Emerging Heap

I don’t know what others tasted at the 2016 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, but for four days, the crisp flavor of inspiration sat on my tongue. I felt like a freshman attending the first day of classes at her top choice school. 

Reflection and Revolution: AFTACON 2016 State of the Arts Address

“All the arts, all the people” has been our steadfast declaration about equitable access to the transformative power of the arts. It is an aspirational phrase—and one we all must strive to meet.


It was with conflicting emotions that I flew to Boston last Thursday to accept AFTA’s 2016 Michael Newton Award in the aftermath of the horrific tragedy in Orlando at the Pulse night club, the cornerstone of the LGBTQ community. Three reasons propelled me to move forward from a state of shock and pervasive, deep, emotional pain.

Paper Investments

We rightfully spend much time and attention on both arts education and celebrating the work of established artists, but the period in between also requires care and nourishment. By investing in and supporting the work of emerging artists and writers, they create communities, locally and on a larger scale, that provide support to a bigger group of writers.

Building Creative Communities Through the Arts and…

In 2015, Americans for the Arts launched a two-year program to explore the role the arts can play in partnership with other sectors to create healthy, vibrant, and equitable communities. The New Community Visions Initiative seeks to work with our institutional systems to find points of intersection to address arts impact in our communities. 

AFTACON Keynote Speech: Remarks by Donna Brazile

Donna Brazile, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee and prominent political strategist, gave a keynote speech at our 2016 Annual Convention on the volatile politics we’re living with, and the vital role of the arts and arts education.

AFTACON Opening Plenary: “On How the Arts can Fuel Revolution” by Diane Paulus

Diane Paulus, artistic director of American Repertory Theatre, gave a rousing speech at our 2016 Annual Convention pondering the state of our country and celebrating the role of the artist and the arts in this fragile moment.

An Unintended Sanctuary

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, I danced the night away with four of my dearest friends at a gay club in Miami. This wasn’t abnormal for us. This was just the first time we had, as a group, been together in many years and it also coincidentally fell on one of our birthdays. If anything, our reunion fueled our movement, made us sing louder to the music. Never did it cross my mind that a place we chose for celebration could turn into a place of destruction. For us that night, it didn’t—but four hours north of us in Orlando at Pulse Nightclub, that was entirely the case.

Diversity Makes Us Smarter

Edgar Smith, Chairman and CEO of World Pac Paper, LLC and BCA Executive Board Chair, gave closing remarks at a recent discussion on cultural equity and the arts, and the role that business leaders play in advocating for both the role of arts and the need for diversity in all aspects of the creative and business worlds. 

On the Full Creative Life Cut Short

The shooting in Orlando is horrible, full stop. The invasion, the breaking of the space, the wrenching away of the core creative life of not just those 50 people who died but the 250 other people who were there—and, in a lesser way, of all of us who once found our solace in gay spaces—is where the howl emerges from me.

Vans Custom Culture 2016: That’s a Wrap!

This week, we've been featuring stories from high schools around the country that were awarded arts education grants funded through the Custom Culture partnership between Americans for the Arts and Vans. On June 8, the winner of the annual Vans Custom Culture shoe design contest was announced at a special event in Los Angeles. It was an incredible celebration of a program that proves that when businesses partner with the arts, everyone wins.

Empowering Teenagers through the Art of Street Photography

Thanks to Vans and Americans for the Arts, more than 27,000 sets of eyes will see photographic offerings by students from Belmont High School every week at Trader Joe’s in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. This grant placed updated camera equipment in the hands of inner city teens, who relished the opportunity this semester to hone their skills behind the lens. 95 percent of my students do not own simple point and shoot cameras, which made this gift even more special.

Each week, students embarked on a photographic scavenger hunt as they applied the principles of street photography, capturing life as it unfolded around them.

JazzGirls—Welcoming and Encouraging Girls’ Creative Voices

From August 2015 to February 2016 in California:

  •  There were ZERO young women instrumentalists in the Grammy Band (out of 18)
  • There was ONE young woman instrumentalist in the Monterey NextGen Orchestra (out of 20)
  • There was ONE young woman instrumentalist in the California State High School Honors Jazz Band (out of 18), and
  • There were ZERO young women instrumentalists in the California State Middle School Honors Jazz Band (out of 18). 

Just in case you weren’t keeping score, that’s a total of TWO young women instrumentalists out of 74.

