Transforming Lives Through Music – Even Among Seniors!

“The Academy has strongly shaped my present life and my plans. I am retiring next week and I will immediately become a full-time violin major at college.”  BSO Academy Violinist, 65 years old

A senior myself, I am acutely aware of the importance of music in helping me to stay sharp, to be successful in my full-time job as Vice President of Education and Community Engagement at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and to physically handle the demands of work and family.  That is why I am passionate about the BSO Academy, a suite of educational programs enabling older amateur musicians to play side-by-side with the pros. 

It’s Not About What Happens in Ten Years: It’s About Right Now

It is past time to put the arts into action for every child in this country. If we are serious about equipping our kids with the tools they need to be successful in the future, let’s prove it by systematically and completely addressing the inequities that exist in our schools right now.

I recently participated in the New Community Visions Initiative in Oklahoma City. I came away from that event filled with hope and inspiration after a day of working side by side with many intelligent and empowering people: educators, government officials, private industry leaders, cultural organization heads, and foundation leaders. We looked at how we see the arts and culture playing a strong role in building a healthier, more vibrant, and more equitable community over the next ten to fifteen years.

“C is for...” Creative Messaging Through the Arts

If I ask what “C is for,” many of you reading this would probably respond by recalling the lyrics of Cookie Monster’s famous song. Throughout history, from the cave wall to the Facebook wall, art has forged connections by communicating specific ideas and emotions in a relatable, memorable way. The idea that art can be used not only to entertain, but also to communicate important messages, has been demonstrated effectively by educational children’s television shows. Numerous studies over the years have shown that children who watched Sesame Street programming outperformed their peers in English, math, and science, and had more positive attitudes toward school.

Utilizing Your Community as a Classroom

Arts educators and advocates are a resourceful bunch. Despite enormous odds over many years against making arts education a priority, more school districts and policy makers are working to find ways to sustain investments in arts teachers, supplies, curriculum design, and professional development. We have a long way to go, but we’re certainly seeing progress; arts education is a part of the educational dialogue in new and vibrant ways. When it comes to arts education policy and priorities, however, we must not forget that learning cannot and should not remain solely within the confines of the four walls of the school classroom. One solution is the often overlooked strategy for fostering students’ personal and academic growth: the good old-fashioned field trip.

Arts Embedded in Corporate DNA at Goldman Properties

This piece by Laura Bruney of the Arts & Business Council of Miami was originally published on their blog,

When Jessica Goldman-Srebnick moved to Miami 18 years ago to work with her father, the iconic Tony Goldman, she felt like a fish out of water. The whole city was quickly becoming a serious place for business and she found her niche, fell in love with South Florida and put down roots. Since becoming CEO in 2012, this innovator and change-maker has put her own stamp on Goldman Properties with her unique vision and creative flair. The company is firmly embedded in the fabric of Miami-Dade with the arts playing a leading role in many of their projects and investments. I sat down to talk with Ms. Goldman-Srebnick, in her sunny South Beach office, about her vision for Goldman Properties and how the arts are embedded in their corporate DNA.

3 of My Top 5 Americans for the Arts Lists


The 5 best questions I heard at the meeting last month...

1.      Can a vibrant community respond to contemporary issues without losing their history? 

2.      Can one “codify” artist’s generosity?

3.      Does all access in a community mean a removal of barriers as well as providing opportunities for advancement?

My life’s not busy, it’s full. Except today.

I first met Jessica Wilt 5 years ago. She and I were both new to Americans for the Arts...I was a new staff member and liaison to the arts education advisory council, and Jessica was a newly minted council member.

Jessica immediately took a leadership role within the council, helping us craft a strategic plan for arts education at Americans for the Arts. Her leadership in arts education in New York City gave her plenty of expertise in arts education planning. Jessica was a tap dancer and teaching artist. She worked in the education departments at Dance Theater of Harlem and Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana. She served on the Leadership Committee of the New York City Arts in Education Roundtable and was a school board member for VOICE charter school.

