In recent years, there has been an increase in smaller scale, temporary public art projects that encourage community participation and conversation. This is an exciting moment as community members are taking the initiative to create public art that fosters a sense of ownership and pride in their neighborhoods. As the interest in localized public art grows, the individual artists and communities who pioneer these projects are looking for new ways to fund their art. Crowdfunding, a grassroots method of funding a project through raising many small amounts of money from a larger number of people, typically via the Internet, has grown in prominence as a way to pool resources towards a project. In the recently published paper “Crowdfunding in Public Art,” I explored the ways crowdfunding has been used to implement public art, and I’ve been inspired by what I’ve seen.
As arts educators, we should always try to dream big. We don’t need a Broadway budget to create good educational theatre. What we need are dedicated arts educators who are passionate about the message of the production and how it can be a transformative experience for young people. So many students often tell us that this may be the first play they have ever seen and how powerful the storytelling experience was for them. Rain, sleet, or snow, like the post office, we always deliver an authentic theatre experience; no matter where we go or how we get there, the rewards are always worth the effort.
Much has happened since last I wrote, including the 2018 Midterm Elections, in which: Over 113 million citizens nationwide turned out to vote; a record-breaking total of 107 women were elected to serve in Congress; Democrats now control the U.S. House and Republicans retain hold of the U.S. Senate; key congressional arts supporters like Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) on Ways and Means Committee will be the new chairs; at the state level, there will be 19 new governors, 27 new state legislative leaders, and 1,700 new state legislators—resulting in a 23% turnover; and more than 2,000 women will serve in state legislatures in their upcoming sessions and will hold the majority in two state legislative chambers—the Colorado House and Nevada Assembly. On top of getting out the vote for this year’s midterms, State Arts Action Network leaders had noteworthy advocacy gains in their communities.
A few years ago, the City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative Team started looking more closely at how the individualist, perfectionist, paternalistic, and compartmentalizing culture of white supremacy within ourselves and across the institution got in the way of the progress toward racial equity that we were making with trainings, policy tools, and interdepartmental organizing structures. We began to develop a strategy to shift that culture. We adopted the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond Anti-Racist Principles as our guideposts. We developed trainings to begin to understand and heal from the dehumanizing impacts of internalized racial inferiority and superiority. And we began working to de-center ego and lift up spirit, collective action and the belief that no one is disposable. We started getting real about practicing grace for ourselves and for each other. Cultivating creativity in our work has become a central piece of this strategy.
When we think of health and wellness, we think about the mind, body and spirit. We imagine wholeness. … Why? Because every day, we have the opportunity to make conscious decisions about what we allow into our bodies. This includes not only what we eat, drink, watch, and listen to, but also our thoughts. To us at heidi duckler dance (HDD), wellness is how we realize our self image, and as artists, it is the overall practice we promote in our daily lives. HDD transforms non-traditional spaces, provides learning opportunities by engaging diverse communities, and promotes the concept that the arts can change our vision of the world and of ourselves. Through working with HDD’s Artistic Director, Heidi Duckler, I have had the pleasure of seeing firsthand the power of utilizing all types of venues while simultaneously using arts from across different disciplines to uncover powerful stories. This process has allowed me to see how I, as an artist and an administrator, can incorporate wellness into our work.
The first time I tried to get a job as an artist in government, I failed. I was recruited for a position focused on community engagement, visioning, and imagination. The hiring agency was excited by my artwork, and sought me out for the skills I’d honed through social practice. But as we negotiated the terms of my position and I asked that my title be “artist,” I quickly got shot down. To call this work “art” would somehow make it harder for it to be taken seriously by other stakeholders. Plus, my colleagues feared, they were already seen as “soft” for their focus on community engagement, and would be further ostracized from the real decision-making work of the agency. I could do the work however I wanted, they said, but I couldn’t call it art. The second time I tried to get a job as an artist in government, I kept my artist identity to myself.
