recovery. This issue was also part of the recent federal advocacy program previously written about (Museum Advocacy: The Federal Level). Clearly each state has its own way of funding Covid recovery. The critical point is the need for a private statewide organization to organize the advocacy effort. Such private statewide organizations do not always exist in the history community.

I turn now to a legislative action which affects the history community.

Erika Sanger, the Museum Association of New York (MANY), recently sent the following eblast to its members. These members include science museums, art museums, zoos, and aquariums besides history museums.

If I had a personal FAQ sheet, “How many museums are there in New York State?” would be at the top of the list. Believe it or not, it is a hard question to answer. MANY uses 1,400 as an estimate, but I have learned that to be an effective advocate and to counter inaccurate, commonly held beliefs and perceptions, we need to use precise and relevant data about who we are, who we serve, and what funds make our work possible.

The second FAQ would be, “What is next in MANY’s statewide advocacy agenda?” I am pleased to announce that on March 28th Assembly Member Didi Barrett (District 106 Dutchess/Columbia) introduced Assembly Bill Number A9710, “An act in relation to conducting a study of public and private museums in New York State.” The intent of the study is to identify and collect data about all museums in the state including information on size, hours of operation, visitor statistics, funding sources and amounts, and the subjects of the museums’ collections. It will provide information and recommendations to the legislature about the adequacy of public and private funding sources.

The proposed study will inform policymaking and improve public awareness of the museums throughout our State. It will help identify the benefits, shortfalls, and consequences of the different sources of support for museums. The study will recommend systems of support to best ensure equitable distributions of funds regardless of discipline, budget size, or location.

AM Barrett’s Sponsor Memo recognizes how museums are inextricably linked to New York State’s identity, economy, and history, that too many of us operate hand to mouth, struggle to pay our bills, and wonder each year how we will keep our doors open.

The memo also recognizes that we need assistance to ensure the protection of our collections and to strengthen our roles as educators and community anchors. 

Your responses to our State of NYS Museums and COVID-19 impact surveys helped us get attention and support for museum relief funding over the past two years. Now we need you to reach out to your Assembly Members and ask them to sponsor Assembly Bill Number A9710, “An act in relation to conducting a study of public and private museums in New York State.” Please let them know how important this new legislation is to the future of New York’s museums and ask them to email Jacob Scofield, jscofield@assembly.gov and indicate their preference to sponsor.

In a previous blog, I wrote about Connecticut’s effort to survey the field in its state (Lessons from an Advocacy Session: Connecticut). That database will now be helpful in enabling statewide advocacy in the future and in identifying statewide areas of concern. Presumably the same could happen in New York.

AMISTAD COMMISSION

New York is taking another stab with an Amistad Commission. The State’s dismal record with the existing Amistad Commission has been the source of multiple blogs tracking its horrendous experience …. Especially in comparison with the neighboring New Jersey.

The New York State Amistad Commission: Do Black Lives Matter?
January 18, 2016

The Amistad Commissions: New York versus New Jersey
October 2, 2019

Now the State has decided to scrap the current non-program and to try again with THE AMISTAD COMMISSION (A9399). Highlights include:

24   4. There is a need for education reform from preschool through college
25  in order to mitigate the devastating effect of racism in  education  and
26  the complete miseducation of our population around Black history.
27    5. It is therefore desirable to create a state-level commission, which
28  shall  oversee  the budget and operation of the Amistad commission as it
29  seeks to provide the students of New York with a   more adequate  inclu-
30  sion  of  the  history of Africa, chattel slavery, the African diaspora,
31  the legacy of slavery and  the  contributions  of  African-Americans  in
32  building our country.

There is insufficient space here to review all the provisions of the proposed legislation. It has a targeted implementation of July 1, 2022. So here is an obvious example where a statewide advocacy effort could be pursued if there was such a statewide history organization.

The examples here highlight the need for advocacy and the challenge for the history community. Perhaps people will respond to the plea to send an email. Still there is something to be said for in-person communication … though within the bounds of decorum.

Museum Advocacy: The Federal Level

Advocacy Experts

It’s advocacy time. The State legislature buildings are open. Given the uncertainty due to COVID regarding the opening dates, some of the in-person efforts have been curtailed or have migrated to virtual this year. In this blog, I will review a federal level museum advocacy program. I next will propose a federal level history advocacy program. Finally I will switch to regional and state actions.