Americans for the Arts Holds Congressional Briefing on Veterans and Creative Arts Therapies

“How many people here have served in the military?” Two people in the briefing room raised their hands. Brigadier General (Ret) Nolen Bivens scanned the room of Congressional staffers and tried another question. “How many of you know a Veteran?” The room filled with raised hands. “That’s why we’re here,” he said.

Each year on Veterans Day we reflect on the past and present service of members of the armed forces. With service members returning from combat in waves, and a large percentage living within the civilian community, chances are, you know someone with military affiliation. Along with those taking the time to thank family members, neighbors, or coworkers for their service, there are numerous nonprofits, businesses, and organizations banding together to create program and outreach efforts to support the military community. 



Through the Power of their Creativity, Veterans Continue to Serve

During a recent trip to Denver to join in presenting a national award for state arts leadership to Governor Hickenlooper, Deborah Jordy, Executive Director of the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, approached me. "There is someone I'd really like you to meet." Curtis Bean was his name.

A remarkable community activist, an entrepreneur and an artist, Curtis is doing transformational work through the arts. He is also a Veteran. Straight out of high school and over the course of five years and two tours in Iraq, he completed his military service as an Army sniper.

Like many others, Curtis returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He planned on being a fireman, but anger and nightmares were interfering with his life. His girlfriend, an art student, suggested he try painting when counseling wasn't enough, and that's when something clicked. Healing started to happen -- and a new doorway was opened.

Resilient Roads and Community Visions

In 1995, as you surely know, Oklahoma City was the site of a bombing. A man drove a truck up one of the streets in downtown, pulled into a parking lot, went into a church and prayed, left, drove another block and parked in front of a federal building. Then he got out and blew the truck up, killing over 140 people including a bunch of children who were in a daycare in the building.

I got to see the memorial that was built on the site of the bombing. That road is now a glassy slip of water bounded on each end by gates. Where the building was, there are now ornamental chairs—smaller for children, larger for adults—to commemorate each life lost. Across the street, a gigantic, swooning tree that survived the blast stands guard. And throughout the city, at all of the street intersections that became makeshift helipads when responders rushed to the scene, there are deep red and tan bricks laid in resonating circles that pulsate out. The tragedy and the resilience of the place have literally been embedded in the roads, and the vision and perseverance of the people has been memorialized through art.

The Importance of the Arts in our Communities: Robert L. Lynch and Laura Zabel

October means something very important to the arts world and to communities throughout the United States -- National Arts and Humanities Month, now in its 30th year. Citizens of Minnesota have celebrated through numerous events that proudly showcase the state as an eclectic and dynamic artistic community, rich in cultural heritage.

It is fitting, then, that our capital city be the starting point for a nationwide dialogue exploring the future of local arts in America and the ways that community members can shape that future.

Partnership and Shared Power in Evaluation

In this Blog Salon’s first post, Maurine Knighton opens with a quote from William Bruce Cameron, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” The second half of that quote – “not everything that counts can be counted” – speaks directly to why the work of the Evaluation Lab is so timely and essential to the advancement of cultural equity in the arts. Artists and cultural workers who are deeply embedding social justice in their work are at the margins of our sector in funding and their work is made invisible by the majority of established institutions. Additionally, the work they are doing is rarely summed up by the standard metrics that funders require –– statistics culled from box office receipts and demographic surveys. Measuring change is an admirable task that will be innovated from the ground, not the air.

What I Learned at the Learning Lab: a Few Thoughts on Art, Equity, and Social Justice

I want to live in a world where there’s room for both studio artists and community artists.

I really want to live in a world where artists have the freedom to move back and forth between those two perspectives and – especially – to allow those two perspectives to inform one another.

I believe in art for justice’s sake, in art for learning’s sake, in art for discovery’s sake, in art for empowerment’s sake. I’d like to believe that when we say “art for art’s sake” we could mean any or all of that.

