Thursday, 09 June 2016 01:51

Advocacy is Not a Spectator Sport

2016 ALI Capitol Steps candid
Above: Alumni on steps of the Capitol in DC, meeting with Elisa Santana and Ana Builes, while we wait for Congressman Lloyd Doggett as he casts his vote on the House Floor. Photo credit: Adriana Gallego

2016 NALAC Advocacy Leadership Institute, Washington, DC

Can you imagine what it’s like to walk through the halls of Congress and the White House, speaking with policy makers about issues that matter to you and your community? Can you envision confidently engaging White House officials, Congress, federal agencies and national arts leaders regarding matters of equity, education and social justice through an arts and culture lens?

We can. And we invite you to link into the movement of artists, administrators, and culture bearers that have joined forces with NALAC to advance Equity through the Arts.

This year marked the 6th edition of the NALAC Advocacy Leadership Institute (ALI) featuring ALI Fellows from California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas, as well as Honorary Delegates from District of Columbia, New Jersey and Connecticut. Fellows met with leaders on the Hill to discuss ways in which we can work together to support families and communities through arts and culture practices that are equitable and reflective of the diverse lived experiences in our nation.

Representing the largest class to date, fifteen artists, administrators and educators participated in a two-month preparatory curriculum that culminated in Washington, DC, May 17-19. Throughout the rigorous virtual and in-person leadership training, Fellows worked closely with 38 highly effective advocates, faculty, strategists, organizers, alumni, scholars, curators and peers that shared years of experience and tools to use on the home front and on the national playing field. Lead faculty Rosalba Rolon (NY), Abel Lopez (DC) and Maria Lopez De Leon (TX) were key mentors that originated the effort and have provided instruction and guidance for generations of Latino leaders. As part of the webinar series, ALI Alumni Angie Durrell (2014, CT) and Victor Payan (2013, CA) presented their success stories and strategies that evolved as an outcome of their ALI training. Similarly, Brandon Gryde Director of Government Affairs, Dance/USA and OPERA America reported critical and timely information regarding current and proposed policies that affect arts and culture.

“It was an amazing experience and opportunity. Made so many nice, new #advocacy friends and it was such a great platform for honing our skills.  The conversations were honest and meaningful and the access to leaders was astonishing.” Jon Hinojosa, (Texas, ALI Fellow)

The sum of these experiences positioned Fellows for successful meetings with leaders from the White House, the National Endowment for the Arts, Americans for the Arts, National Museum of the American Indian, Performing Arts Alliance, Chorus America, Pew Research Center, Smithsonian Latino Center, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Representatives from our partner organizations not only generously imparted knowledge and resources, they also actively sought and received insight and solutions from Fellows, fostering dialogue and relationship-building founded on reciprocity.

"The Advocacy Leadership Institute was not just an opportunity to learn and exercise direct policy tools; it was also a time to meet other leaders at a national scope.  These are imperative times to strategically coalesce across disciplines and priorities–the ALI is a response and an asset to the future of Latino Arts and Cultures." J. Gibran Villalobos, Illinois ALI Fellow

White House Invit cropped 2On Wednesday, May 18, the full delegation was briefed by the White House Office of Public Engagement. The White House Briefing included conversations with Julie Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Deputy Director of Public Engagement; Alejandra Ceja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics; Mike Griffin, Chief of Staff with the National Endowment for the Arts; Eva Caldera, Assistant Chairman for Partnership and Strategic Initiative with the National Endowment for the Humanities and Ginette Magaña, Associate Director of White House Office Public Engagement.

“The message that resonates most for me was a simple and clear reminder that LATINO ART IS AMERICAN ART and as practitioners and advocates we are immersed in the politics of value and worth. The work of artists, cultural workers and arts educators is so bold and brave and has such incredible value to this country, especially in light of the demographics, particularly at this critical time before upcoming elections. So proud to be a part of this talented group of advocacy fellows.” Rebecca Nevarez, California ALI Fellow

The following day, participants received frontline insight and advice from key Hill staffers Elisa Santana, Legislative Assistant in the Office of Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Veronica Duron, Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and President of the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association (CHSA). Equipped with facts, vision, strategies and allies, the ALI Class of 2016 confidently navigated Capitol Hill and met with Congress, effectively reaching across the aisles. Fellows expertly engaged staffers and legislators, providing reliable information and resources that correlated with each district’s priorities and highest aspirations.  One such example was when Texas fellows met with Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) office, underscoring the value of arts education, the economic impact of the arts, and the transformative power of arts in addressing veteran military health issues. Collectively, the ALI cohort attended more than 20 bipartisan meetings with Congressional officials, where Fellows presented their priorities with a unified voice, yet articulating nuanced solutions that were unique to their respective communities.

