Whether it is a City’s commitment to redress systemic racial inequities, a juvenile court system shifting from penalizing youth to a restorative justice approach, or a local arts agency advancing the power of art as civic change agent, more municipalities are engaging artists to bring new capacities and strategies to government agencies and, in doing so, increasing their effectiveness in achieving civic goals. More artists, too, are moved to contribute their creative assets to the public good by gaining access to and working as partners with municipal agencies and systems.

This week, Animating Democracy’s blog salon, Inside Artist-Municipal Partnerships, explores the question: What does it take to make partnerships between municipal agencies and artists work? Leading-edge local arts agency leaders and arts practitioners who are serving as instigators, facilitators, intermediaries, and advancers of these partnerships share principles and practices they’ve tested and lessons they’ve learned that can help guide peer agencies and peer artists toward effective partnerships. They explore how partnerships are formed, what readiness looks like to handle the unique challenges of these partnerships, and how artists—engaged from the outside and “naturally occurring” within municipal agencies—can be integral creative thinkers. In January, additional posts from municipal agency leaders will share these partners’ perspectives.

Former artist-in-residence Shaw Pong Liu at an early exchange with Boston Police Department officers as part of the Boston AIR (Artist-in-Residence) program.  Video by Rashin Fahendej.

Today (Dec. 3), Jacque Liu, of the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, launches the salon with his blog about the Civic Practice initiative, a program exploring the possibilities, challenges, and potential impact of government-initiated artist partnerships in Philadelphia. Civic Practice is a model of front-end learning in the form of facilitated day-long exchanges geared to inspire and prepare local government and community leaders and artists about the possibilities and realities of working as partners. These conversations led to a demonstration project with Spiral Q puppet theater that linked to real neighborhood change goals. Liu explains how the project not only elicited “innovation and input equally from artists and bureaucrats,” but “shed light, too, on problematic past processes that were not collaborative,” setting a precedent for new creative strategies in municipal processes.

Cecilia Olusola Tibble (Tuesday, Dec. 4) describes the win-win-win partnership between her agency (Metro Arts) in Nashville, the city’s Juvenile Court, and Oasis Center, a youth service and organization to address the juvenile court’s commitment to restorative justice. By explicitly identifying shared beliefs and values with Metro Arts, partners are preparing artists for effective partnership inside the system, and giving youth and families the tools to restore healthy relationships and communities. Through this partnership, Metro Arts is living “more fully into its theory of change and cultural equity statement.”

On Wednesday (Dec. 5), Pauline Kamiyama of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission shares three critical lessons learned as the coordinating agency for artist-county partnerships about what it takes to prepare County departments to collaborate effectively with embedded artists in the implementation of special County projects. The Artist in Residence (AIR) Creative Strategist initiative was born of the County’s Cultural Equity & Inclusion Initiative. Funded by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2017, AIR Creative Strategist currently has artists working in the L.A. County Library and the Registrar-Recorder’s Office, the latter to help ensure equal access to voting for over 5.2 million voters.

Artist in government or creative government worker? Elizabeth Hamby (Thursday, Dec. 6), a self-described “naturally occurring artist,” unearths common misperceptions and skepticism about artists within government agencies even as they seek out the visioning, imagination, and engagement skills that socially engaged artists can bring. Currently working in the arena of health equity (and previously in housing, urban planning and other issues), Hamby makes the case for both outside artists and insider municipal workers who have artistic capacities to own and deploy their creative selves in partnership with government agencies to contribute to “real-world impacts to policies, systems, and the environment.”

In her role as Manager of Arts & Racial Equity with the City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative, Diana Falchuk (Friday, Dec. 7) describes how Seattle’s truly integrative partnerships among government departments and with artists is evolving to address Seattle’s ongoing and deep commitment to racial equity. The longtime partnership between the Offices of Arts & Culture and Civil Rights is resulting in a new body of work that supports artist-led policy development, training, and “spirit-based practices” within government and its work in community.

Perspectives brought forward in the salon will inform a new resource, the Municipal-Artist Partnership Guide, now in development through Animating Democracy’s own partnership with A Blade of Grass and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation. The guide is intended to help municipal agency leaders, artists, and arts agency leaders navigate this often-complicated intersectional work and to achieve positive and powerful artistic and community results. It will be published as a free online resource in fall 2019 and will be previewed in an Artist-Municipal Partnership track within the Public Art preconference at Americans for the Arts’ annual convention in June 2019 in Minneapolis.

How are you cultivating roles for artists in municipal government? As we develop the Partnership Guide, your experiences, dilemmas, and questions can guide us!