Designing Our Destiny

00:00:08 - 00:33:09
Nolen Bivens
Hello, everyone. I'm Nolen Bivens, President and CEO here at Americans for the Arts. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who participated in our Strategic Realignment Process over the past year. This has been an incredible journey. So where are we now? I'm excited to launch the Shaping Our Destiny phase of our transformation. This takes all the feedback and knowledge we have gained from you and charts a course forward to better serve and engage the arts and cultural communities and all of you.

00:34:04 - 00:58:22
Nolen Bivens
Strengthening communities through the arts is our North Star. You will hear the term equitable advocacy, the lens through which all our decisions are now made, and that will guide this important and transformative work. We continue to welcome your feedback and thank you, as always, for your partnership and tremendous support in shaping our collective future at Americans for the Arts.

00:07:07 - 00:35:21
Americans for the Arts has worked to ensure everyone has the opportunity to engage and participate in the arts, for more than six decades. However, as the world shifted, Americans for the Arts failed to keep up with the evolution of our nation. Events of 2020 forced us to address the organizational concerns about internal and external inequities.

00:36:00 - 01:11:19
Publicly and privately, we were called on to elevate racial equity, diversity, transparency, and accountability. We needed to eliminate gatekeeping, be collaborative, and be more inclusive of community-based and grassroots arts organizations. For staff well-being, we needed to be receptive to solid concerns about our work environment. We heard the call, embraced a path of transformation, and began a journey toward our evolution.

01:11:19 - 01:24:03
In early 2021, the staff of Americans for the Arts engaged in a process to assess the workplace culture through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

01:28:12 - 01:33:23
Nolen Bivens:
Art is a part of the human experience. It makes the world a better place.

01:33:23 - 01:58:01
With new executive leadership and a team of consultants to help guide our path forward, we launched a Strategic Realignment Process (SRP) in December 2021. Our purpose was to identify the specific and unique role of Americans for the Arts within the arts and culture community, and to align our mission with their needs.

02:00:05 - 02:37:15
We heard overwhelmingly that how we do our work is as important as what we do. We must center equity and inclusion across all our work. We learned that stakeholders want Americans for the Arts to continue our advocacy and research efforts, but in support of the arts and culture ecosystem. Our work with local arts agencies was validated, but we needed to create reciprocal relationships, uplift the work of others, build coalitions and engage grassroots leadership.

02:38:04 - 03:15:05
The SRP has laid the foundation for our transformation, including the necessary internal journey of healing and rebuilding trust. Strengthening communities through the arts is our North Star. Central to achieving this is adopting equitable advocacy as the lens through which all our decisions are made. This approach centers equity in all our organizational practices, interactions and programing. The natural progression of this journey is also evolving our organizational image to visually reflect our transformation.

03:15:12 - 03:22:01
Focused on the new spirit and path of a renewed Americans for the Arts.

03:25:07 - 03:37:08
Linda "Mama Linda" Goss:
There once was a caterpillar who was sad as she could be. She felt that she didn't belong, didn't fit in the community.

03:37:08 - 03:57:10
We remain encouraged and inspired by the work that led to this transformation, and we are excited about the work ahead and for the more impactful and inclusive Americans for the Arts that we are building together!

Learn about our Strategic Realignment Process (SRP)


Read the full narrative >

00:00:03 - 00:37:00
Dr. Genna Styles-Lyas:
Hi there. My name is Dr. Genna Styles-Lyas and I am the Director of AEP 6 Community Engagement and Equity at Americans for the Arts. I'm also a mom, a teaching artist, a theater artist, a performing artist, an arts administrator, a social justice advocate, and a lover of all things arts and culture. I wanted to work for AFTA (Americans for the Arts) because I love the idea of being able to make a national impact and to work with communities across the country to continue to advocate for the value of arts and culture.

