Ronda Billerbeck

Ronda Billerbeck

On a chilly January afternoon, I sat in a high school library, along with 40 students, listening to Suzanne Vega talk about music. Listening to any artist speak about their work is interesting at the very least and more often than not quite compelling. This was not just any artist.

Suzanne Vega is widely regarded as one of the great songwriters of her generation. She is a masterful storyteller who rewrote the book on what female singer-songwriters can say and do, paving the way for artists like Sarah McLachlan, Tracy Chapman, and the entire Lilith Fair revolution.

Suzanne performed as part of the Kent Arts Commission’s Spotlight Series. In addition to her public concert, she led a school workshop. I incorporate educational activities with professional touring artists as often as I can. Interacting with an artist in an intimate setting, hearing them discuss their vision and process, offers depth of experience that a traditional concert performance cannot. Getting that kind of glimpse into the creative process is unique and powerful—it ignites a passion for and connection with art unlike anything else.

When we have communities that are engaged with art, where art is an integral part of life and a defining characteristic of place, our communities are better for it. They are better economically, socially, and because individuals’ lives are enriched.  Read the rest of this entry »

A New “Garden State”

Posted by Kacy O'Brien On April - 17 - 2013No comments yet
Kacy O'Brien

Kacy O’Brien

“The Garden State” is a schema that conjures certain images: the beautiful Jersey shore, Atlantic City, traffic on I-95, traffic on the Parkway, traffic on I-287…the Jersey Devil.

Wouldn’t it be great if Jersey could rejuvenate “The Garden State” motto to conjure a thriving ecology where industry, culture, and community exist in support of each other, like vines twining to reach the sun?

There are three things happening in New Jersey that excite me. All have to do with cross-sector partnerships, creativity, and innovation; all are bettering New Jersey’s communities and positioning our state to take a step forward in redefining itself.

ONE: The Gandhi Garden

Nine months ago, East Hanover Street in Trenton was equal parts boarded up buildings, vacant lots, low-income housing…and artist office/work space.

We’ve all heard that story; many of us, including me, are living it. The story we may not all know is the rapid transformation and strategic development that a cross-sector partnership can bring about, like the one forged between the Trenton Downtown Association (TDA), a destination marketing/economic development organization and the SAGE Coalition, an urban beautification NFP made up of a diverse group of Trenton-based visual and performing artists, musicians, teachers, and fabricators.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sarah Rucker

Sarah Rucker

What city carries the nickname “the Violet Crown?” What about “Live Music Capital of the World?”

Now it may be ringing bells…or strumming guitars, I should say. Austin, TX, is my home and has been for 12 years. It’s true that I’m one of the University of Texas alums who remained after graduating, despised by those born or have lived here for over 25 years and have seen the population double. However, my roots were growing here before I was born.

My parents moved here in 1969 and my brother was born in Austin in the summer of ‘71. My father worked at the Vulcan Gas Company nightclub, and consequently I grew up listening to 50s blues, 60s soul, and 70s rock. Though raised on the Gulf Coast, I knew I wanted to live in Austin before my sixth birthday. Enough about me, let’s flash-forward.

Austin has experienced a diverse history of politics, social change, and a lot of music. But where are we now, in this amazing century #21?

With hundreds of thousands of visitors coming each year for events such as Austin City Limits Music Festival and SXSW Music, Film & Interactive Festival, we need to find the balance of celebrating the history, promoting the local talent and embracing the changes this city has undergone.

Incorporating the past, present, and future into one’s work is often key in the arts and community life.  Read the rest of this entry »

Kate Preston Keeney

Kate Preston Keeney

Like many of my high school classmates, I never had plans to stay in my hometown of Roanoke, located in southwestern Virginia.

Among other reasons, it seemed to lack that something special in terms of arts and culture. The local theater had reduced its performance season; a much-anticipated visual art museum was struggling to stay open; and the independent bookstore closed to become just another bar.

And so, as is common, I left my hometown in pursuit of graduate school and a job in a metropolitan area. I was perfectly situated within walking distance to public transit, yoga studios, cafes, and world-class performance centers.

But now, I’m starting to look back.

Roanoke and its surrounding areas have begun to capitalize on its rich cultural history. Let me be specific, this culture is not new, yet it has just been unearthed with contemporary knowledge of cultural vitality, opportunities for partnerships and economic development, and community leadership and buy-in.