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) runs and advocacy program in the nation’s capital. This year Museums Advocacy Day 2022 was held Feb. 28–Mar. 1.

For more than ten years, Museums Advocacy Day has been providing the essential training and support advocates need to meet effectively with members of Congress and their staff. Museums Advocacy Day is a unique opportunity to unite with museum colleagues and supporters from across the country as one voice to reaffirm our essential value, collective contributions, and aspirations while making the critical case for museums directly to Congress.

Over the course of the pandemic, our field has generated unparalleled levels of advocacy for museums. You have sent more than 62,000 messages to Congress, created the largest Museums Advocacy Day yet with over 600 participants and over 400 virtual meetings with your legislators’ offices, and spurred action resulting in billions of dollars in financial relief that enabled many museums to survive and saved thousands of museum jobs. In 2022, we have the chance to capitalize on this energy for museums advocacy.

In the past, I have not attended this event. There is a fee and, of course, travel expense to participate in it. This year since it was virtual, I decided to try it.

To prepare for, the AAM held four weekday afternoon webinars in February to “offer advocates the opportunity to connect, learn, and prepare in advance for Congressional meetings and other advocacy opportunities.”

February 2: Strategic Storytelling: Communicating Your Museum’s Impact

February 9: Making the Case with Critical Data

February 16: Advocacy Deep Dive: How to be an Effective Museum Advocate

February 23: Preparing for Capitol Hill: Setting the Stage

My impression is that a consistent core group viewed these sessions while most did not. I suspect, they appeal more to the newcomers to the program like me than to the veterans of the advocacy initiative who have been through this already.

On the day before the meetings with the legislators, there was an afternoon program. It included a welcome from AAM and from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Part of the advocacy relates to the funding of this organization. The rest of the afternoon consisted of preparing the participants for the big day tomorrow. There was a session on advocacy essentials, a meeting with a legislative staffer, tips for being effective, and the key asks and issues.  I have said it before and I will say it again, the “asks” are critical to advocacy. You are not there to have a collegial discussion about the role of history or museums in human life or America today or your state. You are there to ask for something. That ‘ask” usually is for more money than the previous year or to reduce a cut to a program if one has been budgeted. Sometimes, the “ask” may be for something brand new but not in this advocacy event. Changes in regulations also may be an “ask.”

Afterwards, we had an online meeting with the fellow participants from our individual states. I am from New York where there were over 50 people from the state. Routinely we have one of if not the largest number of attendees. For the history community, the list of attendees was very informative. The number from history organizations was minimal. The most significant group had “art” in their email address including many grad students. There were some children museums and libraries. There were a few history organizations in attendance but I did not notice any local history organizations, no “Municipality X Historical Society” participants.

This absence of historical societies is important. Historical societies have fundamentally different needs from other museums. For example, art museums, science museums, children museums, zoos, aquariums, and libraries all tend to be located in facilities built and designed for those purposes; historical societies are often located in a house where people once lived sometimes even centuries ago. The former organizations tend to be open full time and have full time staff; the same cannot be said to the ordinary municipal historical society. So one thought which occurred to me is at the federal level where should the advocacy be directed in the event historical organizations actually wanted to advocate for something, a separate subject to be addressed in another blog.

The next day was the big day – meeting the legislators. A full day of meetings was planned. In New York, this included with the two Senators as I presume was true for all the participating states. In New York, the meetings were also with almost all of the Congressional Representatives. Of course, these meetings are with staffers and 30 minutes tops. In my case, that meant 50+ people online with a Senate staffer. I am sure you know what that looks life online. Beyond introducing oneself, there was nothing else for me to say or do. I was providing support. In smaller settings, it may be possible for everyone to participate.

Certainly at the Congressional level, one would expect fewer people and more of an opportunity for each person to speak. That was certainly true in my district where I was the only person scheduled. Since I do not represent a public organization affected by COVID, I could not speak personally about how COVID and the related funding had impacted me. Also since the staffer did not show up, I did not have anyone to talk to anyway.