00:37:02 - 01:08:03
Dr. Genna Styles-Lyas:
My background as a teaching artist and a community engagement person and an advocate for the community has really done a well - put me in a great position to really make an impact, I'm hoping, in the position I am in now where I'm working with the Arts and Economic Prosperity Study and the research team at AFTA (Americans for the Arts) and I am engaging with 399 communities across all 50 states and D.C. and Puerto Rico.

01:08:12 - 01:27:10
Dr. Genna Styles-Lyas:
And I'm working with them on a day to day basis, strategizing about and brainstorming and affirming and questioning about how we can create value and how we can measure the impact of the arts and culture across the nation.

01:28:03 - 01:56:18
Mandi Lee:
My name is Mandi Lee and I am the Senior Membership Manager here at Americans for the Arts. My background is as an actress. I studied theater in undergrad and graduate school, and after working as a professional actor for many years, I moved into Arts Administration. I love working for Americans for the Arts because it gives me the opportunity to share my passion for art, for theater, for dance music with so many people across the country.

01:57:01 - 02:20:00
Mandi Lee:
And I know that the work that I'm doing is helping to make sure that their jobs and work they're doing on the ground, it's easier. It's exciting working for a service organization because we are out there in the field working to help make sure that local arts agencies, arts organizations, are able to continue to do the amazing work that they've been doing for many years.

02:20:08 - 02:29:18
Mandi Lee:
And so my job and so many of the jobs here at Americans for the Arts are all about helping to make that work better, stronger and more accessible to more people.

02:30:07 - 02:51:17
Adrianne Troilo:
My name is Adrianne Troilo, and I've been with Americans for the Arts for exactly one year. I am the Vice President of People and Culture. I am a 20 year human resources professional, and most of those 20 years I've spent working in the nonprofit sector. I am bringing my talent and expertise to AFTA (Americans for the Arts) as we rebuild the people and culture function here.

02:52:04 - 03:17:16
Adrianne Troilo:
Our focus is going to be on people first, and my goal is to advocate and advise and I am excited for the future of AFTA (Americans for the Arts). I love to support the arts and by working at the Americans for the Arts, I feel in some way I'm supporting on a national stage the arts as well as for local arts agencies supporting them as well. This is something that speaks directly to my heart and this is why I love AFTA (Americans for the Arts).

03:18:02 - 03:36:23
Jay Dick:
My name is Jay Dick, and for almost 20 years I've been the Senior Director of State and Local Government Affairs here at Americans for the Arts, and I have a great job. I get to travel the country, learning and listening from our members, from the smallest cities to the largest states about what they feel is important about the arts and arts advocacy in America.

03:37:08 - 04:09:23
Jay Dick:
People don't realize that Americans the Arts has had some name changes over the past 60 years. We used to start out as the American Assembly of Local Arts Agencies representing local arts agencies. Imagine that. And so people don't realize that we're - our core focus is at the local level. Of course, advocating at the federal level affects the local level, but at the end of the day, it's those local advocates, our members, our supporters who are out there every day educating, working to make sure that the arts and culture have a place in our city.

04:10:12 - 04:48:10
Laura Martin:
Hi, my name is Laura Martin. I am a fairly seasoned nonprofit professional. I've been with many major national nonprofit organizations, all based in the Washington, D.C. area, including the Red Cross national headquarters, where I did fundraising and disaster relief -- in-kind donations. I've been at Americans for the Arts almost exactly a year. My position at Americans for the Arts as Executive Office Manager and I primarily support our President and CEO, as well as Chief of Staff and ensure the smooth functioning of the Executive Office, both internally for staff as well as for our external partners.

04:48:15 - 05:25:03
Laura Martin:
I think I bring a unique set of skill sets from many years in the nonprofit industry to Americans for the Arts and my role here I have done a lot in human resources and office administration, operations, meetings and events, fundraising, working with board of directors. And I bring all of those things to my Executive Office role here to help support the President and CEO and the work that he's doing to help support our board of directors and to sort of be a conduit for the organization to the Executive Office and be a support and add value to our staff and to our external partners.

