Artists & Planners Partner in DC: Innovating Engagement & Instigating Systems Change

A few years ago, the District of Columbia Office of Planning (DCOP) launched an ambitious local government creative placemaking initiative. DCOP designed a multi-year, multi-neighborhood effort that would build community in areas experiencing rapid change. Supported by the Kresge Foundation’s Arts and Culture Local Systems Program, “Crossing the Street: Building DC’s Inclusive Future through Creative Placemaking” used arts and culture to activate space, foster conversation, promote inclusive experiences, highlight neighborhood assets, and advance planning. What became apparent as we embarked on this journey with curators, artists, and communities was the impact that an artist-municipal framework could have: planners began to think like artists, and artists began to think like planners. We also had not fully accounted for the unique lens, approach, and connections that artists make when working in a community. There are many lessons learned from our Crossing the Street, but we will focus on two distinct areas: 1) a new way to engage community; and 2) systems change. Inherent to both areas was a single underlying facet: the role of artists-municipal partnerships.

Business Improvement in Colorado Historic Corridor Tied to the Arts

Small business is the heartbeat of the economy—that’s certainly the case here in Lakewood, Colorado—population 155,000 in a city that occupies 44 square miles between Denver and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. We have seven large organizations with 1000+ employees, but nearly 7000 entities employ 50 or fewer. Primary employers are critical. But the math is crystal clear … small business rules the road. But as the new millennium arrived, not every part of our City’s economic engine was hitting on all cylinders. Lakewood’s 40 West Arts District is located in the oldest part of our City along West Colfax Avenue—a historic commercial corridor that is just now emerging from 30 years of economic decline, with the arts at the vanguard of its renaissance.

Room to Breathe and Grow: The Executive Leadership Forum at Sundance

I have had the honor and pleasure of attending Americans for the Arts’ Executive Leadership Forum (ELF) three times in the last eight years. Without a doubt, these experiences have provided the best leadership and professional development in my life. The ELF is an opportunity for executive directors in the arts and culture field to come together for the opportunity of deep learning, reflection, and planning, all aimed at advancing the arts at the local level. Having several days to reflect, retreat, connect, and celebrate with colleagues who “get it” is a tremendous bonus that is both restorative and empowering. The quality of content carefully prepared by the Americans for the Arts staff helps ensure that each ELF provides the enrichment and reflection necessary to equip local arts leaders in what is often a busy and demanding life. The attention to detail and advanced reading material helps set the stage for a great learning opportunity.

Los Angeles Theater Artist Mark Valdez Awarded Americans for the Arts’ 2019 Johnson Fellowship for Artists Transforming Communities

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

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Americans for the Arts announces today that theater artist and cultural organizer Mark Valdez is the recipient of the 2019 Johnson Fellowship for Artists Transforming Communities. The $65,000 award will support him in advancing his work in community-based theater during the fellowship year. 

Rehearsing for Civic Dialogue

Few of us are taught how to do civic dialogue. How do we develop and improve our ability to facilitate groups made up of individuals with potentially vastly different life experiences, identities, vested interests, and communication styles? Here’s one answer: Theater. When we want to literally incorporate new skills in our work, we need a body-based practice that can allow us to explore the interplay of subject matter, emotional response, social identity, and physical bodies in a physical space. That is the theater of civic engagement. And the methods of theater are learning tools that can and should be central to the training of public officials and community leaders who shape our interactions in the public sphere. Drexel University is currently working to ensure that urban planners have the skill set to facilitate civic engagement, and its Masters of Science in Urban Strategy (MSUS) program has drawn on embodied and theater-based methods as a core training methodology.

An Artist at the Table Means Hope for a Better World

2018 was a year of some highs, but many lows. Controversy and anger and fear still seem to swirl around us in large supply, and more often I find myself sitting at my piano, my energy source and antidote for when I am feeling low. I imagine how all of us can better convey the power of the arts as a unifying force—as a solution for our country—during these difficult times. Our need for the arts is apparent. We have needed and sought the healing and teaching power of the arts for a long time. Robert Redford once said, “I’ve long believed we could move toward solving some of our biggest problems if there were an artist at every table.” Woven through the events of this year were artists who are making a tremendous difference in communities across the country, and their diverse voices are animating conversation and giving us hope for a kinder and more compassionate world.

