Art in Politics: Why Both Matter

Every day at work, I am reminded that the intersection between art and government continues grow in importance. Funding, allocation, and government spending is essential to developing our education system. I intern for Americans for the Arts because advocating for equitable access to art and arts education vastly improves our education system. Research shows that marginalized communities consistently have little to no access to arts education in schools. Some of the most diverse voices are being shut out of conversations and art creation. We are left with an education system that refuses to elevate some of the most integral voices in diversity for our dialogue and our art. I had the privilege of art shaping my entire childhood, but there are some places youth have no access to art at all due to systemic inequality in our education system. 

A Recipe for Representation and Inclusiveness in the Arts

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Goya Foods, Inc. got its start in NYC and now collaborates with artists and arts organizations, like Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, to reflect its values in family, achieving the American dream, and helping cultivate Latin culture in the boroughs and beyond.

The Issue of Creating Across Generations

Myah Overstreet (20) and Jason Wyman (41) are an intergenerational producing team with The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture. They have worked together for over two years co-piloting The Alliance Youth Media Initiatives. Their latest endeavor with The Alliance is The Issue, a new arts + culture magazine designed to inspire a future where we all belong, which was published on January 11, 2018. The Issue is a model of intergenerational collaboration and mutual reciprocity, where diverse voices are artfully represented and joyfully celebrated. Overstreet and Wyman recently sat down to chat how and why they collaborate and create across age as a means to create a more inclusive future. 

Americans for the Arts Joins Federal Amicus Brief in Support of Free Speech Rights of Congressional Art Competition Student Artist

Americans for the Arts joined 17 national, state, and local arts service organizations urging reversal of a ruling that permitted Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers to remove a painting by St. Louis high school student David Pulphus from a Congressional Art Competition exhibit at the U.S. Capitol. His allegorical post-Ferguson painting depicts a civil rights demonstration and includes two police officers with boar heads; one is pointing his gun at a protester with the head of wolf. The painting was removed under pressure from a small group of Congressmen, with the contention that the exhibition was “government speech” which the government could censor at will. 

A Conversation with Outgoing Board Chair Abel Lopez

Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to speak with Abel Lopez, outgoing Chair of the Board of Directors at Americans for the Arts. As Chair since 2013, Abel has been an instrumental part of the growth of Americans for the Arts, particularly in sustaining leadership, developing goals as part of the organization’s most recent Strategic Plan, and spearheading the Statement on Cultural Equity. In this interview, Abel talks about his history with Americans for the Arts, his experience as Chair, and his excitement for the future of Americans for the Arts and the nonprofit arts and cultural sector. 

Amplifying Institutional Evolution

Nearly a year ago, two members of Trinity Repertory Company’s resident acting company proposed an idea: use the Rhode Island tradition of presenting A Christmas Carol to amplify our institution’s commitment to community engagement. They dreamed of incorporating different community groups every night, connecting our audiences to work and people they might not otherwise know. Fast-forward to now, somewhere mid-run of an unforgettable Christmas Carol. Every three days a new community group steps into a show so full of heart it bursts off the stage. The results of this work are still uncountable, and yet the reverberations are already so easy to see. 

Documentary Video Tells the Story of a New Public Art Monument in Richmond

“A Monument to Maggie” explores the decades-long community effort to develop a monument honoring civil rights hero Maggie L. Walker

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Monument to Maggie tells the story of the development and unveiling of a monument to civil rights hero Maggie L. Walker, which was unveiled after nearly 20 years of efforts led by community and political leaders to help tell another part of Richmond's history.

Relating to each other as whole people

Our filter bubbles and gated communities (both suburban and barbed) divide us. In this intentional division, it is our responsibility to seek that which is different, to engage with what is uncomfortable, and to soften to our own tenderness in order to grow, together, into the promise of America. This America has not yet existed but the potential is there. How, in this time of rapid and sometimes overwhelming change, can the arts alter the face and heart of America?

National Business Leaders Discuss Leveraging the Arts for Employee Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The Business Roundtable is part of a series of convenings Americans for the Arts hosts to gather insight and best practices from leaders in all sectors, and is designed to address the needs of businesses across industries looking to engage and retain a diverse workforce by incorporating the arts into their portfolios, and to strengthen and diversify their talent and their brand. The roundtable was bookended with an example of an arts-based experience that the Arts & Business Council of New York encourages the corporate community to employ in its approach to addressing DEI goals in thoughtful and innovative ways.