05:26:05 - 05:51:23
Laura Martin:
I am so excited to be at Americans for the Arts because I'm extremely passionate about the arts and culture, and it was really thrilling for me to have the opportunity to sort of bring together my extensive nonprofit experience with something that I'm extremely passionate about and I think is truly a part of the human experience and so incredibly important in our country and beyond.

05:52:07 - 06:10:21
Nolen Bivens:
I'm Nolen Bivens, and I'm the President and CEO at Americans for the Arts. I just completed my first year and it's been an exciting journey. My background is kind of one of those anomalies for most people. I spent 32 years on active duty. I retired as an Army general officer, and many people often ask me, how did I end up in the arts?

06:11:12 - 06:31:17
Nolen Bivens:
And I ended up there because I was looking for a solution to help our young servicemen and women and families, by the way, to deal with the trauma and the results of traumatic pain from combat and long term separations. And in the process of doing that, I wanted to find a solution that allowed them to organically solve and deal with those issues without overexposing themselves in a clinical way.

06:32:11 - 06:55:10
Nolen Bivens:
And I ended up at the doorsteps of the arts and the arts have proven because many of them use the arts as a way to heal, to not get back from what we call post-traumatic stress. But they use it to get post-traumatic strength. And that's so important. And I spent over a decade of my life knitting together arts and cultural organizations along with clinical hospitals, and I'm so excited to do that here at Americans for the Arts.

06:55:16 - 07:19:04
Nolen Bivens:
The people at Americans for the Arts, they amaze me every day. We oftentimes look at the difficult times we go through and you know an organization by how it bounces back and how it's resilient. And I often remind the organization here, you know, it's in the words of Amanda Gorman, you know: we are not broken, we're just unfinished.

07:19:17 - 07:38:15
Nolen Bivens:
And I think as we continue to do those things, I see the fascinating people in this organization come forward and do some very incredible things. You know, sometimes moments of time like this, you know, it's a call out of the out of the ordinary for the extraordinary. And I'm very, very excited to see that in the people.

07:38:16 - 07:50:17
Nolen Bivens:
So in one word, I think the people of Americans for the Arts continue to, the staff members, to amaze me in their quality and their genuine and authentic concern about improving the value of the arts for all Americans.

07:51:08 - 08:16:10
Michael Chodos:
My name is Michael Chodos. I am the Membership and Marketing Coordinator at Americans for the Arts, and I've been here for about three and a half years. Well, I have a background in the arts. I studied theater school and I've done a lot of creative projects over my life, a lot of them theater related, a lot of them not. But I started at Americans for the Arts three and a half years ago with a friend who was also in the theater together in college, brought me into the fold.

08:16:10 - 08:32:22
Michael Chodos:
I got to learn a lot more about what we were doing. I started on the database end and then I started coming forward to be more in the membership area. So I wanted to interact more with people face to face. And I love working at Americans for the Arts because everyone here is so incredibly passionate about what they're doing.

08:33:02 - 09:10:16
John Rubsamen:
I'm John Rubsamen. I'm the Senior Director of Meetings and Events at Americans for the Arts, and I've been here for ten and a half years now. Americans for the Arts really struck me and this opportunity came to me at a time where I was ready for change and going to the next level. I really wanted to focus on an organization that I had personal passion for and going back to my childhood, the arts, specifically music really saved me during very, very, very challenging and difficult times and I am very, very grateful for that.

09:10:16 - 09:29:13
John Rubsamen:
So when the opportunity came to work with the arts at Americans for the Arts, it was a perfect fit of my profession in meetings and events, but also my passion for the arts and recognizing what it had done for me personally as a child.

Meet some of our Staff!

Get to know the power behind our organization, its people!

View all of our staff >

00:00:09 - 00:25:01
Jay Dick:
The Strategic Realignment Process has been a rollercoaster. As a theme park enthusiast, I love roller coasters. Americans for the Arts is over 60 years old and was in desperate need of a refresh. The field and country have changed tremendously over the past 60 years and the Strategic Realignment Process was Americans for the Arts’ opportunity to make systemic changes to embrace today's society.

