Wake Up to a New Day

Posted by Ms. Pam Korza, Jul 24, 2017

Like the smell of coffee that insists we wake up to a new day, the theme of excellence and equity percolates across many of the 16 Excellence and Equity in Arts for Change blogs. Notions of excellence and equity are linked and increasingly demand that we attend to both the positive and negative ways they intersect in policies, practices, and decisions. Which artists get opportunities, who gains resources, how are arts and cultural practices understood and valued by critics, audiences, and gatekeepers? These are but some of the contexts in which aesthetic biases prevent equity.

Evaluative practices—from academia to professional art criticism to funding panels—have historically been dominated by white Eurocentric standards of beauty, while dismissing or ignoring standards relevant to different artistic and cultural practices. Artist Andrea Assaf, one of the co-creators of Aesthetic Perspectives, wrote: “Equitable evaluation requires an understanding of projects, artists, creative practices, or cultural traditions within the framework of their own aesthetic value systems.”

With the release of Animating Democracy’s new framework, Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change, we asked bloggers: What does the framework stimulate for you regarding considerations of excellence? Here’s some of what you will read over the coming week.

Excellence & Equity

María López De León (National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, July 27 post) invokes notions of excellence and equity to call out exclusionary practices, observing how “artistic and cultural expressions of Latinx communities for too long have been pushed to the fringes [by] a mainstream vetting process that does not value the aesthetic excellence in cultural forms, traditions, and context.” De Leon underscores the negative effect on young people of not knowing artistic and cultural productions with which they can identify.

Savannah Barrett (Art of the Rural, July 25 post) conveys the struggle that many arts for change organizers face in translating their stories into data that convey the work’s aesthetic as well as societal value. In rural areas, such projects have been “disadvantaged by both an insufficient language for describing the work and a massive inequity in philanthropic investment.” She sees the attributes of excellence as meaningful criteria for funders that may promote more support for rural artists who are often shut out.

Anne Mulgrave (Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, July 26 post) holds up the attribute of cultural integrity as crucial in helping panelists and facilitators assess “integrity and ethical use of material with specific cultural origins,” in particular, cultural appropriation. Lauren Slone details how the MAP Fund (July 27 post) introduced select questions associated with certain aesthetic attributes into the panel process. Slone points to the framework as a “lexicon that greatly improves upon what is often dismissive language used by gatekeepers to assert one dominant aesthetic approach above others.” The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation applied Aesthetic Perspectives as one of three approaches to evaluate a program funding Native-artist driven arts for change projects. Evaluator Miriam Jorgensen (Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, July 26 post) found that looking at aesthetic impact via the attributes was a way to also understand social impact.

Increasingly conscious of arts entrepreneurs’ responsibility to the public good, Linda Essig (Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Program, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, ASU, July 24 post) sees the core value of equity in the framework as a humane and open guide to assessing creative endeavors even beyond Arts for Change.


Ananya Chatterjea (Ananya Dance Theatre, July 24 post) reimagines her own recent challenges in describing, evaluating and making the case for support of her socially engaged art, and how they might have unfolded aided by the framework. She urges its use to build power, validate, and distinguish creative excellence within socially engaged art, as well as guide responsible creative choices.

Performance artist and playwright Denise Uyehara (July 26 post) consulted the framework’s aesthetic attributes of openness and cultural integrity in the development of Shooting Columbus. Like “good spirits sitting on our shoulders,” the attributes poked the artists’ “private” and “public personas” to consider questions of balancing artist and community voice.

In evaluating its national touring project, Beware of the Dandelions, the artist collective Complex Movements (July 28 post) used the framework to structure an artist debrief to assess how well creative intentions were realized in relation to community organizing goals and to facilitate post-tour focus groups with community organizing partners. These applications helped “build a design matrix for future work.”

Creative youth development

Käthe Swabeck (Raw Art Works, July 25 post) cautions about the “tricky balance of developing common language that does not ‘talk over’ those who have not been given the mic.” To holistically investigate artistic excellence in Creative Youth Development contexts, she recommends exploration of Aesthetic Perspectives in consort with three other frameworks. Eric Booth, international arts learning consultant (July 26 post), sees value in the inclusive criteria embodied by the 11 attributes for the field of teaching artistry, where “balkanization of teaching artists, community artists, and social practice artists has created false and disempowering separations.”

Cross-sector work

As the community development field moves toward comprehensive approaches, urban planning researcher Victor Rubin (PolicyLink, July 24 post) reflects on the framework’s value in bridging language gaps between artists and community developers. Jeree Thomas (Campaign for Youth Justice, July 25 post) shares her learning curve about how art works in service of justice through her partnership with Performing Statistics, and how the framework can help “argue her case” for integrating arts into advocacy strategies and measures of success. Artist Mike Blockstein (Public Matters, July 28 post) observes that where the “art” lies is often misunderstood or under-appreciated by nonarts partners in the civic realm. The framework can expand appreciation and even help risk-averse agencies embrace creative risk-taking as a necessary route to desired civic outcomes.

Arts institutions

The attribute of commitment is conveyed in a creative placemaking story for the city of Penrith, Australia. Gretchen Coombs (critic, curator, educator, July 27 post) illustrates how the Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia and skilled artists gained social capital through the museum’s sustained leadership in and commitment to linking art, artists, and aesthetic practices in the city’s master planning processes. Prodded by the framework’s stickiness attribute, arts presenter Brett Batterson (Orpheum Theatre Group, July 25 post) gives a critical eye to follow-up strategies that presenting institutions should activate to maximize longer-term effects of issue-based productions.

Grab that cup of coffee and visit our Excellence and Equity Blog Salon each day, July 24-28, 2017. Comment and engage with the ideas in these rich posts. And, by all means, check out the Aesthetic Perspectives framework and let us know: How does it stimulate you?