Artists & Communities: Vicky Takamine and Kahikina de Silva in Conversation

“Our people can’t live without hula and hula cannot live without our people. Both of them need to continue along with all of our other cultural practices." Read on for a thoughtful, illuminating conversation between two native Hawaiian cultural practitioners who are keeping sacred traditions alive in their daily life, work, and advocacy.

Paint + Walls: A Recipe for Welcome in a New Home

When Fenway High School moved to a new building in August 2015, I was struck by one thing: vast canvases of blank, white walls.

Our old building, which we shared with another high school, was a cozy warren of classrooms all branching off of a single, low-ceilinged hallway. That hallway was alive with color: with the help of visiting artists, students over the years had painted murals representing their heroes, their neighborhood, and their activism. Between classes, 350 students packed the brightly painted halls, which matched the vibrancy of their shouts and laughter. When we moved our school across the city, our piles of books and equipment came with us, but those walls couldn’t budge.

Lights, Camera, Take Action!

My name is Matthew Waynee, and I currently work at LAUSD / USC Cinematic Arts & Engineering Magnet, where I serve as the head of the Cinematic Arts Department and co-chair of our annual Festival of Arts that takes place on USC's campus. I have taught Filmmaking 1 & 2, AP Studio Art, Documentary Filmmaking, Ad Design, Digital Photography, Yearbook, Cartoon & Animation, and Game Design. In May, I was the recipient of the National Magnet Teacher of the Year Award, which is given by the Magnet Schools of America.

How to Engage Millennials in Public Service

Music has always possessed the remarkable power to engage and empower young people. Personally, I cannot recall any time from my teenage years that came even remotely close to empowering me as much as the days I spent devoted to bringing music to others.

I was not charitable in the traditional sense; you wouldn’t find me at 6 a.m. on a Sunday scooping soup. Instead, I’d be on a three-hour drive to Goldsboro, North Carolina (a town seriously lacking in live music venues at the time), unloading equipment, playing my heart out for a hundred other teenagers, running sound, packing up, sleeping on floors, and finally driving home, all on my own dime.

It’s Time to Get the Marching Band to Dance!

The Dublin Coffman Marching Band, from Dublin, Ohio, has officially started! Our season will kick off with an exciting visit from John Escalante, a visual designer/dancer from Las Vegas, Nevada. Through a grant from Vans and Americans for the Arts, Mr. Escalante has been hired to provide our students with a wider range of marching and dancing fundamentals. He will not only design and implement a body warm-up for the students, but also choreograph two sections of our marching band show. This year our students will perform their show titled “Colorº” (Color Squared), which will reflect the various moods of color represented in the music and through dance and drill designs. John will be bringing color to life!

The Nutcracker: All Mixed Up 2016

The East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy opened as neighborhood pilot school in the Fall of 2010.  The mission of our school is to develop creative, contributing members of society through a standards-based curriculum featuring rigorous interdisciplinary instruction that is rich in the performing arts.

Our commitment to the arts led us through the process of becoming an arts Magnet school in 2014.  We are now the only arts magnet on the East side of Los Angeles.

A Week of School Year Successes

I’m always amazed at what a teacher can do with a small grant. This year, as I managed another round of grants through our partnership with Vans, I was again filled with appreciation for how much impact $2,000 can have for an arts program at a school. For the next week, Americans for the Arts will be sharing success stories from schools that were awarded Custom Culture grants.

The Vision Thing

Brad Erickson is an Americans for the Arts member and recipient of the 2016 Alene Valkanas State Arts Advocacy Award. Find out more about the Americans for the Arts Annual Leadership Arts Awards.

In 1988, as then Vice-President H. W. Bush was preparing to run for the Presidency, he found himself fending off complaints from within his own party that while he had a firm grip on the complexity of the many issues facing the nation, he lacked an overarching narrative that would tie his policy positions together in a clear and compelling way. His advisors suggested that he borrow Camp David for some time away to collect and articulate his thoughts. "Oh," the Vice-President responded dismissively, "the vision thing."


Michael Spring is an Americans for the Arts member and recipient of the 2016 Selina Roberts Ottum Award. Find out more about the Americans for the Arts Annual Leadership Arts Awards.

This occasion instigates a rumination about some of the keys to longevity (almost 33 years!), if not to success, in the local arts agency field. Thank you for asking.