This summer the LA County Arts Commission (LACAC) kicked off the artist-in-residence Creative Strategist Initiative. One of seven recommendations from the Cultural Equity & Inclusion Initiative that were funded by the LA County Board of Supervisors in 2017, the AIR Creative Strategist Initiative places individuals with artistic expertise in County departments to assist in the implementation of special County projects. Creative Strategists are placed as artists in residence (CS-AIR) for a minimum of 12 months, and work alongside department staff. Together, the department and CS-AIR collaborate with project partners and community stakeholders to effect change and impact a specific project or initiative. The Arts Commission implemented extensive field research and months of conversations with these departments to prepare for artist placement, uncovering critical lessons through the process.
Many arts organizations approach change efforts this way: they operate on the surface with small adjustments to tactics or processes and encounter some of the same self-defeating results. In my career, I’ve observed this reality emerge among many different types of arts organizations. Maybe an organization is trying to improve their operations, or prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, or consider how/if they can ensure that their impact is aligned with their mission, or effect systemic change. The common theme in most of these change efforts is that tactical strategies don’t yield transformational and sustainable results. So how do we do it? First, it’s important to examine what is at the core of the issues. We do this only after committing to a process that’s built on shared agreements, that prioritizes intellectual curiosity, trust, patience, compassion, and transparency. It’s work that doesn’t happen overnight, because our issues and/or challenges don’t happen overnight.
The purpose of the Restorative Justice + the Arts program is to enable artists and arts organizations to provide dynamic program opportunities for youth and families who have interacted with the criminal justice system. Our aim is to equip teaching artists with the tools they need to bolster their practice in ways that lead youth toward productivity, resiliency, and well-being. In FY 2018, the artists have been able to serve 424 youth who have been incarcerated, had other involvement with the court, or who are deemed at-risk due to poverty, school attendance, neighborhood crime, poor school performance, or living in an area where fresh food is scarce. Through this program, Metro Arts is able to live more fully into its theory of change and recently adopted cultural equity statement: that the arts are a tool to create opportunities for citizens to deepen their arts participation, foster vibrant neighborhoods, and cultivate a strong creative workforce.
When you look at the arts sector more broadly, it is clear women have gradually come into more leadership positions. Although art history departments and museums were male-dominated for centuries, recent data show that we’re finally turning a corner. Nevertheless, there is a stubborn gender imbalance at the helms of the largest museums. And barriers for women of color—or men of color for that matter—are even higher. Having seen as much change in my field as I have since 2000, I am both heartened and worried. As a society we have made progress on the recognition and remediation of gender inequality, and the persistence of racism as a driver of inequality has come into clearer view. In philanthropy we are becoming better at rewarding leadership in these arenas—often belatedly. But we also see that social progress can engender apathy and even resistance. There is far more to do for the arts and museum sector to become truly representative, equitable, and inclusive, and thus the most excellent it can be for our country. For all of us in the practice, study, and philanthropy of the arts, this is a great calling.
From 2015 to 2017, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) planned and implemented Civic Practice, a program exploring government-initiated artist-led work in the community. Civic Practice was co-led by myself and Art in City Hall Program Manager Tu Huynh. Working with then Creative Time Artistic Director Nato Thompson, Civic Practice began with the formation of a National Task Force that would come together with local government leaders, artists, and community leaders to learn about best practices and experiences regarding how government can be proactive in civic dialogue through the arts. In many ways, simply gathering this group of creatives and civic leaders in this type of facilitated discussion was a major breakthrough. Innovation and input came equally from artists and bureaucrats and led to many unexpected, but needed and wanted, conversations.
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.
My title is President and CEO of the Staten Island Museum. I will admit when I first began introducing myself in this role, I felt somewhat awkward and uncomfortable with this title. In museums, the title of Executive Director is much more common, so in some way I felt like my title seemed overblown. I’m not someone who typically draws attention to myself, so at first I rather timidly stated my title, or even said “I’m the director of the Staten Island Museum” instead—downplaying the title, because that felt more comfortable. But then I thought about it. Why wouldn’t I say President and CEO proudly? There is no reason that I shouldn’t. Except for the nagging notion that women shouldn’t brag, or maybe that at some level I’m internalizing that there aren’t too many women President and CEOs and that it seems like that title doesn’t belong to me. But the reality is I’ve earned it.
