Passion Works

This story is about what happens when the talents and interests of people with developmental differences are followed. In 1998 I was invited to set up an experimental art studio within a sheltered workshop in Athens, Ohio. A sheltered workshop is a day program for people with developmental disabilities that offers assembly line-like work options (capping pens, stuffing envelopes, bagging items). The work is repetitive with a clear expectation of the end product. In the back of the old factory was a 15’ x 25’ room where I was invited to set up a studio space through a grant from the Ohio Arts Council. When people were done with their work quotas they could come back to the art studio and explore. The enthusiasm and excitement that unfolded ignited something in me and I found my passion. This group was magical. They had talent, imagination, fearlessness, cooperation—everything needed to feed the creative process within a collaborative community making experience.

For Youth, By Youth: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Change; or How a Youth-led Arts Conference was Born

Over a year ago, the seeds were planted for what would become a vibrant flowering tree called Arts Amplifying Youth or AAY! for short. The leadership team spearheading Art=Opportunity, a research based arts education movement based out of Centre Artes at Cal State University San Marcos, came up with the idea to hold an arts-based youth summit for youth in San Diego. Their brilliant Executive Director Merryl Goldberg imagined a safe space where youth could express their art around important issues, which is an essential mission of Art=Opportunity. On a warm morning last October, a group of a dozen artistic teenagers came together in a small office in Little Italy with the seemingly easy-to-answer question, “How can we bring art to youth in a meaningful way?” They soon discovered that this question was not as easily answered—so they set out on their journey of event planning! 

Experience a World of Art Close to Downtown Denver

Americans for the Arts recently spent a long weekend in Denver, Colorado, for our 2018 Annual Convention and were completely awed by what an artistic city it is! To that end, we wanted to give our local hosts from VISIT DENVER the chance to share more about the variety of arts & culture Denver has to offer. Read on!

A Utah Business “Not Throwin’ Away its Shot” to Help Rural Students Experience “Hamilton”

When Zions Bank was approached by the Utah Division of Arts and Museums with a request to support the Hamilton Education Program, executives knew high school students from Title I schools and rural towns spanning the state needed to be in “The Room Where It Happens.” The $16 billion-in-assets financial institution based in Salt Lake City has a significant presence and market share in rural communities; because of its statewide network of branches, it is important to the bank to help promote rural populations’ access to the artistic treasures concentrated in Salt Lake City. Through the Hamilton Education Program, nicknamed “EduHam,” producers made tickets available at a discount, which was subsidized by Zions Bank and the State of Utah through a bi-partisan appropriation. After weeks of studying a special integrated curriculum about Alexander Hamilton, the May 4, 2018 performance provided more than 2,300 students an opportunity to experience the musical in person. 

Remembering to Celebrate the Victories: State Arts Action Network Members’ Advances for the Arts and Arts Education

First, I want to acknowledge that the past few months have been tough; it seems like anytime I refresh my web browser, there’s more bad news happening in our nation. Personally, I find some solace in the work that we as arts advocates do at the federal, state, and local levels in advancing the healing and transformative power of the arts and arts education. I think it’s important to remember the positive moments and for us to celebrate the victories that we as a field are achieving. In that spirit, I want to share with you a few stories about the current advocacy successes at the federal and state levels, spearheaded by the State Captains, State Arts Action Network (SAAN), and their states’ advocates.

Together We Rise: Convention Reflections

Whether you’re an arts advocate, creator, or funder, attending the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, held June 14-17 in Denver, felt like a rallying call for change, and each of the keynote speakers led us with hope and honesty. Each session bravely tackled the serious issues of equity and the power of art to nourish inclusivity, embrace humanity, and grapple with the complex issues facing us today. Like so many cities, Denver has recognized that the systems of power grant privilege and access unequally in our community. The more we acknowledge this, the more we understand the pervasiveness of inequity that impacts funding, programming, arts policy, employment, and nearly every aspect of our work—bringing us closer to the opportunity to emerge into a new space.