Questions to Begin a Conversation about (Re)Designing Your Organization for Equity

As we approach the upcoming National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Memphis, I’m excited to enter a new conversation about the possibilities for our sector that can be unlocked by embracing a designer’s mentality to address the critical need to diversify our audiences, our leadership, and our organizations.

A Perspective on Accessibility

I’ve long held that audiences with disabilities, including deaf audiences, would benefit from being considered from a marketing perspective and understood from a multi-cultural standpoint, rather than a strictly legal requirement/service perspective.

Advocate with Grace

I had the honor of creating the Kennedy Center Youth Council (KCYC) in Spring 2016 with a specific mission of investigating how the Kennedy Center can positively impact and be positively impacted by youth. The KCYC founding was inspired by the Kennedy Center’s yearlong celebration of the centennial of John F. Kennedy’s birth, which included the exploration of citizen artistry, defined as using the arts for positive social impact. One of our most extraordinary KCYC members, an embodiment of the citizen artist ideology, is Grace Dolan-Sandrino. Grace, a 16-year old senior at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, has accomplished more than seasoned professionals twice her age.

I Grew Up in a Museum

At the age of 5 I could recite the definition of genocide and explain to people the history of California and its first actions to eliminate Native Americans as a state. My knowledge of the events that are commonly hidden from textbooks did not make me the popular kid in school. I was picked on, not only by kids, but by teachers. I was a know-it-all and viewed by my teachers as a challenge. My mom, the executive director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, recognized that the problems Native children face today are not different from the ones that she faced as a child. To combat the misinformation and stereotypes surrounding our people, she turned to the arts.

Postcards from the Field—Part 2!

This week, we present the final installment of our Diversity in Arts Leadership intern profile series. For 25 years, the Arts & Business Council of New York has been hosting the DIAL internship program as an investment in a more equitable arts management field. This summer, 12 interns from all over the country have descended upon arts nonprofits in New York City for ten weeks to explore and build skills in arts administration and leadership.

The Role Museums Play in Social Activism

The choice of museums to take a stand is unique to each institution, and it’s complicated, layered, and specific to the geographical location and political climate of the region. In the meantime, artists will continue to create works that question our existence and boundaries; be responsive to the emotional, social, political, and religious world around them; and ask the important questions that move us all forward as aware global citizens. Museums and cultural institutions that support contemporary artists will continue to support them, whether through curatorial or educational programming.

Expanding the Arts Ecosystem in Malawi

Malawi has no shortage of artists. What’s needed is a more robust arts ecosystem in which artists can grow and thrive. There is no question that the arts are critical to fostering human development, establishing identity through shared cultural heritage, bolstering democracy, and protecting human rights. It is high time that international donors and the Malawian government realized that one of the country’s greatest resources—arts and culture—remains largely untapped.

Loving the Question of Beauty

Why is beauty, a word often included in definitions of aesthetics, missing from the list of 11 attributes of excellence in the Aesthetic Perspectives framework? It is a question that prompted many conversations during the making of the framework as we wrestled with exclusive connotations of “taste” and what is “beautiful.” I posit that the sum total of the 11 aesthetic attributes complexifies beauty and provides a framework for reconsidering what is beauty in Arts for Change. 

Social Transformation Under the Sheltering Sky of Aesthetics

The integrity and transparency with which we conduct ourselves at the National Public Housing Museum is extremely important to everyone involved. This is work where the process is as vital as the result itself. And we intend to evaluate the so-called “excellence” of our efforts in how much justice we help to create in the world. The Aesthetic Perspectives framework emerges at a key moment for our work, as both a blessing and offering. It opens up a utopian and expansive new terrain for how to reflect on work that is meant to be socially engaged and transformative.

The Case for Complexity

Change requires doing things differently, in new, creative, and risk-taking ways. Public Matters wants to see the arts recognized as a critical element of civic life and of a healthy community. Doing so requires pushing beyond standardized conceptions of who or what an artist is and does. The Aesthetic Framework can play a role in this conversation by expanding the appreciation of what this work entails and what it can achieve. Openly embracing risk-taking is essential, within the arts and in partnerships with historically risk-averse disciplines and agencies seeking better outcomes.