Roanoke has taken steps to put itself on the list of desirable places to live and has done so by elevating its distinct heritage.  Read the rest of this entry »

Robert L. Lynch

Robert L. Lynch

The tragedy in Boston yesterday was horrific and inexplicable and all of us at Americans for the Arts send our deepest sympathy and thoughts to those injured and to their families.

As we saw and heard things unfold from our offices in Washington, DC, and New York City, the Americans for the Arts staff began calling family and friends and members in the Boston area to see if those closest to us were okay. Some of us had loved ones right there at the site watching or running. Thankfully, all were uninjured.

But it made us think how connected, how close, how much a part of a community we all are even if scattered all across our country. In some ways that makes this tragedy all the more hurtful because it was aimed at community and fellowship itself, the very kind of coming together that marathons, and festivals, and arts events try to create. It takes aim at those who live in a community as well as tourists and visitors from across the world, that broader community created by an event like the Boston Marathon.

For me, as someone who grew up in the Boston area and spent my high school years blissfully wandering the city, this happened on sacred ground. Boylston Street was the place of high school proms, or visits to one of our nation’s great libraries, the site of New Year’s Eve First Night Celebrations, and the Lennox Hotel lounge right there was where my parents would go for end of week celebrations and pop up opera performances.

Sadly, terrible events trying to create hard and horrible memories are now all too common. But in some ways our best defense is to keep investing in the community-building arts activities that, individually and together, form the hallmark of our collective work.

Our hope is the hope itself generated by bringing people together through the arts. My hope is that what we all do in our small way in our many arts organizations across America will make the writing of notes like this one someday unnecessary.

Matty Wilder

Matty Wilder

As someone engaged in local arts philanthropy, as well as with a group of diverse leaders trying to change communities through organizing, I ask myself often what would make where I live a better place. But to think about this question in earnest means actually trying to define where exactly I live.

As a resident of Southern California for almost 13 years, I’ve pretty much bounced around to all corners of Los Angeles, though my current zip code has me in the “small town” of Santa Monica.

I do business all over the county, crossing city and municipality lines as often as I turn right on red, and the foundation where I work as program officer serves communities ranging from those just around the corner from our Santa Monica office to the Foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains to the neighborhoods around LAX to East and South Los Angeles. (For those of you not from the area, Los Angeles County is about 4,700 square miles, with 81 school districts, 88 cities, and accounts for 27% of California’s population).

So while the massive redevelopment of our downtown area over the last decade may not directly affect my quiet residential neighborhood on the west side, I still want to participate in understanding how it’s going to shape a community and the local economy; though I may not be able to vote for the next mayor of Los Angeles, which frustrates me endlessly—but that’s for another blog post—I still care about and can have a voice in the outcome by learning about the candidates and engaging them on issues I care about.  Read the rest of this entry »

Tim Storhoff

Tim Storhoff

For this Blog Salon, I really had to stop and think about what would make Tallahassee a better place in general and for the arts.

While Tallahassee has been the butt of many jokes in films and television, it’s actually a very vibrant place with a lot going on. In addition to being the state capital, it is the home to Florida State University and Florida A&M University, both of which have accomplished performing and visual arts programs, and annual events like the Seven Days of Opening Nights Festival regularly bring in world-class artists that otherwise would not be found in cities of this size.

After talking with a coworker and comparing Tallahassee to similarly sized cities, however, it all made sense. We’re missing a river.

A natural landmark like a river or a lake near the center of a city creates an important focus point for developers and provides key elements to that city’s sense of place. Tallahassee is very spread out with a few different pockets of activity, but it lacks a centralized, pedestrian-friendly area to define it.

I’ve previously lived in Fargo and Iowa City. While smaller than Tallahassee, they both have pedestrian-friendly downtown areas near a river where businesses, restaurants, and the arts are thriving. Digging a river in Tallahassee would probably be a poor choice. Thankfully efforts are already underway to create a centralized destination district that can bring together the city’s various communities through arts and culture.  Read the rest of this entry »

Michele Anderson

Michele Anderson

What is the one issue in your community that causes the most uncertainty, disagreement, or fear? The one thing that turns everyday citizens into mad-genius poets in their desire to cut through the noise and be heard?