00:25:21 - 00:55:18
Adrianne Troilo:
It was a tremendous experience for me to be a part of the Americans for the Arts SRP process. To see an organization go through such tremendous change and to pull itself up by its own bootstraps was an experience that I will never forget. I am so excited about where Americans for the Arts is going to go and what this means for the entire staff. The future is really open for Americans for the Arts, and the SRP is going to be our guide to getting there.

00:56:05 - 02:00:05
Laura Martin:
While I am new to Americans for the Arts, I'm not new to the nonprofit sector, and what I have learned over and seen over the last year has been really amazing to me. And I haven't seen it in nonprofits I have been involved with before. They have gone incredibly deep and broad, and the feedback that they have sought from the arts and culture sector and the very diverse cross-cut of that sector and are taking that information and looking forward, looking to be transformative and to better serve the arts and culture communities across the country, in U.S. territories and tribal nations. It's an incredibly exciting time to be at Americans for the Arts to see what's possible and see how we can become better servants of the arts and culture sector and that sort of move the needle forward on issues that are really important to this ecosystem and this space. So I'm excited. I can't wait to see what the next year brings.

02:00:12 - 02:15:00
Mandi Lee:
This is such an exciting time to be working for Americans for the Arts because this spirit of change enables so many creative ideas and opportunities for personal and professional growth.

02:15:20 - 02:26:03
Michael Chodos:
The transition was tough. Not going to sugarcoat that, but I'm confident in our current team's commitment to change in the field and inside the organization. The work is so valuable and I can't wait to see what we do next.

02:27:01 - 02:52:06
John Rubsamen:
Being a part of Americans for the Arts’ Strategic Realignment Process from the beginning has been an intensely rewarding experience. It's rare as an organization to authentically look where you fit, where you are and recognize your shortcomings. So listen, learn, and in our current and most exciting stage, re-imagine how we serve the arts. It gives me hope for an impactful future powered by tangible and equitable advocacy.

02:53:01 - 03:31:08
Dr. Genna Style-Lyas:
There is no perfect institution, and our organization will be no different. However, I think with the centering of belonging and equity in everything that we do, we will be held accountable by the people we serve and the arts and culture industry at large. You know, I'm hopeful that we are earnestly forging a pathway forward. Here's to the journey, y'all.

Staff reflections about our transformational journey.

Meet some of our Board Members!

Deborah Jordy

00:00:13 - 00:26:09
Deborah Jordy:
Deborah Jordy. I am a board member with Americans for the Arts. Oh gosh, I've probably been on the board seven or eight years. Well, I think I've had many lives and as an artist, as an administrator involved with arts and policy, and I think all of that information has helped to, and knowledge, has helped to bring me to a place to think about a well-rounded and kind of multifaceted view for American for the Arts, which is what we are.

00:26:14 - 00:50:23
Deborah Jordy:
The transformation is so important for Americans for the Arts, because it's about how the world is changing and we need to keep pace and think about the future of what America and the arts look like in our country. Contributions come in a lot of ways, and my involvement with Americans for the Arts is really helping cities and states around the country to see the value for them with American for the Arts.

00:51:00 - 01:17:13
Deborah Jordy:
I'm a Westerner and live in Colorado, and so we think highly of what goes on with American for the Arts and how they can engage other organizations and individuals. Americans for the Arts is for all people. It's for all artist organizations, individuals, and those that just are participants in the arts. So we need to create a rich, vibrant world where arts is for all Americans for the Arts.

Ravi Rajan

00:00:07 - 00:20:06
Ravi Rajan:
Hi, how are you? Ravi Rajan: I'm the President of the California Institute of the Arts and I'm an AFTA board member. This is my first year, and so while I've known about the organization for quite some time and known about the work it's done in different fields and in different ways, this is the first time I've been directly involved with the organization.

00:20:06 - 00:40:18
Ravi Rajan:
AFTA is in a period of transition and a period of, I think, thinking about what its future should be, and this is always a very exciting time for organizations. So I feel that since I've been able to, I've done that with Cal Arts, we had a period of visioning and we really have our new strategic framework about what we want to do for the next 50 years moving forward.

