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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Several years ago, as I struggled to further define and understand my own work as an artist, my mentor and friend asked me one simple question “Are you doing healing work or just making art about something?” It took me more than two years to answer that question. Longer still to understand what she meant. Even longer to understand what it truly means to be accountable to myself, the community, those that came before, and those yet to be born. As a community-based artist, organizer, and occasional urban farmer, my creative practice is rooted in exploring and expanding methodologies that utilize art as a vehicle for dialogue, social change, and community healing. For several years, however, what I did not do: interrogate and explore the moral and ethical implications of working in community. Beyond a trendy catch-phrase, what did I mean when I said community healing?
In response to the prompt for this writing: yes, I have been at the forefront of critical changes, and I can identify the factors empowering me to do so. Those changes, centered on an inclusive understanding of what constitutes “American art,” will certainly continue to motivate my work. As I settle into my new role, however, I realize that my power to create change in the arts is rooted in a desire to encourage students and my peers to take a beat, and ask ourselves if and when we are seeking change for change’s sake. Is forward always the best direction? In my hours of conversation and archival dives, it is apparent to me every day that many of today’s issues are not unique.
When I first moved out to Western Massachusetts I realized quickly that there was a budding arts community. Specifically, in regard to theater arts, all of the shows and showcases being put forward were stories featuring white European-centric actors/characters and their struggles and strife. Where were the Black/Latinx characters? The ones that weren’t treated racially and/or stereotyped? Where were the fully developed main characters of color that had full depth and breadth? Then came “In the Heights” and the “Lin-Volution” (Lin-Manuel Miranda) of the arts began. That show changed my outlook and perspective on what the arts should look like—they should reflect and relate to the people you are trying to reach. This is what spurred my vision for the Palante Theater company. I wanted to bring shows to the community which would highlight the struggle, sacrifices, and similarities that many Latinx individuals, like myself, experience every day.
In my role as an arts administrator for an organization whose focus is on community development, I have been committed to understanding and strengthening my local arts ecosystem through my work to provide direction and ensure its relevancy. It is imperative for arts leaders and administrators to not just think out of the box, but also to work outside of it in order to help the arts field evolve and stay relevant, particularly with changes in funding, patronage, and social value. Arts-integrated community development allows arts and non-arts leaders to support their arts ecosystem while creating solutions for community issues. It’s not easy work, especially when you’re new to it. In my experience, I have found that it requires 7 P’s for Power.
When my mother died I felt a shift. When my first nephew was born, I felt another shift. Both events happened in the span of six months. Suddenly, theatre as I knew it didn’t matter in the same way anymore. At the exact same time my journey with mentor Diane Rodriguez of Center Theatre Group, with the support of a TCG Future Leaders Grant, allowed me to make a living working in theatre. The grant, and Diane’s network, unlocked new opportunities that I had long dreamed about. One day I realized that for me theatre was bigger than me, that my family was bigger than me, that the remaining three years that I would share with my elderly aunt and the unknown years I would spend with my nephew (plus two additional nephews later) was bigger than me. I was no longer moved solely by trying to be a powerful director and a mover and shaker of the theatre sector; there were many things bigger than me that I had responsibility for.
As artists, it’s our job to tell stories and to ask questions. The great “masterpieces” I play as a symphonic musician were written to tell the stories of communities, as much as they were written for what we might perceive as some grandiose idea of individual expression. I have dedicated my life to studying and performing the works of these great masters, largely in part because I will always be humbled by their craft and their music. We will always be humbled by the opportunity to hear—and play—something new in the music we love. But we have to ask the question—do we truly reflect the vibrancy and power of our communities just by playing the music of old, dead, white men? What’s our modern day “Messiah”? What is the sound of America, today, now?
The arts field has begun to open its minds and hearts to the chorus of voices that have been on the outside for far too long. Many organizations are (finally) taking a critical look internally to investigate and interrogate the many ways in which the field has been built upon, and continues to perpetuate, problematic practices that demonstrate bias against under-represented groups. A lot of the changes have been procedural, to date. There are many of us waiting with bated breath to see if practical change occurs and is maintained. Despite the psychological and emotional hurdles many artists and arts administrators of color experience during their respective journeys in the field, we have hope. This year, Americans for the Arts’ Emerging Leaders Council wanted to show gratitude for that hope by offering a substantive means of acknowledgement through this week’s blog salon.
It is exciting and remarkable news that the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in music went to rapper Kendrick Lamar for his album DAMN. Lamar is the first composer outside of the classical or jazz arenas to be awarded a Pulitzer. And one of the critical subtexts of his win is the message that it sends about how musical boundaries are uncontained—they are breaking down. For too long we have seen art and music as a function of silos—pop here, classical over there, jazz somewhere else, you get the idea. It doesn’t work anymore. It is artificial. In fact, I would argue that the worst thing that ever happened to classical music was when it became walled off from the broader culture early in the 20th century.