Building Community and Making Connections in Denver

The 2018 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention was as stimulating as ever! Over the years I have attended several Americans for the Arts conferences and I am always impressed by the number and variety of attendees who gather to discuss the impact of the arts in our communities. More than 1,000 people traveled to the beautiful city of Denver to discuss the trends of equity and inclusion across all sectors, how the arts unite cities, advocacy and grantmaking, as well as the role of the arts in aging and coping with trauma. The list of topics covered seems almost endless! As an arts educator, I was interested in learning about the growing field of Creative Youth Development (CYD). The highpoint for me was hearing from the young people who attended the preconference sessions.

Presenting Historical Works of Art in the #MeToo Era

Recently, we saw a performance at the Met Opera of the classic Mozart opera Cosi Fan Tutti, restaged and mounted with a new production set in the 1950s. In the program, the director stated it was restaged so that it would be “[easier] to buy into the conceit” of the show. It was so real, in fact, that it was easy to draw comparisons to every man who has ever persistently ignored a woman’s denial and blamed rejection on the woman. So real, that when the women are literally saying they are frightened and terrified of the unwanted men sneaking into their rooms, it was easy to think of the hundreds of thousands of women who said #MeToo. As such, we began questioning the role of cultural institutions, particularly large and leading organizations to which others look for inspiration or leadership. What is their responsibility in reconciling classic works in modern times?

Americans for the Arts will continue this conversation at our upcoming Annual Convention in Denver, Colorado June 14-17, 2018, during the session “The Arts Community in the Time of the Women’s March and #MeToo.”

The Hustle—Economic Sustainability in the Arts Education Field (Part 2)

As we uncovered in our previous post, creating a sustainable living from a long-term arts education career can be difficult whether you’re a teaching artist, public school art teacher, or arts education administrator. However, we believe there is great work and inspiring advocacy being done around pay equity in our field that we want to share to inspire the new generation of arts education leaders to continue to invest in the future of our field. 

Leaders in the field must stop accepting the culture of scarcity that has become our norm in the arts and education field. It is our job to stand up and ask for compensation for our time and expertise, finding value in our work and articulating it. Otherwise, when the young people we work with say they want to go into a career in the arts, we won’t have any other response than, “What’s your back-up?”

The Hustle—Economic Sustainability in the Arts Education Field (Part 1)

A short play:

Me: I want to go into the arts.
Teachers/Friends/Family: What’s your back-up?

All three of us have had this conversation in some form at various points in our lives. We did it anyways. Pay equity for race and gender have been at the forefront of many national conversations, which has led many in arts education to question our own pay structures. In this two-part blog, we explore three different points of view on how pay equity issues affect arts education professionals, whether they are teaching artists, public school arts teachers, or arts education administrators.

Great Minds See Alike

I am a Colorado native and a third-generation artist. I work in illustration, photography, jewelry, lapidary, painting, printmaking, sculpture, assemblage, and installation art. I’m also the founder of ReArranging Denver, a ten-year-old zero use self-sustaining project that has engaged over 50,000 people, connecting communities to their local business and neighboring cities through creative reuse workshops, installations, and events. I also travel to universities, libraries, art coalitions, and low income and private schools, giving living artist lectures. I always had the impression that most artists died before seeing success, so I decided to start seeing myself as a living artist sharing my secrets of success. As the Americans for the Arts staff learned more about my work, they asked me to share my story with them, with you, and with those about to join forces in Colorado at Convention.

Reflections on Over 20 Years of Americans for the Arts Conventions

In 1993 I became the Director of New York Programs of the Arts & Business Council Inc., and as head of a national partner arts service organization of Americans for the Arts, I began what has become a very long association with the organization and its Annual Convention, literally attending the first Convention under the Americans for the Arts name—and nearly every one since. I have watched the organization, and its signature convening, grow and evolve over time—responding to the field’s changes and the external environment we all operate in. Now in my role as president of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation in Denver, Colorado, I have become one of the hosts and funders of the 2018 Annual Convention in Denver. We are so excited to be hosting this conference, and know that the content will be informative and inspirational, and that the City and its cultural assets will enchant. 

