Experiencing the 24th Annual Nancy Hanks lecture.

I signed on to be part of a Twitter team for the Americans for the Arts National Arts Advocacy Day. I have two Twitter profiles one is personal, the other is about arts engagement. My Twitter habits have formed over the last 18 months. For me, I keep my social and work lives a little more separate, and my followers know better what to expect from each. It also helps me focus skimming through Twitter time lines, better than hastags and lists since not every user understand or applies the practice.

In years past, I had brought students to attend the Nancy Hanks lecture. One year, I brought a friend who let me stay in his DC apartment during my visit. This year, I decided that since I would be doing a heavy amount of social media, it would be rude to invite someone I knew to sit next to me at any of the events. I delve into my mobile devices with either thumbs independently circling a tiny iPhone landing pad, (good thing I’m a bassoonist) or my fingers flying at the iPad perched on my rudely crossed legs. Sometimes, I’ve got both devices running. Of course I have no time for even eye contact with humans. Social media has stunted my social skills. But I’m really OK with that. As long as I can teach my own children how to find a better balance.

Back to the event last night’s Nancy Hanks lecture. It was the 24th annual speech delivered by a notable person, recognized by the Americans for the Arts Board. The speaker series is named after the first Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and held the position for eight years. The series began in 1988 “to honor her memory and to provide an opportunity for public discourse at the highest levels on the importance of the arts and culture to our national’s well being.” (event program book) Here’s a list of past speakers.

I arrived at the Kennedy Center as quickly as I could (bus was stuck in traffic), and was grateful to have been in the building often enough to skip the tourist photos to head straight to the side boxes to get as close to the stage as possible. Even though I’m tending to my electronic date, I still like to see facial expressions of the speakers for real, and not on big screen. You also get a better vantage point for celebrity spotting. I found a chair next to the wall, so my glowing screens would not annoy anyone sitting behind me. There are manners to this behavior, you know…

No network service inside the hall. Glad that I did my FourSquare check-in at the lobby. When the entrance cue is that long, I gotta do SOMETHING with my hands. God forbid I strike up a conversation with strangers. Yes, I remember doing that B.E. (before electronics) There wasn’t a ton of leg room in my seat. But that was good. I could prop my foot against the seat in front of me to steady my leg for a make shift flat surface. That was fine until the person in front of me shifted. I was so distracted by searching for a signal that I instinctively pushed her seat back. I quickly apologized for the rude gesture, and hoped she would sit still for the rest of the night.

The hall was slow to fill, and the event started 18 minutes late due to same traffic I was stuck in. While I waited, I read through the program book, and completed a few levels of Angry Birds. I didn’t manage to bring any old tools, so I took out the Evernote app on the vintage iPad to take notes. (Shameless endorsements? Nope. All these apps are for engaging my uber geek audiences)

Each Nancy Hanks lecture is now recorded and available to either read or hear. I would highly recommend hearing Wynton Marsalis’ speech from last year. Blew. Me. Away. But that usually takes a couple of weeks after. And I love quoting them hit the mood is hot. You can even get transcripts of all the speeches through the American’s for the Arts. Older ones are printed, so you must order Monograph copies. I re-read Robert MacNeil’s and William Safire’s speech when I need inspiration from great writers.

Two years ago, I figured out how to get close enough to the front to spot celebrities at the Kennedy center. They usually are the ones who serve on the artists committee for the Americans for the Arts. And of course, the business board members I recognize from conventions… Oh look, Kerry Washington! Still hoping for an Alec Baldwin sighting. Now that tomorrow’s congressional hearing has been cancelled, I wonder if he will turn up. Two years ago, I spotted John Legend. And a swarm of fans around him. That was amusing.

The lobby bells were ringing for 30 minutes. When the house lights finaly dimmed, the first person to the stage was Bob Lynch, president and CEO of the Americans for the Arts.

He’s been leading this organization for 25 years. Hard to miss him at their events. He’s the one with the warm smile and approachable manner. And great hair!

Bob tells us that this is the largest audience ever for the 24th annual Nancy Hanks lecture. It’s also the 99th Cherry blossom festival. He reminded us of the people of Japan who then, in a gesture of cultural friendship gave them to us. Now, we paused to think of them in their time of need. Back to business, he said, “Arts advocacy work is tough this year. Budget crisis is not new, but facing dire situations.” He doesn’t take a long time, but I know this is when he points out the “notables” in attendance. To my surprise, he started by calling out the twitter team. I’m glad he explained my behavior. Honestly, I’m not texting my BFF. Too bad we can’t tweet live from inside!

Bob recognized Rocco Landesman, current chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. He was sitting Center balcony -very presidential (cheeky). NY Rep. Louise Slaughter (D)(one of my personal faves), as well as congressmen from Rhode Island and Oregon. Then listen chairs of other national arts and humanities board. Ooh, Kerry Washington. (you can follow her on Twitter, too) And Susan Corbett, 1st lady of Pennsylvania. (Hmm. Wonder if her platform for the arts will conflict with things back home?) I live in Pennsylvania. I’ll be starting a new effort to follow her work when I return.

One last quick obligatory direction to the website,… Only 8 minutes. Not bad, Bob. Then he introduced the warm up entertainment. It’s a performance by a local show choir. While I’m not a big fan of the form (childhood scars), I’m sure this performance will be stellar. It’s a national event. No slop allowed. The reason for this performance is not only to be “entertained.” It’s to remind us of the work of public school art teachers. This kids of opportunity for young people to perform on a national stage in front of important people doesn’t happen without the dedication of high school choir directors. And that was part of our mission tomorrow. We need to save programs like this so that future generations of children can have these life memories. And remember how important they were when they become voters.

The performing group, Touch of Class was voted Americas favorite show choir. If they were at regionals in Lima, Ohio, they’d blow the pants off Vocal Adrenaline (yes, I’ll be putting in ALL my gleek references as well)
Bob then introduced Charles Segars, who is the CEO of Ovation and the honorary co-chair of the National Arts Advocacy Day. Read more about Ovation TV here.  And if you feel so inclined, subscribe to their TV channel. It will definitely improve the quality of stuff coming out of the flat screen in your living room.

Some quotes from Charles’ speech:

“Sharing the stage with the history of who’s performed on it is an overwhelming feeling. But the climb to that stage begins on the local level. Some politicians and pundits are attacking arts programs as partisan tools for cheap political gain. There no room for that in the arts. Purposeful misinformation will be met head on.”

He then got to his role, introducing tonight’s speaker. Kevin Spacey’s credentials given not only as actor, but in his producer and advocate roles. We were told that Mr. Spacey spent the afternoon visiting the troops at Walter Reed hospital. The man has integrity. And he got in some sight seeing.

I have extracted my detailed notes about Mr. Spacey’s speech in another post. But to inspire you to hit the link to those, here’s some of the biggies from the night:

We must send the elevator back down. No matter what floor we’re on, there’s always someone just below waiting to be invited up. (in reference to a personal story of Jack Lemmon)

Can we afford not to support the arts?

Ask not what your country can do for the arts, ask what the arts can do for your country.

Standing ovation.

New chairman of the Americans for the Arts Board, C. Kendric Fergeson offered closing words.