00:40:18 - 01:04:05
Ravi Rajan:
So I love working with organizations in these moments, and so it was a real pleasure. The other thing is I have gotten to know Nolen through my service on the board in the last couple of months, and he's a really a tremendous leader. I feel like I learn about being a leader from Nolen with his great experience that he's had as a leader himself and just an empathetic leader that he is.

01:04:19 - 01:35:08
Ravi Rajan:
I think a Americans for the Arts is very lucky to have him at the helm in this kind of transformational moment. I always like to think that we are a product of our experiences, right? And everything that we encounter in life helps us build who we are. So I grew up a brown boy in Oklahoma without too many other peers and for me, so many of the public institutions that were there when I was a kid really helped me find my path.

01:36:01 - 02:01:20
Ravi Rajan:
The public schools had wonderful music programs, art programs. We had a local firehouse that had turned into an art center. Having access to those things and it was really through the expression of other artists understanding and code of shaping issues in society that I started to really even see, okay, I understand my own relationship with society and how this would work.

02:01:20 - 02:25:05
Ravi Rajan:
So for me as a trumpeter, I really started playing probably because of jazz. So Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, I mean, there were so many initial trumpeters who really kind of set the bar where these are the things that they used the music to be able to transcend where they were in their and their context, you know, in society.

02:25:10 - 02:42:12
Ravi Rajan:
And to me, that was super encouraging. It really, really spoke to me, the music really spoke to me in that way. And then to be able to kind of Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright and that there was a there was an exhibition of Romare Bearden at the University Art Museum when I was a kid. And it was really a tremendous thing.

02:42:12 - 03:09:18
Ravi Rajan:
It was the first time there had been a retrospective of Bearden’s work, and there was this interesting confluence of the Black experience in the United States and how essentially the Black community was able to bind together through their creative expression so that they could express that solidarity. And I really felt that I seeing that and engaging that said, well, how important is this in terms of moving society forward?

03:09:18 - 03:36:07
Ravi Rajan:
And, I got hooked, right? At that time it became evident. I really enjoyed working with people and I loved kids. And so I was like, well, I'll be a pediatrician or something. It's always to help kids is what you want to do. And then at some point it just dawned on me that, you know, doctors help people, but artists give people a reason to live, it gives them the essence of what that is.

03:36:08 - 03:57:00
Ravi Rajan:
And I couldn't shake it. And so that was really I guess that's that was the beginning of my path. And I find myself today after having been a practicing artist and still doing projects, but being able to create the conditions for artists to be able to work with one another and continue making work and illuminate our future, to be able to do that.

03:57:00 - 04:13:01
Ravi Rajan:
I always say artists make models of how the world could be, and we kind of need that now more than maybe we have ever before. With so many things changing in the world and so many of the different demographic shifts, it's a really, really important thing. And so it sort of leads me to the work that AFTA is doing as well.

04:13:14 - 05:02:11
Ravi Rajan:
AFTA is a very interesting organization, its own genesis through a series of mergers of different organizations that provided surface to different components of the arts and the arts communities within the 50 states, etc., etc. has been kind of an interesting evolution. But without question, this country needs an advocate, a central advocate, when it when it comes to the policy formation and the work and lives of artists in the United States and importantly, the effect to be able to speak to the effect that artists and the work that they make has on our society in a multitude of ways, right?

05:02:11 - 05:22:21
Ravi Rajan:
And so I think that having that central source in Washington is very, very important. So in my mind, really helping AFTA be that central mouthpiece, that central sort of hub of advocacy at that policy level for our country is really, really important.

Robert Newman

00:00:12 - 00:23:07
Robert Newman:
My name is Robert Newman:. I am a board of directors member for Americans for the Arts and have been a part of the board since 2021. My background in the arts has been one that I think is a little bit nontraditional versus some of our other board members or people who even get involved with Americans for the Arts, which I've always really loved and appreciated.

