Last year at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, I remember two comments specifically from the town hall session. The first comment was from an emerging leader who thought that it was time for established leaders to move out of the way. It was, at best, nonsense.
The second comment, the one that actually bothered me more throughout the full year, was a comment that the person was tired of hearing about the economic impact of arts and culture. They wanted a return to a focus on the intrinsic impact of arts and culture. I didn’t see that person this year, though with the focus of the conference being the release of the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV report, that person may have chosen to skip a year. I myself am data hungry and the report will give me much to chew on.
This year, more than most, the thing I noted was a pleasant drift from intrinsic impact. The subtle drift in a direction I am happy to paddle towards is into the territory of collaboration and a healthy mix of “arts and.” When we listen closely to the needs of our community the arts can help provide answers to many issues. It does require a willingness to be flexible that a focus on intrinsic impact does not necessarily provide.
Two of the most interesting sessions to me this year explore the intersections of arts and health. Both the intersection of the arts and healing (Art of Healing) and what the arts can do to ease the transition home for our veterans (Boots to Brushes: The Arts Serving Veterans’ Needs) are ways that the arts are meeting at the cross sections of arts and healthcare.
Our good friends at the Knight Foundation have been hard at work for the past several years trying to fund creative solutions to the problem of a lack of arts criticism. Together with the National Endowment for the Arts, they have funded three exciting programs that everyone should be keeping an eye on (Meet the NEA: Arts in Journalism).
Arts and journalism is a challenge everyone has been talking about. Exciting innovations in arts journalism may end up finding solutions not just for the lack of arts criticism, but may in fact help establish new models of journalism that may help that field with their own sustainability crisis.
A session I wandered into, and followed up with a lunch to continue the discussion, focused on the use of arts in diplomacy (Backyard Diplomacy—New Strategies for Supporting International Cultural Engagement in Local Communities). Originally I thought the session would just focus on inviting international performers into communities. I ended up hearing a story about how an American Embassy hosted an evening of jazz performances, and that diplomats that would never step foot inside the embassy showed up to enjoy the evening. The arts served as an incredible bridge and starting point to discussions that could not have taken place in any other context.
Of course, our community broadly thrives when arts is integrated into education. Arts Education as Social Reform touched on one of my favorite opportunities to integrate arts into community solutions. And as luck may have it, at the $5 book table I finally found a copy of Third Space. The book follows 10 exemplary arts schools that may be filled with economic disadvantaged students, but through the use of arts integration have become beacons of success in school reform.
In a shameless plug for an Americans for the Arts product, I plan to go back through the sessions that are available via Convention On-Demand to watch additional sessions I missed that cover areas of the arts being integrated into community needs.
I will be listening closely this year for those opportunities of intersection in my own familiar community, where arts can become arts and. Those places where arts meet workforce development, the disenfranchised, the military.
The arts can be amazing tools when we choose to share them in other contexts.
I would love to hear more success stories of where the arts stretch beyond intrinsic impact to intersect in other spaces. Please share in the comments below.