Liesel Fenner

2012 marks my tenth Americans for the Arts Public Art Preconference, six of which I have planned and orchestrated over the years with the help of Public Art Network (PAN) Council members and local hosts.

This year proved to be another shining star, aptly-hosted in the Lone Star state of Texas and San Antonio, a sparkling gem of creative community that rolled out the red carpet for us.

Held at Pearl, Preconference attendees were greeted to hearty breakfast tacos (localvore favorite) and iced coffee, in preparation for the 90 degree-plus predicted temperatures. Newcomers were welcomed to an orientation in Pearl’s Center for Architecture, the American Institute of Architects local chapter office with crisp-geometric interiors offering flexible meeting space (everything on casters) for PAN’s breakout sessions throughout the day.

Attendees trekked across the Pearl campus to the nearby historic Stable, an oval-shaped plan once housing up to 70 horses, today hosting 270 Preconference attendees! Texas hosts, Martha Peters of the Ft. Worth Public Art Program and PAN Council member and Jimmy LeFlore of Public Art San Antonio, led everyone in a rousing welcome.

Representatives of the PAN Council presented a state-of-the-field report highlighting critical issues the Council is addressing including: public art and quality of life, evaluation, and social practices and community engagement. Read the rest of this entry »

Gregory Burbidge

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.

Intrinsic Impact?

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.

Arts and…healthcare

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Susan Pontious

This session was billed as one that would explore the “new normal” for public art by considering programs, events, partnerships, and policies required for sustaining vital, culturally rich communities.

Valerie Vadala Homer from Scottsdale, AZ, began by presenting the premise that traditional percent-for-art programs enabled by legislation passed by cities, counties, and states across the country in the 1960s and 80s may have become obsolete as cities approach “build out.” She presented alternatives of replacing permanent work affixed to construction with a model that focused on art events like “Glow” in Santa Monica and temporary installations that attracted audiences and enlivened the urban landscape.

Janet Echelman, best known for her ethereal “net sculptures,” showed an overview of her work, which has been funded by a variety of sources in many different kinds of locations. She spoke from an artist’s perspective about how she was adapting her work so that her dramatic installations could travel and be installed into pre-existing architectural settings.

Edward Uhlir, from Millennium Park in Chicago, showed us what can be accomplished when a city can summon astounding sums in private patronage to commission bold, daring art and architecture on a scale unprecedented in this country.

Finally, Janet Kagen gave us a tale of two cities; one was a successful project in Clinton, NC, the other was a project for the city of Durham that was aborted when it ran into opposition by other city powerbrokers. Durham then proceeded to legislate a public art ordinance so bureaucratically Byzantine that its failure was all but guaranteed. This experience caused Kagen to conclude that communities that don’t have ordinances should “stay that way.” Read the rest of this entry »

Theresa Cameron

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend another amazing Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in San Antonio. The theme of this year’s meeting was “The New Normal” which was perfect for these times of change and transition in the arts in America.

Sessions ranged from very practical like New Ways of Doing Business and Arts Education as Social Reform to the innovation sessions like How Changing Demographics are Shifting Your Community. Every session was designed to get folks thinking about ways they need to look ahead and rethink and reimagine ways they are currently dong business.

In many ways it reminded me of an Americans for the Arts Convention I attended as  a young arts administrator in Los Angeles. That convention was another time of change in America and it was an important time for conversations around money, power, and the arts in the community.

Just like those times in L.A., this year’s event helped return us to important discussions around change and where are we going as community.

What will we look like in five to ten years?

Who will be leading us?

What are the new creative funding opportunities and how can we stay relevant? Read the rest of this entry »

Valerie Beaman

Valerie Beaman

Suzan Jenkins, CEO of the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, moderated a convention panel on creative methods for growing new funding born out of the experiences of the recession. The rise of online funding campaigns, emphasis on creating partnerships with businesses and, more radically, treat all philanthropic support as start-up funding and don’t rely on it for core operating income were some of the ideas explored. The consensus was to, remain flexible but, above all, stay true to your mission.

Maud Lyon, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan, used the Community Foundation Challenge in Detroit as an example of the challenges and best practices for online giving/day of arts giving campaigns. A major goal of the Challenge was to raise awareness for the arts and culture sector.