Attracting Skills-Based Arts Volunteers in the Age of Options

Last year during Pro Bono Week, Arizona Citizens for the Arts held a series of pro bono orientations with three goals for our Business Volunteers for the Arts program, which we relaunched in 2013:

a) increase visibility of existing pro bono service activity;

b) increase understanding of pro bono needs in the community; and

c) increase pro bono service being provided in the high need areas for nonprofits.

Cooking up Frameworks - Inviting You to the Evaluation Test Kitchen

At the October Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) conference, artist Rosten Woo described the Vendor Power! project, a poster/brochure initiated by the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) and designed by artist Candy Chang to make comprehensible New York City’s most commonly violated street vending rules which are buried in hundreds of pages of impenetrable bureaucratese.  For thousands of vendors whose first language is not English, the Vendor Power! poster became an essential tool, directly helping them to understand their rights, avoid fines, and know how to respond when approached by police. Woo reported with satisfaction that, following CUP’s distribution of 10,000 posters, the Dept. of Consumer Affairs seized the poster’s power to address a longstanding institutional problem and printed another 10,000. Here the system took action to change a problematic practice.  If only evidence of change was always so clear!

Arts and Social Justice: Searching for a Framework to Describe Quality

I’ve been engaged in planning and conducting evaluations for several decades now and I’m still intrigued by the intellectual puzzles involved even in the smallest evaluation project—especially the challenge of answering the related “compared to what?” and “how meaningful are the results?’ questions. Both are essential for determining the value (e-valu-ation) of the program or idea being evaluated. 


I recognize that for many artists and arts professionals the very language of “measuring impact” makes your skin crawl. That the highly personal, downright epistemological work you do is beyond the transactional input/output speech of “measurement.” That may or may not be so, but if we as cultural workers can’t articulate the significance of our work, we limit the full spectrum of support available to us. And if in aggregate we can’t name our impact as a field, we remain vulnerable to the persistent devaluation of arts and culture as frivolous at best and elitist and self-referential at worst.

So the question is How best to tell the story of our projects, our organizations, our purpose so that the meaning of our work is as transparent as the value it creates? And how to do so while negotiating the power dynamics of external standards driven by grant reporting requirements and an arts economy that regularly changes the mechanisms by which art is valued? 

Fathers, Felled Trees, and Memory as Innovation

When I was twenty years old, I had the great fortune of watching my father die. My dad and I were not close for most of my life, although when I found out he was dying of cancer, I saw an opportunity to reckon with the past by being with him for his final year on earth. Close to twelve months later, early one mild December morning, he died. I’ll never forget how far time stretched during the last minute of his life, how many possibilities I saw ignited in that room when we all said our goodbyes. Over sixteen years, the tremble of that one minute has never ceased its work on me, growing more influential by the season. 

Where Would I Be Without My Mentor?

As I reflect on my nearly twenty years spent in the arts integration field, I feel blessed to have had a trio of amazing mentors in my life. Without these three women I certainly would not have had the career I have had. As a first year music teacher in Buffalo, NY, without a mentor, I wished that arts organizations could do more to assist schoolteachers in preparing students for field trips, and to help provide deeper experiences for the students. I dabbled in creating an independent study in arts administration to start to understand what the role of arts organizations could be in arts education.

Inclusion and Refinement Serving a Common Goal

The purpose of these words are not to debate a right or wrong musical pedagogy however to promote the convergence of musicians, music, and students approaching music from different places. For the purpose of this article I will refer to the two different approaches as the Social sphere and Refinement sphere and argue that marrying these two approaches is of best interest to all.

In the summer of 2015, 10 students from one of the most challenging neighborhoods in West Baltimore attended the prestigious, Interlochen Center For the Arts on merit based scholarships. 

Arts Organizations Thriving on Social Media: An In Depth Look at 3 Stunning Campaigns

Arts organizations should be benefitting from the rise of social media more than anyone – the arts are all about storytelling.

And the numbers emerging from social media research are astonishing. 65% of adults use social media, and according to one study, millenials spend 5.4 hours on social media daily.