I mention COVID since it was the first “ask” on our list

We are asking for additional funds for museums’ relief and recovery for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program, as well as for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for museums ineligible for SVOG due to its requirement that museums have “fixed seating. In unity with the broader nonprofit sector we also are asking to strengthen charitable giving incentives to ensure that nonprofits, including museums, have the resources to serve their communities.

As noted, funding for the IMLS rates high as an “ask”:

We are asking for $54.5 million in FY 2022 funding for the IMLS Office of Museum Services (the House-passed and Senate draft approved level), a much needed increase of $14 million, and for a robust funding increase for FY 2023. This funding would allow OMS to increase its grant capacity for museums, funds which museums will need to help recover from the pandemic and continue to serve our communities. This substantial funding increase will still be shy of the high demand of more than $154 million in FY 2021 in highly rated grant applications the agency received. We also ask that funding be included for the agency to explore establishing a roadmap to strengthen the structural support for a museum Grants to States program administered by OMS, as authorized by the Museum and Library Services Act in addition to the agency’s current direct grants to museums.

A third ask related to taxes, specifically for deductions by non-itemizers.

If the advocacy is in-person next year would I go? Besides the networking and possible tourist attractions, there would be little really for me to do. The meetings with the Senators always will be too large for individual participation. The meetings with the Representatives could just as easily be done at home during a recess. That would reduce the travel expense and increase the likelihood of actually meeting with the Representative. It also could increase the number of participants. Now if it was a history advocacy day, then I might reconsider.

Advocating for State and Local History: A Regional Case Study

Long Island History (Patchogue-Medford Library)

How should the history community advocate on its behalf? Perhaps instead of focusing at the state level for the advocacy for state and local history, one should think smaller. In this post, I wish to address the recent example by the Long Island history community and to make some suggestions about the next steps. Long Island is a region of millions so it is bigger than most of the other regions in New York State with the exception of New York City. It some ways, it may be considered comparable in size to a state.

A few months ago, an email notice went out announcing the Long Island Historian Summit.

INVITATION

You are cordially invited to a one-day summit of assigned Long Island county, town, city, borough and village historians.

According to the press report on the meeting (see below):

New York law requires that incorporated villages, towns and boroughs have their own historian, said Howard Kroplick, historian for the Town of North Hempstead and an event co-organizer. However, the law does not dictate what kinds of resources those historians should have or how the job should work. According to a survey Kroplick conducted of 22 village and nine town historians, job descriptions and salaries widely range. Most of the historians said they worked part time, and 27 percent never release any kind of report on the work they have done. More than 90 percent of village historians work from home and almost none are paid. Kroplick said his survey also found that the top two concerns among the surveyed historians were saving historic buildings and projects and obtaining funding and resources.

The purpose of the conference was to assist this particular segment of the history community.

This conditional invitation restricted the attendance to these municipal historians in Long Island. The invitation did not extend to the history community at large in Long Island. Other regions in New York have conducted regional history meetings under the rubric of the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS). My experience with them has been that meetings in the region were open to the general history community and to affiliate members of APHNYS such as myself. There is no right or wrong way to organize such meetings. It is at the discretion of each region. For a first time effort, it was reasonable to restrict the potential audience.

It should be noted that Long Island contains a huge number of villages, towns, and not-so-large cities, and two counties. According to Kroplick, of the 117 municipalities in the two counties, there are 72 appointed historians. The compliance rate with the state regulation is 62% meaning 38% of the municipalities are in violation of the law.

Since Brooklyn and Queens are part of the island, the borough historians were also invited.

The attendance was 65 people. That number far exceeds the regional meetings I have attended elsewhere even when open to the general history community. It was the largest meeting of Long Island historians ever and, according to Devin Lander, New York State historian, likely the largest gathering of local historians at a New York State regional meeting. Kudos to Long Island for showing up in force.

FUNDING

The Long Island Historian Summit, sponsored by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, will be held on Saturday, June 30, 2018 to provide an opportunity to discuss challenges, opportunities and experiences relevant to their positions.