Complex Movements: Artists Put the Framework to Use

For the past seven years, we have been developing super-hybrid work that pushes us to seek new ways to define quality, integrity, and success. After many years of development and touring, we wanted to understand and be able to talk about this work among ourselves and with others who are working similarly. Throughout the project, we tried developing surveys ourselves and with support from other people in the field. We got some useful feedback but most of it didn’t get to the heart of both the social justice and artistic goals of the work. Aesthetic Perspectives helped us do that.

Aesthetics of Process in a City Master Plan in Western Sydney, Australia

The Future of Penrith/Penrith of the Future came out of the C3West initiative (community, commerce, contemporary art), and demonstrates how partnerships between artists, city councils, urban planners, architects, and businesses have resulted in positive social outcomes where communities reimagine urban life, establish relationships to place, and experience what art can be and do outside the museum. The C3West model challenges the orthodoxies of community art by bringing in civic and business partners, tapping into sources of money that would not normally be available to artists.

Enough with the Tea Already

At the MAP fund, we want panelists to be passionate advocates for artists and share their unique perspectives; the problem is that those preferences can block their ability to support artistic work that is not reflective of their tastes, expertise, and cultural biases. The Aesthetic Perspectives framework offers a bold new lexicon that greatly improves upon what is often dismissive language used by gatekeepers to assert one dominant aesthetic approach above others.

Changing a Dominant Evaluation Paradigm

Aesthetics and their interpretation are defined by institutionalized notions of excellence, and when artistic work speaks to social justice or traditional practices, its creative aspects are often considered lacking the value assigned by entrenched evaluation standards and practices. The Aesthetic Perspectives framework takes the conversation of evaluation to the next phase as it broadens the frame and brings forth a holistic approach to include and honor alternative attributes to define excellence in arts for change.

Postcards from the Field!

This summer, 12 Diversity in Arts Leadership interns from all over the country have descended upon arts nonprofits in New York City for ten weeks to explore and build skills in arts administration and leadership. This week, six interns are profiled and next week, six more! For 25 years, the Arts & Business Council of New York has been hosting the DIAL internship program as an investment in a more equitable arts management field. Let’s check in on the intern experience so far …

Evaluating the Social Impact of Indigenous Art Projects by Way of Aesthetic Impact

Aesthetic Perspectives firmly positioned our inquiry as “How do we know that this is going well?” as opposed to “How well is this going?” This step was pivotal. As evaluators, we understood our work to be asking the former question. Yet the word “evaluation” often shifted our conversations uncomfortably toward the latter. By returning again and again to the questions in the framework, we were better able to draw out stories and to identify the projects’ specific impacts. As a result, the final impact evaluation report presents a textured set of findings that allows artists, funders, and communities to see the difference these projects have made.

Validating the Democracy of the Arts

For a very long time, the criteria for excellence in the arts have been owned by a particular body of experts who generally have a condescending view of the quality of art developed in community-based and social change programs and projects. These credentialed “experts” hold to a definition of quality largely based in an “art for art’s sake” paradigm. However, this definition loses the connection with the vast majority of people who live in the country, as well as the vast range of arts that is produced here and the range of reasons for which people make art. Art is for many sakes, including but not limited to art’s sake (whatever that restriction means in practice).

The Spirits Sitting on My Shoulder

Maybe these are familiar to you: you have a great idea but you cannot get it off the ground because funders cannot see its worth; or, worse yet, you cannot get the community you want to come see it to actually come. Those are real problems. So, that’s when the Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change could beautifully help guide our creations, and to truly engage community. 

A Slap Upside the Head: Attending to power, privilege, and cultural context in panel process

As grantmakers, we distribute scarce resources, so I worry when panels cannot have an open, honest discussion about important issues like cultural appropriation and how that might result in how we mete out funds. If tokenism limits the ability of people of color to impact grant decisions, or panel dynamics shut down discussions about uncomfortable issues, we are not doing our jobs. The 11 attributes offered in Aesthetic Perspectives provide a new framework for evaluating applications that could facilitate productive and meaningful panel meetings.

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