Providing constant and protected space for the exchange of ideas is critically important to the health of our business through the active engagement of our employees. All businesses need new ideas, and businesses benefit when the generation of ideas is encouraged and inclusive. To thrive, businesses need to provide a setting where ideas can be openly exchanged and tested. It is the responsibility of business leaders to understand that the work we all do is best done in an environment that’s not based on the ownership of ideas or the rank of those that offer them—but rather one that’s open, collaborative, and receptive to new ways of thinking and doing. Business leaders need to make intentional steps towards creating these spaces. Otherwise, we miss the opportunity to unleash and develop the inherit creative talent of our employees.
A few weeks ago, a Lawrence Arts Center School of Dance staff member popped into my office to say hello. A few minutes into it, I realized her real reason for stopping in: they needed someone to be a walk-on in the fall production of Madeleine put on by our pre-professional company, Lawrence Ballet Theatre. That first rehearsal? Let’s just say this: I felt like I was losing a real-life game of Frogger. With ballerinas instead of cars. Unprepared, I stumbled, quite literally, upon what comes from commitment and practice. These young dancers spend 5-6 days a week in class, in concentrated training for years, to make an extremely difficult art form look not just beautiful, but completely natural. They make dance look effortless, like anyone could do it. At this point, I couldn’t match their training, but I certainly could find it within myself to try to match their commitment. With this humbling realization, I promised to stick with it. The next evening, I sheepishly slipped into our next rehearsal full of apologies: to the ballerina I almost hamstrung, to the junior stage techs that had to reset the stage twice for me, and the duet whose sequence I stumbled into the middle of. Expecting to be met with frustration and annoyance, I found exactly the opposite.
I’ve always spent a lot of time thinking about issues related to gender, identity and culture. As the first-born daughter of a Mexican mother and a Bulgarian father, I spent much of my childhood in a state of cultural confusion as I tried to navigate both of the cultures that I had inherited, and assimilate to the one that I was born into as an American. I grew up listening to opera with my dad, eating taquitos with my mom, and learning to speak English as my third language. In addition to this, I soon saw the differences between myself and my brothers in all of the cultures that we were navigating. These differences deeply affected me as a young girl. Music was my safe space: a place where identity didn’t matter. People often refer to music as the universal language, but I have come to a different conclusion. I believe that emotion is our universal, and the arts offer us a safe place to investigate what it means to be human.
The benefits of public art are plentiful: inspiration, engagement, revitalization, economic development, beauty. Public art has all too often been directly associated with the displacement of families and individuals when used as an economic development tool in historically low-income communities without proper protections in place against displacement. With a well-thought-out anti-displacement strategy in place, public art can be transformative for historically low-income neighborhoods everywhere. The Punto Urban Art Museum, a public art initiative founded by North Shore Community Development Corporation in Salem, Massachusetts, is addressing this head on as we enter a third year of programming. After seeing increased levels of engagement when utilizing arts and creativity in our community organizing work and in a temporary pilot mural project, NSCDC began to take art and placemaking more seriously as a strategy to address the community priority of reducing stigma in the predominantly low-income, majority-minority Point neighborhood.
As we celebrate both Thanksgiving and National Veterans and Military Families Month this year, we honor the service and sacrifice of America’s more than 18 million veterans across the country. Arts and humanities events and programs remind us of the contributions that veterans and active duty military and their families have made and the power of joining together through the shared experience of art. We recognize the growing number of state and local-level arts and military initiatives that are creating greater access and more opportunities across the country. These programs unite us, bridging the civilian/military divide in a non-partisan way that only the arts can, in communities both large and small. And these efforts aren’t just one-time events; they represent long-term commitments from artists and arts groups to serve those who have served.