One immediately notices here a critical element in the advocacy process – funding. A local Long Island foundation decided to sponsor the meeting. The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, provides financial support for historical preservation projects around Long Island. It supported a county history class at the Nassau Community College (a class every community college should offer). It funded and helped organize the event. A representative from that foundation is on my email distribution list. A few months ago, I had the chance to meet her at a regional meet-up held at the 9/11 Memorial organized by the Museum Association of New York (MANY). The Foundation definitely is interested in statewide advocacy and has been following the deteriorating situation in New York State. I reported on that subject in a series of blogs written before I attended the recent conference by the Massachusetts History Alliance. As will be seen, there is a lot which can be accomplished at the regional level rather than trying to embrace the state in its entirety.

PROGRAM

The speakers and moderators included various government levels and different elements of the history community:

Devin Lander – New York State Historian
Thomas J. Ruller – Assistant Commissioner for Archives and New York State Archivist
The Honorable Peter Fox Cohalon – Suffolk County Historian
Howard Kroplick (Chairperson) – Town Historian of North Hempstead
Zach Studenroth – Village Historian of Southampton
Barbara Russell –Town Historian of Brookhaven
Dr. Georgette Grier-Keys – President, Board of Trustees of Association of Suffolk County Historical Societies.

The program itself besides the presentations by the two state representatives included sessions on

Funding – including preservation, conservation, and humanities
Resources – including archaeology by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, signs by a private funder of history signs, education by the Guilder Lehrman Institute, and preservation.

One key omission in this group was the Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) director for Long Island. In New York State, the state is divided into regions which compete for state funding. The process is derisively referred to as “Hunger Games” and its effectiveness as an actual job generator has been questioned. Nonetheless, it is the major game in town for state funding so it behooves the history community to reach out to it even though the odds are it will lead to nothing.

PUBLICITY

The meeting was covered by Newsday, the leading newspaper in Long Island. Obtaining such publicity was a great achievement. I wonder how many other such regional or state meetings are covered by the media. At minimum, the conference organizers should send press releases announcing the meeting and then reporting on it along with pictures the media can used to disseminate the results. Kudos to the Long Island municipal historians for getting such coverage.

THE MEETING MESSAGE(S)

Without intending to, the press coverage highlighted the two divergent approaches taken towards the history community. This dichotomy has been the subject of posts in the past. I have called it the Paul Tonko versus the Andrew Cuomo approaches based on the two politicians, one federal, one state, in New York. By this I mean, the role of history organizations as part of the social fabric, as part of the civic identity of community versus history organizations as economic generators through tourism.

Consider the contrast between these two comments as reported in the Newsday article.

Devin Lander, New York State historian and one of the event’s organizers: “The communities that do well and are drawing those tourists, they’re leaning on their history. It’s very important that we talk about the relevance of what we’re doing.”

Amy Folk, Southold Town historian: “The historian’s job is to look at the past and give context for the present and the future.”  This quotation followed the report by Newsday on the discussions:

Historians also emphasized how to explain the importance of their work to the community — preserving a village’s central historic church, for example, also benefits community services like day care centers and food pantries that use the space, they said.

While I have no objection to cultural heritage tourism, is that really viable for the average community historical society? Think of the planning and effort by the often volunteer staff to handle a school visit by a single class, by an entire grade, by more than 100 people. Do residential communities really want busloads of tourists driving through their communities on a daily basis? Sure the local food places would benefit, but is that the primary function of a municipal historical society – to generate tourism? Municipal historical societies like the local library and the local school or part of the social fabric of the community. The primary responsibility is to develop a sense of place, a sense of belonging, a sense of community, by connecting the residents to the story of the community from Ice Age to Global Warming.

True, this was a conference of municipal historians and not historical societies. However some governments own historical sites and a representative of the historical societies was present at the meeting.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The article concluded with an implication of what’s next.

Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara M. Russell said historical groups can thrive by coming together. Events like Saturday’s summit are key in making those connections happen, especially for smaller groups that can’t afford to make trips to Albany, where state resources are concentrated.

The next step for this convocation is to bring the state capital to the region. This is an election year. Long Island will be electing state legislators and senators. What a perfect opportunity for the history community to advocate on behalf of local and state history. I suspect some of the people attending the conference know their local politicians. Now is the time to arrange meetings with all the major candidates to discuss history concerns on their home turf and not at the state capital. I don’t mean to have a philosophical discussion on the merits of history. I mean to have specific “asks.”  You want this bill to be passed or to be rejected. You want the spending limits for this program to be increased. You want school curriculum to include local history at the elementary, junior, and high school level. Or whatever your agenda is. Now during this election year is the time to act. And when you meet with the candidates, make sure you know the number of people who are members of historical societies in that district. Numbers count.