Crowdfunding in Public Art

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.

Good Tidings from SAAN

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.

Artists Transforming Local Government: Creative Strategies Toward Racial Justice

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.

Who Are the Naturally Occurring Artists in Your Municipal Agency?

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. 

Creative Strategist Initiative: Embedding Artist in the Bureaucracy

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.

Real Change Requires a Dismantling of Old Norms

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. 

Visionary Artist + Judge + Local Arts Agency = Partnership for Restorative Justice

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. 

Civic Practice: Coupling Government Purpose and Artists’ Imagination in the City of Philadelphia

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. 

Inside Artist-Municipal Partnerships

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.

Giving Trends in Business Contributions to the Arts

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.

Celebrate National Shop Local Artists Week 2018

Be part of the nationwide celebration December 2-8, 2018

Thursday, November 8, 2018

From December 2 to 8, 2018, the initiative encourages the creative field to join together in communities across the country to promote the sales of the work of local artists, and to promote to all consumers that art—including tickets to events and organization memberships—makes great holiday gifts.

40 Years Young: The Evolving Practice of Cultural Planning

Research released this week by Americans for the Arts sheds light on the aspirations, accomplishments, shortcomings, and methods used in cultural planning over the past decade and compares findings with Craig Dreeszen’s similar—although more extensive—study from 1994. The data reveal that expectations of cultural planning have increased significantly over these 20-plus years, and that the greatest change is in the emphasis on serving community interests rather than a focus on the arts and cultural sector’s own needs. While community-wide cultural planning helps formulate aspirations and action strategies, it doesn’t ensure results. Where cultural plans also set their sights, but where outcomes fell short, is in the area of cultural equity—expanding resources for under-represented groups including immigrant populations, removing barriers to participation, and bolstering education and youth development. Fewer than half of cultural plans included specific actions to address diversity, equity, and inclusion—a surprising finding in 2017.

The Transformative Power of Cross-sector Collaboration: A Story of the Lackawanna County ARTS Engage! Task Force

The ARTS Engage! Task Force was created in 2016, inspired by a successful youth arts program and with a mission to “improve the quality of life for Lackawanna County residents through access to and participation in artistic, creative, and cultural experiences.” The power of passionate, committed, and diverse people working together has the ability to transform communities, but meaningful cross-sector collaborations take time. The kind of knowledge trust, enthusiasm, and planning needed for sustainability cannot be achieved in a short time frame. But rather than think of this as daunting, we can see it as a chance to expand our world, meet new people, challenge our cognitive biases, and create innovative and integrative systems of change. There will be stressful days, things won’t always work, and there may even be conflict. But I have found the joy in this work, and the impact far outweighs the difficulties.

Arts, Business, and Capital

According to the Americans for the Arts Creative Industries Report, there are 674,000 businesses involved in the creation or distribution of the arts, and they employ 3.5 million people. This represents 4% percent of all U.S. businesses and 2% percent of all U.S. employees, demonstrating statistically that the arts are a formidable business presence. Collectively, we know the issues our cities and society face are too complex to address in one way. But I firmly believe the creative sector can be a strong partner in developing sustainable development goals such as well-being, economic health, quality education, and sustainable cities and communities. I see this as a team effort, requiring the investment of businesses, investors, AND funders to drive what is already important to them, by expanding their portfolios to embrace programs and services that only the creative sector can deliver.

 

Search Our New and Improved Arts Services Directories

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

You asked, and we listened: Our online Arts Services Directory has expanded to include searchable, topic-driven sub-directories. The new and improved directories will allow you to quickly find all types of arts organizations throughout the United States, as well as narrow your search to specific interest areas.

