03/13/2002 AT 05:08 PM EST
The Creative Coalition came to Washington, D.C., early this week with a mission. Actors including Billy Baldwin, Alan Cumming, The Sopranos' Joe Pantoliano and Hector Elizondo were in town on Tuesday, National Arts Advocacy Day, for rounds of meetings with congressional leaders, hoping to convince them of the value of arts education in public schools, reports PEOPLE. On Monday night, actors and guests mingled at a fundraising fete hosted by The Creative Coalition at the trendy D.C. nightspot, Toka Café. The actors planned to illustrate through their personal experiences how the arts programs in their schools (or lack thereof) affected their career paths. Elizondo, 65, who guest-starred recently on "The West Wing," said, "I grew up in Harlem, New York City. That's when art was part of the core curriculum in our school. Looking back in retrospect, art saved my life because it afforded me a way of expressing myself. It literally kept me off the streets." Pantoliano, 50, used the example of his 10-year-old daughter, Daniella. "She has a problem with math. She took up violin. She went from a C to a B+ in math," Pantoliano said. "The legislators look at art as an extracurricular activity. They don't see the f---ing value."