Chances are that this issue might also be the very thing that could bring your community to the next level. But only if some time is taken right now for all community members to be invited to step back, interact, and express themselves about the issue.

Oh, and somehow, to have fun doing it. That’s important.

This is not the job of your city council, or your newspaper’s online forum. This work of imagining the possibilities, making the hard questions beautiful (and even fun), looking at the story from a distance, and then examining it in microscopic detail, is the work of artists. And the good news is that every community has them if you look for them.

For the last two years of managing Springboard for the Arts’ first satellite office in Fergus Falls, MN, I have been increasingly interested in the unique role that our region’s artists can offer to the important process of framing key issues in their communities.

While the rural communities in West Central Minnesota are grappling with many challenges, none have embodied the potential role of transformative leadership from artists more than the controversial fate of the Fergus Falls State Hospital, or “The Kirkbride Building.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Jimmy Castillo

Jimmy Castillo

I live in the Near Northside of Houston, TX. That’s where my wife and I were born and raised.

Our families saw the first transformation of the neighborhood from a community of predominantly German and Italian immigrants that worked at the nearby rail yards in the early 1900’s into the one that emerged during and after World War II. It was then that residents fled to the outlying suburbs and the working poor Mexican-Americans from the rented shacks in Frostown began to occupy the wood-frame cottages and rail yard jobs that the previous residents left behind.

By the time I was born, the neighborhood was Mexican-American, working-class, and a little rough. Although we both spent some time away, the Near Northside is where my wife and I have decided to settle and raise our family.

The area was originally developed in the 1890’s as a Neartown neighborhood around all of the railroad and warehouse jobs in North Downtown near Allen’s Landing. The older streets are still laid out in a grid with commercial structures facing the major thoroughfares and rows of old one-story houses behind.

There wasn’t very much development in the area in the last half of the 20th century; with the exception of the construction of I-45, Highway 59, and the Elysian Viaduct; all of which have cut through the neighborhood creating new boundaries and changing the flow of community life.

Fortunately, we have everything that we need all centralized within a five-block stretch of Quitman St. Davis High School, Marshal Middle School, and Carnegie Neighborhood Library (not a real Carnegie Library) all meet at the same intersection which is across the street from the local supermarket, Fiesta.  Read the rest of this entry »

Diana Rivera

Diana Rivera

I hate it when San Franciscans debase Los Angeles for its sprawl and smog. I abhor when New Yorkers belittle L.A. on the basis of its egotism and lack of intellectualism. Here is why none of those comments work for me: Disdain is part of the love here.

Are you someone with a love and hate relationship with Los Angeles? I may understand the quality of your conflicting emotions. It has taken my entire childhood and adult life as a native Angelena to figure out one important insight to LA—our urban evolution rests in the balance between our love and hate for it.

Los Angeles and all her residents know some important truths:

  • We have Hollywood—for better or worse.
  • We are multicultural with a westside, an eastside, the valley, and south central.
  • We have Japantown, Koreatown, Chinatown, downtown, and dogtown.
  • We have all kinds of food trucks here including kimchi burgers and cream cheese sushi.
  • We have racism and segregation, and we have buses and metros that move through those segregated neighborhoods.
  • We have the beach, mountains, desert, a river, and boulevards.
  • We have a ton of independent creative professionals unemployed and looking for work.
  • We have a ton of employed creative professionals trying to stay employed and feed their children.
  • We have world-class schools, and those that can barely afford to pay rent.
  • We have teachers being pink-slipped every year.
  • We have Disney Concert Hall and KCRW.
  • We are major consumers of cars to the point of it being a huge environmental waste.
  • We cater consumerist values.
  • We have smog.
  • We have awesome sunsets as a result of that smog.  Read the rest of this entry »

Rafael Otto

Rafael Otto

PDX, Stumptown, the City of Roses, Portlandia, Bridgetown. All of these offer a glimpse into my “second-tier,” west coast city—Portland, OR—nestled between majestic Mt. Hood and the brisk and rugged Pacific coast.

After four years away I’m back with a fresh perspective, a renewed commitment to the arts, and a job that gives me an unparalleled perspective into the world of education across the country.

I also have a vested interest in the educational system here—my daughter entered kindergarten last September. She is now a student in the Portland Public School District, Oregon’s largest district, in a state that has the fourth-worst graduation rate in the country.