Finally, you need someone who will lead this effort. This conference was led by Howard Kroplick, historian for the Town of North Hempstead. He comes from the business world and still has his mojo. He is looking to do things. It takes somewhat like that to make things happen. Here is an opportunity for him to take a leadership role in one region and create a template that can be used elsewhere. Here is an opportunity to develop at the regional level an effort which can led to a statewide effort. The history community certainly could use such a jolt.

NY State History Month: Another View

November is New York State History Month. The goal of this initiative certainly is a worthy one. Naturally as historians, a primary source document such as a press release invites a close reading of the text. That’s what historians do and government publications are not exempt from such scrutiny. The exercise is quite productive and one can learn a lot from doing it.
Continue reading “NY State History Month: Another View”

Suffrage Centennial: Historians, NYS Tourism Officials Clash

In early October, the New York Cultural Heritage Tourism Network under the leadership of Spike Herzig, a member of the Tourism Advisory Council, hosted a meeting in Seneca Falls for the Women’s Suffrage Centennial.

There were about 85 attendees, mainly from the central New York region. The purpose was to meet, learn, and plan for the upcoming centennials of women gaining the right to vote in New York State (2017) and the United States (2020). The event’s agenda was abandoned as members of the history community began to air their frustrations over Empire State Development’s role in heritage tourism. Continue reading “Suffrage Centennial: Historians, NYS Tourism Officials Clash”

Andrew Cuomo On The State of New York Tourism

Just before the July 4th weekend, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a press release on the state of tourism. The release covered tourism in its totality and did not address specific sectors like adventure tourism, winery tourism, historic tourism, and LGBT tourism, the four pillars of I Love NY promotions. It also did not differentiate between business, vacation, or shopping travelers. (Macy’s chief executive Terry Lundgren in 2013 called Macy’s “ a tourist place” with roughly 6,000,000 tourists a year).

That being said, the number of travelers to the Empire State from elsewhere is impressive and the economic impact is substantial. Continue reading “Andrew Cuomo On The State of New York Tourism”

Schumer and Gibson on New York State History

Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Chris Gibson, and Governor Andrew Cuomo have all been in the news recently on the subject of history tourism. It is instructive to compare and contrast their involvement in the subject.

On July 1, Senator Schumer visited the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, Greene County. The site is a privately operated. The cause of the visit was the unexpected discovery what appears to be original paintings from around 1836 by Thomas Cole which had been hidden under layers of paint. Schumer was contacted about federal funding to preserve the art. He not only supports the request, but also toured the site with executive director Betsy Jacks. Continue reading “Schumer and Gibson on New York State History”

NYS History Fail: A Better Connecticut Example

June 6th and June 20th weekends offer two contrasting perceptions of how to celebrate the history of New York State. These two weekends highlight fundamental problems with New York State’s approach to state heritage and makes clear that the state of Connecticut demonstrates greater leadership and a more profound understanding of its history community.

Continue reading “NYS History Fail: A Better Connecticut Example”

Funding A History Passport Program

Passports are an underutilized resource for promoting tourism and community identity. While I have been a strong advocate for the creation and use of passports at the local, county, and regional basis for schools and tourism, I only now have realized the potential funding opportunity with the latest round of funding through the Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC).

This epiphany began at the annual conference of the Association of Public Historians in New York State in Corning in April. On the display table there was a pile of Adirondack Coast Cultural Alliance passports. Continue reading “Funding A History Passport Program”

A Call For Municipal Historian Reform In NYS

This question of what municipal historians should be doing came up at the recent annual conference of the Association of Public Historians of New York (APNYS). The setting was a session at the conference for first-time municipal historians and was chaired by Christine Ridarsky, the City of Rochester Historian who works at the Central Library in Rochester and serves on the APHNYS board.

The stories told during the session did not reflect well on the state of the municipal historian position in New York State. Some had stumbled into the job based on very local circumstances. They didn’t know what the job entailed, nor did the municipal leaders who appointed them. Continue reading “A Call For Municipal Historian Reform In NYS”