Laura Ramberg is a ceramicist, sculptor, and dancer who has been working as an artist in the Lawrence, Kansas community for the past 40 years. A true innovator and creative pioneer, she has taught art classes three times a week at the Douglas County Juvenile Detention Center in Lawrence for two decades. Working with literally hundreds of students over 20 years, she has witnessed fluctuations in policy, changes in facilities, and the digital revolution in youth culture. She has experienced firsthand how art can help people in crisis in the moment, but also how it can change their lives. Arts Education Council member Margaret Weisbrod Morris sat down with Laura to hear about her experiences working with incarcerated youth.
In informed discussions about the role of the artist when communities undergo change, words like privilege, displacement, and tools of gentrification often come up. The point is not that the blame for the detrimental effects of gentrification lies in the artist—of course there are much larger forces at play. Rather, the arts are being used as a tool on the path to displacement. If national trends are any indication, the artists who encroach as community outsiders in fact have a stake similar to longtime residents in the process of gentrification. Across the country, the artists initially involved in neighborhood “transformations” are themselves pushed out as rents rise. Artists and arts organizations have an opportunity to recognize their place in the system, and to take responsibility in it.
There’s an important role arts education can play in relation to school violence: prevention. Since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, Maine high schools have had access to Building Community Through the Arts, a performing arts program that lowers social barriers and builds trust within the classroom. The Maine Alliance for Arts Education sends professional theater and dance educators into high school academic classrooms to engage all the students in the class in creating an original drama or dance piece together over eight hours of class time during school hours. The group experience is daunting at first for many students, and many are initially reluctant, but by the end the students feel differently about each other and about theater and dance itself. A pre- and post-test administered to each class, designed by the University of Maine, gives us the data that confirms this.
This spring break season has seen an increase in the numbers of students, teachers, and arts advocates choosing civic engagement over a hedonistic week at the beach. As engagement in the arts for positive impact towards civic engagement and social justice continues to trend up, community building around organizations and practitioners working in social practice becomes increasingly important. So I reached out to Nicole Dowd, Program Manager of Halcyon Arts Lab—a newly launched residency and incubator program for artists working in social justice in Washington, DC—to learn insights gained from the first full year of the program. With local influences and resources ranging from Capitol Hill to an actively engaged tri-state area with interests in arts, policy, civic engagement, and everything in between, visiting artists to the Halcyon Arts Lab are welcomed into a profoundly energetic creative environment.
At Lighthouse Elementary in Queens, NY, the kids love to dance. They just never expected it to be tap dance. That’s where ArtistYear AmeriCorps Fellow Crystal Simon comes in. “When I told them no hip-hop dancing—they fought me tooth and nail. But once we actually put our shoes on and we actually started to make noise the kids’ face lit up! They were enjoying it. And they would even come to me in the halls and be like, ‘Ms. Simon! I’ve been practicing! I’ve been practicing!’” ArtistYear is the first national service program dedicated to partnering with school districts to provide every underserved student in America with access to arts education through a year of national service. ArtistYear trains and supports AmeriCorps members to serve as full-time teaching artists alongside established arts educators or classroom teachers in federally-designated Title I schools.
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 arts are all about stories—often small, always meaningful. This advocacy season, find your stories and pair them with the research-based findings in the “10 Reasons to Support the Arts.” Yours will be an advocacy visit that is not soon forgotten.
It’s no surprise that women are underrepresented in the art world. Left out of textbooks, exhibitions, and museum collections, women artists often face an uphill battle to get the recognition they deserve. The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) recently announced a new initiative, Matrons of the Arts, to help change that. The movement highlights female-identified artists in the Museum’s permanent collection and around the world. Inspired in part by the "name five women artists" challenge put on by the National Museum of Women in the Arts—and playing off the phrase patron of the arts—this campaign seeks to bring the public’s attention to women who have been and continue to be major figures in the world of art.
I was excited to enter Randolph High School back in 1980, mostly because of its thriving music program. I couldn’t wait to sing in the different choruses, and to audition for the competitive show choir. Yet when I arrived at school, I learned that, as a result of Proposition 2 ½, music had been cut from the high school curriculum—along with other reductions to busing, foreign languages, sports, and library staff. I was devastated. My arts education came to a sudden end, but my education as an arts advocate was just beginning. Along with other students and parents, I wrote letters and attended meetings, imploring administrators not to abandon the music program. And our efforts began to pay off.
On February 14, 2018, seventeen people, including students and adults, were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Since this tragedy, the voices of young people from the community have been lifted through their dynamic advocacy to call for reform to national, state, and local gun- and mental health-related policies. Many of the strong skills that they are using for their advocacy came from their immersion and studies in arts education. As the school re-opens and our lawmakers continue important discussions as a result of this tragedy, I hope that young people in every community across our nation continue to embrace the arts to inspire change in their communities, in states, and in Washington, DC. While nothing can lessen this tragedy, the arts are one way for people to find solace and strength.
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.
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.
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.
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.