Wyoming Arts Council

U.S. Senate & House include artists and musicians in National Service Bill

Thomas Birch, legislative counsel for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, sent this announcement on March 27:

Legislation approved by both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives would create a voluntary service corps of artists and musicians to serve in schools in low-income communities and in healthcare, therapeutic and other community settings.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, H.R.1388/S.277, legislation aimed at the overall expansion of national and community service programs, passed the Senate on March 26 by a vote of 79 to 19. Similar legislation was approved, 321-105, in the House of Representatives on March 18. Both bills would triple the number of AmeriCorps service volunteers, from 75,000 to 250,000.

Though the two measures contain provisions to engage artists and musicians in the service corps, the wording of those provisions and other sections of the bill is not completely identical and must first be reconciled before the legislation passes final approval. Congressional leaders hope to finish work on the legislation next week and send the bill to the president for signing.

The artists service corps provision in the House was proposed by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) during drafting of the legislation by the House Committee on Education and Labor. In the Senate, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) offered the artists service amendment, which was included by voice vote in the legislation taken to the floor by the bill’s manager. The new provision in the House and Senate bills would encourage the use of “skilled musicians and artists to promote greater community unity through the use of music and arts education and engagement through work in low-income communities, and education, health
care, and therapeutic settings, and other work in the public domain with citizens of all ages.”

The new authority to include provisions for support of artists in the national service program responds to a campaign pledge made by President Obama to create an “Artists Corps” of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities. A similar program was proposed by NASAA and other arts advocacy organizations in our recommendations to the transition team for the incoming Obama administration. Passage of the national service legislation to support nonprofit organizations in working with community volunteers has been a high priority for the new president.

The measure passed by the Senate includes an amendment offered by Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) to establish a capacity-building program for nonprofit groups in the Corporation for National and Community Service that will expand organizational development assistance to small and midsize nonprofit organizations.

Both the House and the Senate bills would set up a fund to help nonprofit organizations recruit more volunteers and establish a “Summer of Service” program for middle and high school students. The two bills differ in provisions aimed at limiting the legislative advocacy and political organizing activities of service volunteers, differences which must be resolved before final passage.

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