*This is the first of three writings sharing how the arts can transform communities through the power of creativity. Recently, I attended the Americans for the Arts 2017 Annual Convention in San Francisco. Despite looming federal cuts, attendees left energized and empowered. The arts will prevail…
This year, the Americans for the Arts held its annual convention in beautiful San Francisco. After submitting an application, I received a Registration Scholarship to attend. As a result, the full cost of registration for the main convention was waived. It was an incredible opportunity to meet national arts advocates and represent Richmond, California.
My interest in applying to the convention was to engage, network, and seek strategies to strengthen artistic networks in my community. As a Public Art Advisory Committee member and Richmond Arts & Culture Commissioner, I’ve seen firsthand how art can positively engage underserved and underrepresented communities. Unfortunately, a Neighborhood Public Art Mini-Grant program has been eliminated from Richmond’s budget. In addition, my city has been working on implementing a % for Art Ordinance. We have encountered resistance from the BIA (Building Industry Association), the same organization represented by PLF (Pacific Legal Foundation- the oldest conservation/libertarian public interest law firm) suing the City of Oakland over their art ordinance.
Due to new political realities, my hope for the convention was to discover new community mobilization strategies to counter conservative organizations like BIA and the PLF currently fighting against public art. This would deeply benefit local organizations and communities. In addition, would share my experience and knowledge with art leaders, advocates, and citizens.
The convention delivered and more. It was a three-day event packed with incredible information and individuals. My day started on Friday June 16th with The Arts, Justice, and Equality discussion. It highlighted the inspiring Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. He shared his life story, experiences, and work advocating for incarceration reform along with justice. Deborah Cullinan, Executive Director at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco introduced and thoughtfully interviewed Mr. Stevenson. The powerful talk left over 1000 attendees speechless- acknowledging how humanity’s inadequacies can be key to changing broken systems.
Next stop was the Arts and Politics in the Trump Era session including Sofia Klatzker (Executive Director for Arts for LA), Kevin Jones (art journalist for KQED), Nina Ozlu Tunceli (Executive Director of the Americans for the Arts Action Fund), and David Reid (Policy Advisor for Brownsten Hyatt Farber Schreck). According to the Americans for the Arts Federal Advocacy Update: “The President’s budget calls for a total elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other cultural grant-making agencies.” It is essential for advocates to remain resilient and active by building networks and coalitions. Support for the arts must be approached from a personal and bipartisan perspective.
At the Creative Peaceful Resistance discussion with speaker Lorna Gonsalves (Executive Director for Creative Peaceful Resistance), she shared how local youth were arrested fighting against participants in a Neo-Nazi march in Toledo, Ohio. Lorna employed community-based art and mindfulness techniques with the youth. Her groundbreaking approach has become a template that creative expression can promote positive resistance.
The Federal Policy/Local Impact for the Creative Economy session featured Narric Rome (Vice President of Government Affairs and Arts Education for the Americans for the Arts) and Kerry Adams Hapner (Director of Cultural Affairs and Deputy Director of Economic Development of the City of San Jose). The panel explored strategies on how the economy can work for creative and small business entrepreneurs. Local, state, and national governments have resources that arts can utilize. In addition, advocates must organize support for legislative that provides programs and loans to the creative economy.
My brain was packed with inspiration and information. This was only the first day! Time to head back home to reflect, refocus, and refresh. It was a gift to witness a large community of advocates collaborating and working together. Despite national politics, the arts are alive, organized, and thriving.