00:24:00 - 00:50:23
Robert Newman:
So I guess formally my background is in business management and the first eight years of my career were spent all in financial services, working with Morgan Stanley, Neuberger Berman and other institutions to really get an understanding of how businesses work with one another. And for me, arts is always a thing that I express myself through and engaged in outside of the professional realm.

00:52:12 - 01:20:18
Robert Newman:
I've lived in New York, so I'm a Harlem based artist now, and I've lived in New York for about eight years. And through that experience I've had more and more opportunities to engage with arts at all levels, whether that's museums, nonprofits, small school organizations or grassroots efforts, and again, being able to join a board like Americans for the Arts and have that perspective so far has been a fantastic experience.

01:21:01 - 01:55:00
Robert Newman:
One of the things I think that made me maybe a candidate to be on the board was for the last two years of my career in financial services, I was helping to create our DEI department within the firm. I was very involved with the transformational work when it came to culture equity, inclusion. And knowing that AFTA was at a pivotal moment in being able to join at such a time, I think was, one, exciting for me and a new challenge, right?

01:55:11 - 02:36:02
Robert Newman:
Large organizations we know don't turn on a dime. And the first thing that was most surprising to me was my age. I believe I'm, if not the youngest board member, perhaps one of the youngest within the room. And even within the first couple of encounters, I started to see that dynamic and that balance and where the perspective really became much wider because for such a large and well-established organization, it becomes entrenched, it becomes comfortable doing the things that it knows has worked in the past.

02:36:05 - 03:01:20
Robert Newman:
But the problem with that is, again, we close ourselves off to where the world is going and how change needs to happen going forward. So joining the board, I mean, everyone is committed to, I want to say radical change, and sometimes that's a good word, a bad word depending on how people look at it. But in truth, it is radical change.

03:02:10 - 03:33:08
Robert Newman:
We're doing things that we've never done before. We’re thinking in ways that we've never thought, and we're going out and getting feedback from people who otherwise were left feeling kind of alone and disconnected from Americans for the Arts. So adding the new board members, me being able to join in that real reimagining of like what our purpose is and how we interact with folks again has been great for me, and I see the organization only progressing from here.

03:33:16 - 04:03:15
Robert Newman:
I think the biggest thing that I've learned is that equity isn't easy work. I think people hear the word and they understand it philosophically or almost intellectually, that, you know, we should be a partner for everyone, we should actually take feedback, we should use as wide of a perspective as we can. But the thing that has been single handedly, one of the most impressive things, but the biggest eye opener is equity is difficult work.

04:04:03 - 04:29:01
Robert Newman:
It means pulling in key stakeholders. It means taking a step back and being okay with really assessing yourself by where those gaps are. It really requires that you almost go to war with your old mindset and seeing those changes happen in real time, or even from the perspective that I have, I can only imagine at each level is exponentially more difficult.

04:29:08 - 05:01:06
Robert Newman:
Bringing people along, whether it's in the staff or within the field, or folks who haven't even gotten a chance to interact with Americans for the Arts just yet. And I'm happy to be a part of such a committed and honestly hard working team because it's work that has to be integris, true to us. And we have to put the real sweat equity behind it to make sure that is not just said, but is felt and that we get the benefit from actually being more equitable and reaching out to more people.

View our full Board of Directors >

00:01:00 - 00:04:12
We are all Americans for the Arts.

00:04:12 - 00:06:08
Asian Americans for the arts.

00:06:08 - 00:08:05
African Americans for the Arts.

00:08:05 - 00:10:05
Latin Americans for the Arts.

00:10:05 - 00:12:05
Native Americans for the Arts.

00:12:05 - 00:20:02
And more Americans for the Arts. Americans for the Arts. Equitable Advocacy for the Power of the Arts.

We are re-imagining ourselves to better serve the arts and culture community and become stronger partners, ensuring representation of all communities.

The natural progression of this journey is evolving our image to visually reflect our transformation, focused on the spirit and path of a renewed American for the Arts.