Combat Medic to Ceramic Artist: Art as Therapy

 

I’m a disabled (differently-abled) Operation: Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Veteran who found clay after my medical retirement from the US Army in 2011, where I served as a combat medic. It has turned into a business, a passion, and my art has taken on a new purpose. I am passionate about how much my sculpting has helped me and I have an even deeper passion for sharing this amazing self-care concept/activity with as many people as I can. It is important to remember that art therapy is very different than art as therapy, which I teach and practice for self-care. I feel that the daily activities we do at home for self-care can be just as important as the work done in the therapist’s office. We must learn to be okay with taking our health into our own hands, including our mental health. It’s up to each and every one of us to advocate for what we know is in our best interest.

It is important to remember that art therapy is very different than art as therapy. 

Win More Grants: Integrating Evaluation with Stories

Do you want to wow your donors and secure more funding? Arts programs that consistently attract more funding intentionally combine evaluation results with stories to inspire action.

Arts Better the Lives of Everyone

At the Berklee Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs, we believe that the arts better the lives of everyone. This is something other countries have figured out, but we still need to learn it here. We still need to learn to welcome all—including people with disabilities—into spaces where performances and exhibits take place. We still need to learn to broaden our understanding of who can be an artist, and what an artist looks like. We still need to learn how to open up our classrooms to all students and break down barriers to arts learning so that arts education, artistic expression, and artistic engagement can be a powerful, meaningful, and significant part of everyone’s life.

Culture Notes

Art is a barometer of its time, providing the common ground for our shared humanity—essential in a vibrant democracy. I came of age as an artist and administrator in New York in the 1970s. Post modernists, punks, minimalists, and graffiti artists were deconstructing and distilling everyday actions. By the 1980s, some of these provocateurs mainstreamed into galleries and museums, theaters and opera houses. Many audiences were mystified, some transformed by the emergent forms. At the end of the ‘80s, I was performing arts curator at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the aesthetic zeitgeist had changed. 

Welcoming Travelers to a Community Through the Arts

As the gateway to a city, airports are the first and last place that air travelers experience; they are a doorway for passengers and visitors alike. An airport has a broad range of functions, but its visual impact can run the gamut from a blank canvas to a celebration of sights and sounds. As the canvas on which impressions of a destination can be formed, airports have an opportunity to tell their story through permanent and temporary installations as well as through performing arts. When an airport chooses to introduce travelers to the arts and cultural assets of a region and beyond, wonderful things can happen. Each artistic effort says to travelers that not only do the arts matter, but also that the aesthetics of an airport are important.

Here Comes Summer … Time to Get to Work!

It’s the final countdown! Students stroll down the hallways chatting about summer vacation plans, teachers eyeball stacks of books in the corner and make plans for clean-up and storage, and school leaders are wrapping up teacher evaluation cycles and planning end-of-the-year assemblies. Everyone is racing to the finish line! Now would be a terrible time for arts organizations to reach out to schools to talk about future partnerships, right? WRONG! As they wind down, we should be winding up. As you begin to brainstorm ways to connect with your local schools, here’s a quick list of tips to make the most out of their summer vacation.

How Technology Supports Becoming a More Resilient, Innovative Arts Funder

The Ohio Arts Council was an early adopter of online grants management technology back in 2005, reflecting its belief that up-to-date tools can play a big role in helping it achieve its mission. That early work was successful, and the agency’s subsequent upgrade to an online system built by SmartSimple in 2015 has now paid dividends as well, contributing to recent increases in service to OAC constituents, streamlining of panel processes and costs, and improvements in end-user satisfaction with the grant application process.

