*This is the last 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…
The Americans for the Arts 2017 Annual Convention concluded on Father’s Day. Taking the train into San Francisco, I felt exhilarated and overwhelmed with the plethora of information provided. It would take time to digest and share.
Sunday’s session started with Talking about Social Value and Practical Impact Together featuring Danielle Brazell (General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs), David Fraher (President and CEO of Arts Midwest), Tatiana Hernandez (Arts Director of Hermera Foundation), and Mara Walker (COO of Americans for the Arts). Hernandez started the morning leading the group with song. This discussion was unique because participants were overwhelmingly engaged. Fraher: “People want connection…We are in the memory business.” The overall sentiment was to encourage creativity in safe and open environments. Advocates need to work on how the arts provide a vital social impact. How we shift mindsets is the question.
The final session titled The Arts, Perseverance and the Power of Optimism of the conference showcased the impeccable Rhodessa Jones (Co-artist Director of Cultural Odyssey and Director of Medea Project). From the Medea Project website: “In 1989, on the basis of material developed while conducting classes at the San Francisco County Jail, Rhodessa Jones created ‘Big Butt Girls, Hard Headed Women’, a performance piece based on the lives of the incarcerated women she encountered. During the work’s creation, Jones and jail officials were made aware of issues that were specific to female inmates, such as guilt, depression, and self-loathing, which arose in response to feelings of failure in the face of community. These issues directly contribute to recidivism among female offenders. Based on this observation, Jones founded THE MEDEA PROJECT: THEATER FOR INCARCERATED WOMEN to explore whether an arts-based approach could help reduce the numbers of women returning to jail.”
Debra Garcia y Griego (Executive Director of the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission) thoughtfully interviewed Ms. Jones. Her words were real and inspiring: “Art can be that parachute, that beautiful thing that can catch us.” Jones delivered in the convention’s finale: “I’m interested in art that save’s a life.”
In three hot days in San Francisco, I attended eleven discussions loaded with memories of truth, empowerment, and hope.
The words of artist activist of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance Kibibi Ajanku resonate: “The pain is the pain.”
The words of Founder and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson acknowledge: “Everyone is broken.”
The words of House Democratic Leader of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi direct: “Know your power.”
Today, I return back to Richmond with new ideas and revitalized spirit. The 2018 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention will be in Denver, Colorado. No matter the location, people like myself will unite for positive creative resistance.