Recognizing Leadership and Innovation in the Arts Happens Every Day

Each fall, many of us in the arts world look forward to hearing the names of the National Medal of Arts recipients for the year. Awarded annually since 1985, this highly anticipated honor seems to have been put on hold beginning in 2016. Similarly, the National Humanities Medal ended a 26-year-long streak with their slate of 2015 honorees, and October’s National Arts & Humanities Month—which expanded from a week-long celebration proclaimed by President Reagan in 1985, to a month-long celebration of the arts and humanities in 1993—has yet to see a presidential proclamation since October 2016. Americans for decades have appreciated nationally recognized awards and a presidential proclamation every year as a show of support and encouragement to unleash creativity and reach for new heights. This year that hope was no different and I have been asked again and again for my thoughts on what has become of these high-profile awards.

Equipping Artists to be Community Leaders

I joined our new staff member in a meeting last week with a prospective grant applicant. We were discussing his interest and desire to get a new keyboard for his work as a musician. This young man humbly presented himself as he shared his professional and educational background that more than qualified him to apply for the developing artist grant we administer. Our new staff member did an excellent job reviewing the grant guidelines and preparing him for the process, but as the meeting was wrapping up, I saw that something was still missing.

“May I share an observation with you before you go?” I asked. “Sure,” the artist quietly replied.

It’s Time for the Arts to Rally Around Standardized Outcomes

Like many social areas, the arts have struggled to reach consensus on impact measurement metrics. Certainly, considerable progress has been made in terms of measuring economic impact as a result of the arts, led by Americans for the Arts and its Arts and Economic Prosperity series of research reports. But, as Business Contributions to the Arts: 2018 Edition reiterates, most companies are not measuring a standard set of social outcomes when it comes to the arts—and that could be holding the sector back. Our data also show that corporate funding for the arts is in a strong position. That means that now is the time to take on the challenge of being more rigorous in the measurement of arts programs to help ensure sustained contributions over the long term. Companies would benefit from stepping up to the plate.

Arts & Business Partnerships Continue to Strengthen Both Sectors, Research Finds

Last week, we celebrated arts and business partnerships at our annual BCA 10: Best Businesses Partnering with the Arts gala. We heard inspiring stories about why businesses value the arts. BCA Leadership Award winner Chandrika Tandon shared how her passion for music provided passion and engagement at her job. Fifth Third Bank spoke about how the arts helped them heal and respond after a mass shooting at their headquarters. Phillips66 shared how the arts create a strong company culture. These stories align with the data from the just released Business Contributions to the Arts survey, which found, among other positive results, that business support for the arts is on the rise. 

The Art of Gifting: Celebrating our culture with Shop Local Artists Week

In cities and towns around the United States, people frequently are encouraged to “Shop Local” to support the many businesses that are such a critical part of their communities’ identities, with much of that focus targeted in November during “Small Business Week.” As of 2017 in Louisiana, the rally for support has been extended to the first full week of December, which is now an annual, statewide celebration known as Shop Local Artists Week (SLAW). We have a responsibility to ensure that our creative culture can continue to grow and flourish—especially since our state is among the most celebrated cultural destinations in the world. So another key focus is the development of partnerships between businesses and artists. Merchants throughout the parish are encouraged to consider adopting one or more local artists or authors during Shop Local Artists Week, and to consider hosting cultural events featuring those artists, including meet and greets, book signings and musical performances.

Spark a Creative Conversation During National Arts & Humanities Month

Happy National Arts and Humanities Month! Each October, millions of people across the country celebrate the transformative power of the arts in their communities. National Arts and Humanities Month is a “coast-to-coast collective recognition of the importance of culture in America,” with the goals of: FOCUSING on the arts at local, state, and national levels; ENCOURAGING individuals and organizations to participate in the arts; ALLOWING governments and businesses to show their support of the arts; and RAISING public awareness about the role the arts and humanities play in our communities and lives. During National Arts and Humanities Month, some truly amazing celebrations of arts and culture take place across the country. One of the big initiatives for the month is Creative Conversations, which gather community leaders to “discuss local arts, culture, and creativity to generate partnerships and increased energy around the grassroots movement to elevate the arts in America.” 

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