Amidst the buzz and hustle outside the steps of the Capitol, where key votes were taking place inside the House floor, NALAC’s host and representative, Congressman Lloyd Doggett attentively made time in between votes to meet with our delegation and express his regard for Latino arts and culture. As per tradition, Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY) welcomed the Class of 2016 at his offices, where he listened to priorities and imparted wit and wisdom, with just enough time to cast his vote on the House floor. Congressman Joaquin Castro’s (D-TX) Chief of Staff, Carlos Sanchez engaged the group in dialogue and addressed opportunities, questions, and concerns.

“The NALAC ALI was an intense experience that elevated my entire view of support for the arts and opened for me a new window on how to drive and pull positive change towards creative arts work nationally and in my community.” Sandra Andino, Pennsylvania ALI Fellow

To mark the occasion, on the final day of the DC journey, the ALI contingency hosted the annual Latino Arts Leadership Reception in the Rayburn Gold Room. There, Fellows greeted and networked with staffers, members of congress, national arts leaders, artists and the community at large.  Featured performances with Fraternidad Alma Boliviana, Mariachi Los Amigos, and spoken word artist Michael Reyes aesthetically channeled the flow of energy produced that week. The evening was topped with an awards ceremony, gratitude, a serenade, and more music.

With this new generation of advocates, the momentum to build on proposed initiatives, nourish new relationships and follow up on articulated priorities is entrusted to the Class of 2016 ALI Fellows Alumni. As stewards and leaders in their communities, we anticipate inviting them back to share their success stories and strategies with future generations of ALI Fellows.

Join us in congratulating the Class of 2016 Alumni, by downloading the NALAC Priorities card and advocating in support of more equitable arts and culture practices in your communities!

ALI Class of 2016
Rebecca Nevarez | Executive Director | Latino Arts Network of California | Pasadena, CA
Anthony Rodriguez | Producing Artistic Director | Aurora Theatre, Inc. | Lawrenceville, GA
Gibran Villalobos | Arts Administrator, Adjunct Faculty | School of the Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL
Jackie Arakaki | Chair of Art & Culture | Foundation for Latin American and Latin@ Culture Arts | Lexington, KY
Rossana Espinoza | Program Manager | Latino Economic Development Center | Silver Spring, MD
Susana Quintanilla | Director | El Ballet Folklorico Estudiantil | Flint, MI
Vagner Mendonça Whitehead | Associate Professor and Department Chair | Oakland University | Ferndale, MI
Michael Reyes | Michigan Program Associate | NALAC | Detroit, MI
Sandra Andino | Associate Director, Latin American and Latino Studies | University of Pennsylvania | Philadelphia, PA
Stephen Ingle | Creative Director + Co-Founder | Creative Kids | El Paso, TX
Mari Hernandez | Visitor Ambassador | Blue Star Contemporary | San Antonio, TX
David Lozano | Executive Artistic Director | Cara Mia Theatre Co. | Dallas, TX
Jon Hinojosa | Artistic/Executive Director | SAY Si | San Antonio, TX
Alberto Mejia | Manager, Dougherty Arts Center | Parks and Recreation, City of Austin | Austin, TX
Abigail Gomez | Owner, Artist, Art Instructor | Pretty Girl Painting | Winchester, VA

With Gratitude
This rich array of experiences was a reminder that advocacy is not a spectator sport. A strong network of partners, funders and supporters were instrumental in realizing the full potential of the Advocacy Leadership Institute. The stellar team in Representative Lloyd Doggett’s office, with special thanks to Elisa Santana, secured that we had fruitful learning environments on the Hill. Southwest Airlines ensured that all of our participants arrived safely and on time to their destinations. Our hosts, Nina Ozlu Tunceli and Keevin Lewis of Americans for the Arts and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian respectively, provided accommodations that inspired creative thinking and dialogue. Generous support from the Ford Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Surdna Foundation, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, NALAC members and individual donors made it possible to convene the 2016 Class of the NALAC Advocacy Leadership Institute.

Advocacy Leadership Institute Core Faculty


Class of 2016 Advocacy Leadership Institute

2016ALI FellowsGrid

2016 At a Glance

38 National Presenters

20 Congressional Visits

15 Artists, Administrators and Educators
14 Congressional Districts 

13 Performers (3 Performances)

11 Sessions and Site Visits

7 NLI Alumni
4 Preparatory Webinar Sessions

9 States: CA, GA, IL, KY, MD, VA, PA, MI (3), TX (5), 

1 White House Briefing



The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 27 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.  

For more information visit our website at or like us on Facebook at

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