CreditJustin T. Gellerson for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Just before 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Grace Alt, an 18-year-old from Wyndmoor, Penn., stood outside Senator Bob Casey’s office door. Wearing a sash inscribed with the word “Thespian,” she was among 700 people who traveled here to ask lawmakers to oppose President Trump’s proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.
But the morning was a hectic one on Capitol Hill, and the senator, a Democrat, was busy. An aide listened as Ms. Alt and others in her group, in town for Arts Advocacy Day, asked for lawmakers to work together. This annual exercise has taken on a new urgency this year. Yes, Republican lawmakers have steadily begun to come out against shutting down the endowment, but it’s still a Republican-controlled Congress responding to a Republican president.
“A lot of the staffers understand that their Congresspeople are generally in support of the arts,” Ms. Alt said after the meeting. “It’s just whether or not they’ll actually follow through.”
To prod them in the right direction, arts advocates have had to hone their message. On Monday, clutching inch-thick binders full of facts and figures, artists, teachers and nonprofit workers clustered in meeting rooms at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, discussing the best ways to ask lawmakers not only to preserve the funding, but also to increase it. Attendees worked on role-playing scenarios, acting out what would happen if they were confronted with an uninterested lawmaker. On a couch in the lobby, two women from Florida pored over the layout of Senate office buildings. They decided to bypass a visit to Senator Marco Rubio’s office.
“He’s not going to support us, regardless,” one of the women said of the Florida Republican. They moved on, though the senator has not made any statement about how he views that funding cut.
The activists set an attendance record for Arts Advocacy Day (also called the National Arts Action Summit), however, as they wandered the halls of government buildings, they were competing for attention during a vicious news cycle, which included a Senate confirmation hearing for a Trump nominee and an F.B.I. inquiry into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Proponents of the N.E.A. have long had their work cut out for them in stressing that the arts are sources of job creation and community enrichment in cities of all sizes. But these days, they’re also concerned with simply breaking through the rest of the noise.
Anne Katz, who traveled from Madison, Wis., said that “although the politics of Wisconsin are crazy,” advocates have tried to zero in on any connection lawmakers may have to the arts. Do they play an instrument? Like concerts?
“Most lawmakers perform in their spare time,” Ms. Katz said.
The trick, she said, will be to push the message that the N.E.A., whose budget sits at about $148 million, is a good investment. (As the agency points out, this amount represents about .004 percent of the federal budget.) N.E.A. grants are generally small, and most states, including Wisconsin, receive the equivalent of less than $1 per person.
The support of another influential lawmaker, Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican who is the House appropriations committee chairman, was encouraging to the dozens of activists who traveled here from his state.
“In the overall scheme of things I think the arts programs, which have been a target for many years in preceding congresses, it’s not a heck of a lot of money and I enjoy those programs as much as any other American,” he said in a telephone meeting with constituents on Monday. “I think it’s money well spent.”
Ann Marie Miller, the director of advocacy for the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation, said the job now would be to keep in constant contact with Representative Frelinghuysen so he doesn’t change his mind.
“It’s making sure that advocates keep the pressure on,” Ms. Miller said, “because we know he’ll be under pressure.”
Attendees were asked to put their political differences aside in their preparations.
On Monday, as a group of about 90 New Yorkers readied themselves for visits, their group’s organizer, Tod Kniazuk, encouraged attendees to have “selective amnesia about where the representative stands on everything else, and to talk to them about the arts.”