The words “new play” or, even more so, “new musical” tend to strike excitement in the hearts of artistic directors, terror in the hearts of managing directors, buzzworthy glee in the hearts of funders, and, unfortunately, hesitancy in the hearts of audiences.
When I first read Katharine Graham’s autobiography, which later became the basis for The Post, I don’t remember experiencing any moments of recognition. Awe, yes. Admiration, absolutely. That a woman with so little self-confidence had found the capacity to topple a president by discovering some previously hidden strength—now that was an inspiring story. But it wasn’t until I watched Meryl Streep navigate Katharine Graham’s route from society maven to newspaper publisher with a backbone of steel that something struck me, and I recognized that her trajectory and my own career development bore some commonality. I was certainly not a pioneer of the generation of theater managers that included Nina Vance, Iris Siff, and Zelda Fichandler, or even that second wave that included Sara O’Connor and Alison Harris, Jessica Andrews and Mary Bill. Nonetheless, as an early career manager when few women were in the field, it was hard to have my voice be heard, to be able to command a room so that my thoughts could be presented.
There are many studies that document the social, educational, and economic benefits of the arts to communities. But how does the American public feel about the role of the arts in their lives? Do they value arts education and support government funding of the arts? How important is creativity at home and at work? We put these questions directly to the public to find out. “Americans Speak Out about the Arts in 2018” was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for Americans for the Arts in May 2018. It is based on a nationally representative sample of 3,023 American adults, making it one of the largest public opinion studies about the arts ever conducted. As one might expect when hearing from the public, we find a mix of assumptions challenged and observations confirmed.
I have learned what is important for me through the arts: whether it is a hobby or a profession, the arts allow us to tap into our own voice and find what is meaningful. It is an extension of who we are, and it is reified in the world through words, music, paintings, and movement. The arts tune us into the thing that makes us tick. It gives us the power to listen to our own selves, to truly go in and feel. In a world where everything is external, the arts are a reprieve—a moment to lean in and go deeper. The arts give you a confidence to listen and to chart your direction. With a better understanding of my own self, I can make connections and lead this organization more effectively. I see myself as the Jackson Pollock of arts administration—at first glance, one might think it’s chaotic, but there is intentionality behind every stroke.
Earlier this fall, Americans for the Arts and The Conference Board released the Business Contributions to the Arts: 2018 Edition report. The results provide both an insight into current corporate giving trends as related to the arts and an opportune moment to look back on broad trends. While the survey methodology has changed numerous times over the years, making exact comparisons challenging, we can examine the overall progression of certain aspects of arts support among companies, including what size businesses are consistent arts supporters, what reasons companies give for supporting the arts, and how giving behavior changes (or not) as the national economy fluctuates.
Today, in these seemingly unenlightened times, it is easy to worry that the very people we have elevated to leadership can neither identify nor light the way. This isn’t just a concern about who might run for office or be appointed to the Supreme Court. It’s a worry about the critical and threatened role of inspiration, integrity, generosity, and compassion in public life. As a leader of a nonprofit arts organization in this context, I think the most important thing we can do is urgently and carefully consider the current and potential role our organizations can play in reimagining and reigniting our struggling democracy. As a female leader and a mom, it is natural for me to think about how and why an organization was born, and how and why it exists today. I have often reflected that institutions were made by people in order to deliver on the promise of democracy. We know they are not doing that, so we have to change them. The purpose of leadership, in many ways, is not to hold an organization in place but to constantly nurture it toward what it can and should be.
For several years now, I’ve had the great honor to work with Americans for the Arts and its National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military to convene and advocate the value of the arts in health and healing nationwide, particularly its significance to the military community. Through this transforming experience, I’ve seen thousands of individuals—boots on the ground—who are building healing arts and military networks, which offer civilian and military community members greater opportunities to regain health and wellbeing and to build resiliency in response to the reality of increasing trauma occurring within our communities. A ubiquitous presence in the community ecosystem uniquely positions the arts to lead the movement to create healing networks and non-stigmatized environments that both afford respect and foster community-wide resilience and growth for individuals facing the invisible wounds of war.