Youth Voice for Change

As youth arts programs deploy across the country every year, I have had the privilege of supporting a group of youth voices that are not often at the forefront because of their circumstances, but are at the cross section between arts, science, and health: teens living with cancer. This year, for the first time (not an exaggeration, I don’t believe there are other creative youth development programs that do this), The Pablove Foundation has developed a program—a platform for students living with cancer—to use photography to tell their story and curate a group exhibition and gallery show together. The students learned advanced photography techniques and arts healing, developed a sense of visual literacy, did peer critiques, and mostly hung out and formed community with hope that others will learn through their art and what they have to say about childhood cancer. 

Let Others Lead: A Mid-Career Manifesto

As an emerging leader in my late 20s and early 30s, I was desperate for a chance to be heard. I sought out opportunities to get involved with organizations and groups that would both connect me to other people in the field and allow me chances to organize, empower, and lead others. I had ideas. I wanted to share them. And I wanted to learn in the process. As the sun set on my emerging leader status—though I’m not sure exactly when that started happening, just when it was over—I had a pretty stark shift in my attitude about leadership. I found I wasn’t hungry for it anymore—not in the same way, at least.

Change The Story. Change The Equation. Change The Game.

Throughout this Blog Salon, you’ve heard testimony from arts leaders across the country: creatives working in street symphonies and theater companies in LA; administrators building community practices in Florida and Boston; artists and curators invested in equity work from Portland to Washington, DC, and all points in between. By using this Blog Salon as a platform, the ELC is combating the dominant narrative that power in the arts exists only in the hands of a historically white, historically male, historically wealthy minority. We’re collectively organizing our experiences into a larger tapestry to change the story. Another intention: all of this year’s contributors identify as People of Color (POC). By centering experiences of POC who are artists, administrators, and experts, we’re attempting to course-correct decades of exclusion, disenfranchisement, and marginalization our communities have experienced working in the arts. 

From Shy to Fly—How the Arts Developed My Self Worth

I first realized I had the power to create change through the arts in a small camp in my hometown, Rockford, IL. I was just a little girl trying to muster up the courage to get on stage and perform when I attended the Rockford Area Arts Council Camp for Young Creatives. Waiting backstage with knots in my stomach, fingernails digging into my fingertips to distract from my nerves, I reassured myself I knew all the moves. “I got this,” I thought to myself, “...but wait! What’s step one again!?” The music starts and my body takes over, making all the right decisions on time. All that was required of me was trusting my capacity to pull it off. It was before I knew what it meant to be a woman of color and the importance of representation in leadership roles, and before I could speak intelligibly about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the arts. 

Diversification Begins with a Theory of Change

When I finally pivoted into arts administration, inching my way closer toward being a full-time creative, I was a bit surprised to find how much the sector was struggling with issues of diversification. Over time, I suppose I had grown accustomed to an industry that had no issue tackling diversification head-on and I expected the arts, the champion of inclusion, would be the same way. I am fortunate enough to oversee two great projects at ArtsBoston which help to drive the change we desperately need in greater Boston’s arts sector. For the ArtsBoston Audience Lab, diversification (specifically audiences of color) began with a Theory of Change—a blueprint designed in collaboration with the ten participating organizations in the Lab. When organizations state that they want more “diversity” in their audiences, we ask them to think a step further.

A.W.E in Portland: Arts Workers for Equity

I work in the nonprofit arts sector in Portland, Oregon, which is 76% white despite the growing racial and ethnic diversity in the country. This whiteness was deliberately designed. In the 1800s, exclusionary laws were ratified into the Oregon constitution and the language wasn’t officially removed until 2002. This history is reflected in who lives, works, and plays here, including the demographic makeup of who runs our cultural and artistic institutions. In 2016, a group of us arts administrators came together with the evocative question: “Why are the arts so white?” A truly grassroots operation, Arts Workers for Equity (AWE) is a collective of ten individuals who represent a multitude of intersectional identities. Alone and individually, we had limited power to effect change. But collectively we’ve influenced Portland’s nonprofit arts sector, citywide.

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