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. 

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. 

Family and Community: Honoring “Our Inspiration” Maggie L. Walker

I am the great, great-granddaughter of Maggie Walker and am truly honored and humbled to be related to this magnificent woman. She is an important character not only in Richmond history, but also in the history of African Americans and women. I am blessed to be able to tell her story and even more grateful to be able to drive down Broad Street in Richmond and see her standing in her rightful place. Monuments like hers are important in a city like Richmond, where Confederate ghosts loom. By having this public art in the center of the city, it serves to educate people who may not have known her and her contributions to the community.

Creating Community and Connection through Creating Public Art

When I started working on the Maggie Walker project, I had no idea of the magnitude and importance of the project, nor its national significance and impact it would have upon our community. Now when I walk by her statue, I see community members feeling connections to each other and sensing the investment made into this place of memorial created with public art. My own motivations to work in the field of public art stem from the compelling need to create more beauty, joy, and connection in the world. In using the arts to tell our stories, and in the process of working together as a group to make a project happen, we find community connections as beautiful as the pieces of art themselves. 

Monument to Change

Over the past year, public monuments have been scrutinized and reviewed: What are the roles of these artworks? What relevance do they play in history? In contemporary culture? And, what do they say about the community where they are located? Richmond, Virginia has been looking at their monuments and considering what is missing for quite some time. As Americans for the Arts was looking to enhance the tools we offer to the public art field, the story of a new monument to civil rights activist Maggle L. Walker in Richmond proved to be an ideal subject for a short-form documentary video.

Enacting Change in the Performing Arts World Begins with Changing the Conservatory Culture

Twenty-five years ago American orchestras began a conversation about what would happen to excellence in performance if orchestras broadened their missions to focus on education and community engagement. The fear, unfounded, was that excellence would be compromised. The opposite was true. Today, administrators of top performing arts organizations are begging for those of us who train artists to start training like it’s the 21st century and not the 19th. More than new skills—which is certainly part of it—this requires something more difficult: a change in the mindset of musicians. We must understand we’re all in the audience development business.

Museums and Creative Aging

In the United States, 1 in 10 adults age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia. As the size of the U.S. population age 65 and older continues to increase, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s or other dementias will escalate rapidly. Although cultural institutions have created programs for this population for many years, how these programs are created—how educators are intentional in the works of art they select for the program, how much research and evaluation is put into a session, etc.—are growing and becoming more substantial. So, how are we doing it? And are these programs effective?

Artists’ Voices Ring Through Civic Dialogue and Municipal Engagement

The role of the artist is changing. In the midst of these challenging times, civic engagement has become the focus of attention across many sectors and fields. More than ever, the arts are promoting greater awareness and understanding of community issues, contributing to shifts in thinking and in attitude. I see artists and arts organizations across the country being integrated into practices of civic engagement, and applying the power of artistic imagination to inform, inspire, engage, and motivate social action. And I continue to applaud state and municipal governments across the U.S. for embracing such collaborations.

Skin In The Game In the Fight for Arts Funding

Art has the power to transform our lives and strengthen our communities. In spite of this, the future of our beloved arts has experienced a hair-raising roller coaster ride over this past year. Like many of you reading this post, a fire has ignited within me to stand-up for what I believe in—and, I believe in the arts. When the going gets tough, we must speak loud, stand up tall, and refuse to back down. The arts are the most vibrant and expressive of the vital pillars that make up our great nation. In this fight for the brightest and most prosperous future for the arts, we all have skin in the game.

Undoing Power Dynamics by Incorporating Youth and Community Voices

By wishing to incorporate youth and their communities in decision-making for initiatives that are intended to engage them and their peers, organizations and program managers are (knowingly or unknowingly) giving these young people a lesson on power dynamics, the power of organizing, and policy development via focus grouping, researching, and consulting with experts (aka themselves). By welcoming youth into the decision-making process, we can begin to show them how decisions—within our organizations and more broadly in society—could be made differently. Let’s lean into it and, in fact, give these young folks more power over programs that are meant to be for them, particularly in organizations that have little or no history of incorporating young people in admin-level spaces.