Here are a few examples of recent social media campaigns that illustrate what social networking can do for us as arts marketers and advocates – you’ll be amazed at the fun you can have.

Embedding creativity and values into evaluation

Evaluating the social and aesthetic efficacy of arts and social justice work requires disrupting mainstream evaluation practices that distort—or even undermine—the connections among art, culture, and social justice. We have the opportunity to embed creative, culturally relevant human-centered design into the way we evaluate our arts and social justice work. Our values and practices in our communities can be reflected in the way we evaluate our work.

When the Buzz is Too Late

Just this October, our venue presented Orpheus in the Underworld (Virginia Opera) that got a rave review in a major newspaper.  But, by the time the review hit, the set was struck and it was too late for those readers to see the production. This is our challenge every week. Our audience members leave feeling inspired. We receive fantastic feedback immediately about our programming. Presumably, they leave our venue and tell their friends about their recent arts experience. The word is spreading! But, the artist was only on our stage for one night or at the most one weekend. The buzz is too late to sell those tickets and engage more audience. 


Here's a thought: what if we stopped thinking about art and social justice and instead looked at art as social justice? By keeping them separate, we are asked to value one over the other, or worse, we make one subservient, a mere tool that's in service of the other. I posit that maybe they can be one in the same.

I don't mean to imply that all can or should function as social justice. But there is a small and growing part of the field that is proving that the art itself can be a manifestation of social justice.

Why Evaluation?

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  Undoubtedly, we’re all familiar with this quote, which is popularly but erroneously attributed to Albert Einstein.  (In fact, this statement first appeared in 1963 in Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking,” written by sociologist William Bruce Cameron.) 

Whether or not Einstein said it originally, there’s irrefutable truth in the statement. And, this idea causes us to think about two key aspects of evaluation and assessment: what’s the best way to measure what we believe we can, and how to deal with the “unmeasurable.” 

Dispatches from the Evaluation Learning Lab

In 2014, Animating Democracy, in partnership with the Art x Culture x Social Justice Network (ACSJN) and the Nathan Cummings Foundation launched the Evaluation Learning Lab. The lab builds practical knowledge and resources in three areas as they relate to arts and social change projects and programs:  measuring social impact, evaluating artistic/aesthetic dimensions, and equalizing power in evaluation.

Over the past year, guided by the Lab’s theory of change, we’ve gathered 20 artists, arts practitioners, funders, and evaluators in learning exchanges that combined case studies, presentations and discussion around existing evaluation theories and approaches, analysis of current frameworks, criteria, guidelines, and tools, and development of new tools for ethical practices.

Empower your conversations with new data: What executives really think about the impact of the arts on workforce skills

Does business have any skin in the arts education game? And if they do, can we rally business support to help ensure that all students have access to arts education? After all, business has been in the forefront of other social change movements, such as LGBT marriage rights.  Besides business, can we also make a stronger justification for the role of the arts in strengthening our workforce to educators, policy makers, and governments? 

MAD as Me.


There are two questions that are on many of our minds these days:

  1. How can we create a holistic vision of our interdisciplinary work and lives?
  2. How do we extend our creative impulses into marketing our art?

Hi, I’m Lena, and I’m MAD. I do marketing, art and development work.

Mastering the Art of Getting Things Done

Strategic planning is a key component of building a sustainable, effective arts organization. I believe that to the core of my professional soul and when the arts field began moving in that direction about 10 years ago, it was a relief.

As a consultant, I’ve worked with numerous groups over the past twenty years on transitioning from annual to strategic planning and for a number of years those projects produced terrific results; but somewhere along the way, the field became awash in a sea of theory and visioning to a point where a critical skills gap began to emerge.

Do Your Job: Marketing, Change and You

It’s a scientifically proven fact that some of the most interesting things that happen at a conference occur outside of the meeting rooms. 

They happen in the hallways.

They happen in the hotel rooms, if that’s how you roll.

And they happen at the bar.


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