As a father, I cringe at stats like that. I worry about the quality of her education, especially when we emphasize assessment and test scores over creativity and collaboration.

As a writer and researcher working in education, I know we can do better.

As an artist, I see that Portland’s system of education has failed to harness the very best of Portland’s innovative and creative talent. Read the rest of this entry »

Karina Mangu Ward

Karina Mangu Ward

I live in New York City, a place with seemingly endless cultural opportunities. The problem is that the majority of these cultural experiences are designed to bring me closer to people I showed up with—an activity sociologists call “social bonding.”

That’s all well and good for me, but it’s not going to make my city more livable, more humane, and more just.

Inspired by Nina Simon’s TED Talk, I would argue that what my community needs, and what communities across this divided country need, is more opportunities to connect with people across difference—what sociologists call “social bridging.”

Moreover, I would argue that arts and culture organizations are uniquely poised to become a platform for social bridging in our communities, and that it’s essential that they do so or risk irrelevancy.

Why is social bridging so important? 

Our country is more politically, economically, and generationally divided than ever. Culture has been parsed into endless niches—with the rise of Facebook and Twitter, we’ve all become Creative Directors of our own brand, with our own set of followers.

In this new era of divisiveness and splintered identity, it’s essential that we create spaces where people can connect with others whose experiences are substantially different from our own. Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Audain

Chris Audain

The Chicago nonprofit arts and culture sector is a $2.2 billion industry. You’d be hard-pressed to go more than a couple of blocks without seeing a theater, dance company, museum, art gallery, or some other nonprofit arts organization, small or large.

And yet I still hear about new ones popping up quite frequently. Given that, the community of artists and arts administrators is extensive, and diverse—it’s a bona fide place of convergence for the creative types and transplants from across the country.

So why then, with such a vibrant arts community, is Illinois the 29th ranked state in per capita spending on the arts?

The answer is a problem that plagues not just Illinois, but permeates through the entire creative sector on a national level.

When I first moved to Chicago after graduating from college, I wanted to pursue an acting career. Even equipped with my political science degree, I had very little understanding about the relationship of public funding for the arts, and the importance of advocacy.

It took a graduate course at Goucher College, Principles of Arts Administration, for me to fully comprehend the power and necessity of arts advocacy. Therein lies the problem: an information gap for artists on the importance of advocacy. A possible solution? Giving artists a more easily accessible entry point to advocacy. Read the rest of this entry »

Ruby Harper

Ruby Harper

So when I was asked to write the opening post to “set the tone” for this year’s Emerging Leaders Blog Salon—I did what any self-respecting, confident, and capable individual would do—I PANICKED!!

What would I write about? What would I say? Why would people care? What if I said something wrong?

Then I took a deep breath…and another…and then I started:

This year’s Emerging Leaders Blog Salon extended invitations to submit posts responding to “What would make where you live a better place or bring it to the next level?”

We received more than 30 submissions. The depth and breadth of the responses will make you laugh, cry, but most importantly, they will make you THINK, WONDER and they will INSPIRE!

Hopefully—at least, that’s what the Emerging Leaders Council intends.

This year, for me, has been about taking action—I was standing in a line at the BMV (or DMV, depending on where you live) and I turned towards one of the TV screens playing and a message —clear as day, white letters on a black screen—ominous in their intent and direct in their purpose: INACTION IS NOT AN OPTION.  Read the rest of this entry »

Susan Mendenhall

Susan Mendenhall

The terms “triple-win” and “triple bottom line” are tossed around in nonprofit publications fairly regularly, especially when it comes to espousing the benefits of corporate philanthropy and corporate social responsibility.

At times, it can seem like forging triple-win partnerships are like cranking the philanthropic slot machine hoping for a three liner of cherries. A win for the nonprofit? Ding! A win for the corporate donor? Ding! A win for the community? Ding!

But authentic corporate-nonprofit partnerships that have real community impact are no simple gamble. They’re built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect, and a shared commitment to serving real people.

A great example of a successful triple-win partnership is the Nonprofit Arts Internship Initiative. With support from the Lincoln Financial Foundation, Arts United has placed more than 70 paid interns at northeast Indiana’s largest nonprofit arts organizations since 2007. Arts organizations gain assistance and expertise from local college students while providing interns with beneficial career experience in arts administration and nonprofit management. Read the rest of this entry »