Do we want to foster the arts or do we want to foster creativity?

Way before immersive theater or virtual reality were trendy, Robert E. Gard spoke to the idea of an experience that is creatively valuable because the experience of the “audience” becomes the story itself. We see this in role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, as well as new forms of immersive theater like Sleep No More or Then She Fell, in which the experience of participating becomes its own creative energy. I think these creative endeavors resonate with people because they are grounded in each participant’s lived experience (rather than universal plots or a reflection of someone else’s perspective) and, as such, they cannot help but be authentic. 

Refinery29 Seeks to Be the Spark and Turn It Into Art

Thursday, October 12, 2017

At the intersection of technology, branding, and activism, digital-media company Refinery29’s 29Rooms installation succeeded in intersecting all of these, truly turning it into art. For its third year, the annual event opened its doors during New York Fashion Week (NYFW) to a mass of visitors in the Williamsburg, Brooklyn neighborhood and brought forth the most powerful artists and collaborators in hopes of raising awareness on a variety of issues.

UPDATED! Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts for National Arts & Humanities Month

October is National Arts & Humanities Month, a time to celebrate and champion the arts locally and nationally. The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. The arts bring us joy, help us express our values, and build bridges between cultures. The arts are also a fundamental component of a healthy community—strengthening them socially, educationally, and economically—benefits that persist even in difficult social and economic times. The effective arts advocate needs a full quiver of case-making arrows to articulate the value of the arts in as many ways as possible—from the passionately inherent to the functionally pragmatic. To help fill your quiver, I offer an updated Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts.

Daily Inspiration to Fight the Good Fight: Gard’s “To Change the Face and Heart of America”

As many of you are aware, the Wisconsin Idea at public universities is under attack in many states—one of them sadly being Wisconsin. Allocations by states to their universities are either reflecting this ideology or simply the tough choices created by fiscal reality. Lacking the affluent alumni and profit-generating research, arts and humanities departments in particular are in peril. This flies in the face of Gard’s own legacy in Wisconsin. There is a forgetting, as Gard points out, that the arts “enable the individual to explore the creative potential of his intellectual and emotional self, and … can result in new understanding of the human environment.”

Breaking Barriers at the San Diego International Airport through Dance

Performers co-create monthly performances at the airport in both pre- and post-security sites, including baggage claim, pedestrian bridges, escalators, near fountains and waiting gates, curbside, and at popular lunch spots. The approach has been, in part, to create scores (creative structures) that have a lot of improvisational movement so that the performers can adapt to the way people are moving through the physical environment. Each and every time, we take people by surprise as they encounter the performance happening around them in an unexpected way. 

Leading from the Front: Arts Advocacy Strategies for the Public Sector

What does adaptive leadership and effective advocacy look like for those working in the public sector? Over the course of the past year, I began seriously wondering how public employees might be able to take an active role in raising political support for cultural agencies and state arts councils, within the legal restrictions that apply to their self-advocacy. I interviewed arts leaders in six states to find out how they were steering their agencies to serve many diverse publics within their state in spite of significant political and economic challenges—and in some cases, a lingering threat of elimination.

Advocating for the Every Day Advocate

I often have students or fellow artists ask me how I got into advocacy, and I’m happy to share my experiences and strategies with them. This year, I launched a whole new advocacy campaign: I reached out to my friends, family, peers, and more and shared with them my everyday advocacy efforts that were more traditionally focused on legislators and policy makers. My hope was that by de-mystifying the advocacy process, more people would get involved. I wanted to inspire a whole new group of Every Day Advocates.

Why In-District Advocacy Matters: An Insider’s Perspective

Working for a Representative from my home state of Tennessee was immensely rewarding, particularly because my office placed high priority on constituent services. If constituents took the time to schedule a meeting to discuss their concerns, chances were high that the Representative would do what he could to co-sponsor the bill in question, write a letter of inquiry, or make a speech on the House floor. However, Capitol Hill isn’t the only place to connect with your legislator. Meetings right where constituents live and work—at home in the district—can have just as much impact.

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.

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.

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. 

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