  1. Try not to say “no.” There are just so many “no’s” allocated to each of us professionally and it is prudent not to use them indiscriminately. For example, you can say, “Instead of starting a new global festival in celebration of left shoes, how about partnering with the annual 5K run and distributing one multi-colored shoelace to each runner designed exclusively for left shoes?”
  2. Realize that the person with the most energy prevails. In meetings, put on your performance face and emote your point of view as powerfully and persuasively as you can muster. If all else fails, make sure that you and your staff outnumber the “opposition.”

Representation AND Revolution

I've been listening to the audiobook of Shonda Rhimes' Year of Yes, which includes a recording of her amazing speech at the Human Rights Campaign Gala in 2015. In this speech she talks about how she sees her work as "normalizing" rather than diversifying. She is showing us the world we actually live in, not the whitewashed world we're used to seeing on television (in film, in theatre, etc.).


Measuring Progress Towards Equity

Figuring out where to start measuring progress towards equity can be a daunting task. Honestly, any evaluation can be overwhelming when the need is great, the resources are scarce and every outcome is critically important.

But here’s the thing: without evaluation, you will never know whether you’ve made a difference. If you don’t baseline to know where you started, how will you know that what you’re doing is improving things? For that matter, unless you determine what it is you’re trying to change, how will you even know that the change you’re seeing is an improvement?

Arts For All Day: Welcome to the Party—Everyone Invited!

Flora Maria Garcia is an Americans for the Arts member and recipient of the 2016 Michael Newton Award. Find out more about the Americans for the Arts Annual Leadership Arts Awards.

Given the distinct disconnect between Central Florida cultural groups’ programs, audiences and boards regarding diversity,  United Arts of Central Florida for the past year has focused its efforts supported by  a generous grant from Duke Energy,  to engage the groups in an intensive education on demographics, spending power, education levels, and target marketing tactics to diverse populations.

The Arts Are a Master Key

“The arts are everything. They are like a master key.”

I recently had an opportunity to spend a couple of hours with the brilliant high school-aged leaders of the Milwaukee Public Schools’ Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council (SSAC). I was one of four presenters discussing city-wide community/collective impact initiatives that are focused on improving outcomes for students. We presented about the mission and vision of our organizations and our own personal backgrounds, but the highlight was when the students presented to us about their “fires” – the issues or injustices they are attempting to tackle through their capstone projects over the course of the next couple of years.

The Time is Now for Two Art Worlds to Collide

Institutional and cultural change is slow and doesn’t come easy. In my experience there are two art worlds. The one I have lived in for over a decade that is inclusive, creative, queer, DIY, and POC centered. In this world we support each other and produce interesting and challenging art exhibitions in creative, nontraditional spaces.

And then there is the other one, the white male dominated world that reinforces and creates reasons to bar entry to the rest of us.

Straight Talk

Cultural equity. Two simple words with seemingly clear, every day meanings. Merriam-Webster confirms the plainness of these words. Cultural: "Of or relating to a particular group's habits, beliefs, traditions, etc.," or "of or relating to the fine arts (such as music, theater, painting, etc.)" And equity: "justice or fairness in the way people are treated, " or "freedom from bias or favoritism." So putting these words together, we've got a concept that speaks about fairness and justice in the realm of arts and culture, about the arts treating people without bias or favoritism.

The Statement on Cultural Equity being released by Americans for the Arts addresses this issue of fairness and justice in the arts in a beautifully simple and straightforward way. Fairness is something we value as Americans, and yet injustice is rife within our nation, and the same power structures that perpetuate inequity in the larger society are present in the cultural sector. We shouldn't be surprised by this and yet, quite often, we are. Aren't we, as workers in the arts, all liberal-minded, good people?

Why Does Art Need Collaborations

Octavia Yearwood is an Americans for the Arts member and recipient of the 2016 American Express Emerging Leader Award. Find out more about the Americans for the Arts Annual Leadership Arts Awards.

Yes, jelly sandwiches are great and so are peanut butter sandwiches, but put those babies together! [Not to mention with a cup of milk] *no words *. Chocolate is amazing but sprinkles some nuts and/or salt in there and voila! Magic!  Just the simple fact that your parents collaborated to create the art that is YOU should be proof enough, but we forget sometimes!

It is always daunting to me when organizations, non-profit or otherwise, have this mission to save or enhance the lives of young people via arts mediums and shy away from coming together to reach more youth. They jump at the ground pushing and shoving like children, after someone cracked the piñata open! I get it though—we all want enough to bring back. We forget that if we take what we have and combine it with another, you both automatically have more!  More importantly, your capacity to positively affect more people grow exponentially!



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