*This is the second 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…


Saturday June 17th was a busy day at the Americans for the Arts 2017 Annual Convention in San Francisco!  Loaded up with caffeine and excitement, I was prepared for new intellectual adventures.  The amazing opera singer Breanna Sinclaire greeted attendees.  The transgender artist projected grace and power leaving the audience thankful to witness greatness.

Breanna Sinclaire.

Randy Cohen (Vice President of Research and Policy at the Americans for the Arts) led the Arts, Culture, Economic Prosperity and Beyond session.  Margie Reese (Executive Director for the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts & Culture), Jeff Chang (Executive Director for the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University), Vinitha Watson (Founder and Executive Director of Zoo Labs) and San San Wong (Senior Program Officer, Arts & Creativity Barr Foundation) explored how the economy impacts the arts.  In addition, Cohen stressed how the Nonprofit Arts & Culture Industry results in an incredible $166.3 billion in economic activity in America.  Overall, data needs to be used to help communities not hurt them.  Cohen: “The vibrant arts community is good for local business.”

Randy Cohen.

Drum roll please!  Nancy Pelosi (House Democratic Leader of the United States House of Representatives) was the featured speaker for the Leadership, Politics, and the Arts session.  Robert Lynch (President and CEO of the Americans for the Arts) introduced and interviewed the Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives.  While Abel Lopez (Associate Producing Director for GALA Hispanic Theatre) presented awards celebrating the reinvention and reimagining of the status quo.  Pelosi: “All children thrive with the arts…the arts are the element that are going to bring our country together.”  Our nation must acknowledge content restriction.  In addition, she stressed: “A budget should be a statement of our national values…Public education is fundamental to a democracy.”  Yes, indeed.

Nancy Pelosi.

The How Tech Companies Think about the Arts session included Wendi Norris (Owner of Gallery Wendi Norris) and Drew Bennett (Director of Arts in Residence Program at Facebook).  Emily Peck (Vice President of Private Sector Initiatives for the Americans for the Arts) moderated the discussion.  The panel explored strategies to bridge tech and creative communities through artist residences along with public art.  Bennett: “Art can function as an eye to utility.”  Also, the challenge is to incorporate or curate art into businesses whereas it becomes commonplace and not rare.  Norris: “Good art creates space to create complicated conversations.”  The key is for corporations that have become one-stop campuses to become reasonable community partners by patronizing local businesses.

Wendy Norris and Drew Bennett.

As a full-time artist for almost twenty years, I was fascinated by the Evolving Your Professional Development Services to Meet a Changing Landscape discussion of Ryan Neal (Vice President of Cultural & Community Investment), Talia Bibas (Professional Development Programs Manager of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission), and Ebony McKinney (program officer of the San Francisco Arts Commission).  Neal stressed the importance of “…how to make space for authentic conversation.”  The speakers shared case studies on how to support artistic development within flexible parameters while looking at structural inequalities.  Bibas encouraged professionals to: “Start sharing information…and discover who is the best in the organization to answer questions.”

Ebony McKinney, Ryan Neal, and Talia Bibas.

My last session was Supporting Art’s Role in Moments of Civil Unrest with speakers Kibibi Alanku (artist activist of the Greater Balitmore Cultural Alliance), Roberto Bedoya (Cultural Affairs Manager of the City of Oakland), Carl Atiya Swanson (Associate Director of the Springboard for the Arts), and Mollie Quinlan Hayes (Deputy Director of SouthArts).  The panel discussed artistic strategies in response to social, economic, and racial injustice.  Alanku: “A good response needs to be organic and orchestrated and organized.”  After a crisis, art organizations must be ready to act.  Swanson stressed: “The ability for artists is to provide light and hope in moments like this….getting people to a place where they don’t need us anymore.”  Organizations must evaluate how to begin dialogues with communities.  For my city of Richmond, creative engagement is vital moving forward.  Bedoya’s advice: “Start as the guest- not the savior.”

Mollie Quilan Hayes, Carl Atiya Swanson, Kibibi Alanku, and Roberto Bedoya.

Saturday left me speechless.

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