Referencing it as “Glitches to Riches,”  Maud said the Challenge program raised $4,992,000 million for 75 organizations in one day. While the larger organizations raised higher dollar amounts, smaller organizations raised a higher proportion of their budget size. Existing donors were the mainstay of the Challenge (59 percent), but the Challenge brought in a significant number of new donors as well (28 percent).

Lessons learned by the arts community include: the importance of being prepared with technology and social networking in order to be able to respond quickly to challenge opportunities; the future of online giving is with younger donors; and, convenience, ease, flexibility and lack of pressure are the appeals of online commerce.

Maud emphasized the necessity of a good donor database and an excellent donor stewardship program. She personally donated to twelve different organizations during the Challenge, received very few thank you letters, and only three of the twelve followed up the following year for new donations. Lost opportunities! Read the rest of this entry »

Anette Shirinian

After attending Salvador Acevedo’s session, The New Mainstream: How Changing Demographics Are Shifting Your Community, at our Annual Convention in San Antonio this past weekend I learned that there are already five minority majority states in the U.S., and they’re not little.

California, Texas, New Mexico, District of Columbia, and Hawaii all currently have less than a 50 percent White population. This is a huge shift considering that America’s population was about 90 percent White up to the 1970s. It has since declined to 60 percent and continues to follow this pattern. The Hispanic population on the other hand is growing rapidly with an estimated 167 percent growth by 2050 (142 percent Asian, 56 percent Black, 1 percent White).

How does this affect the arts?

Well it proses a huge problem when less than 50 percent of our nation’s population is White, yet your audience is 70–90 percent White. As Salvador said, “we must diversify our audiences, otherwise we will become irrelevant.”

As “prime vehicles for intercultural understanding” (my favorite quote from the session), arts and culture will not survive if it does not reflect our population as a whole. So how do we prevent ourselves from becoming irrelevant?

You must practice what you preach. The change must start internally within your organization before you can start to diversify your audience. Salvador calls this the “intercultural strategy.” Read the rest of this entry »

The artist-initiated Victory Garden project outside of San Francisco City Hall in 2008 spurred a city-wide urban farming movement.

The Public Art Network and the Emerging Leaders Preconferences converged for their combined closing plenary session: “Multiple Meanings: The Expanding Role of Leadership in Creating Place” with Jason Schupbach (National Endowment for the Arts [NEA] Director of Design) and artist John Bela of Rebar in San Antonio on June 8.

The session sought first to explore the somewhat unsuspecting backgrounds of Jason, with a B.A. in Public Health and M.A. in Urban Planning, and John, whose education skipped from biochemistry to sculpture, performance, and landscape architecture, illustrating the benefits of their eclectic and complimentary experience to the arts field.

What does this reveal about the work of creative placemaking?

Because, in my unauthorized definition, creative placemaking is about cross-sector collaboration in which artists are a catalyst for public participation and community transformation. In order to infiltrate community, master planning processes, and policy, artists and arts professionals alike must speak the language of the architect, the planner, the social worker, the community activist, the health care provider, and the politician OR find internal allies so that we have support in the calculated risks that are intrinsic to making a social impact and to making art.

John’s formula for creative change: the Advocate, the Artist and the Guerilla Bureaucrat. For me, the latter offered the biggest conference take-away (the tantalizingly oxymoronic term also mentioned in a previous Public Art Network session). Read the rest of this entry »

Mary Garay conducts the Westland Middle School Orchestra.

What a revelation!!  Every day I come to work here at Americans for the Arts and see the big picture of the arts in America and wonder are we making a difference? Are the arts really that important? And the other night, I think I  got my answer.

I went to my son’s middle school’s spring orchestra and band performance and it all came home to me. I couldn’t believe that one teacher, just one, could affect all those kids. I was reminded of just how much we ask our music teachers to do. How do they do it? All those kids learning and paying attention to one person. Ms. Garay is my new hero.

Sometimes we forget why we are doing what we do, but I was so humbled by watching this amazing woman work and affect so many young adults. The arts give these kids a sense of self, build maturity, increase attention span, teamwork, and the ability to do several things at once. Try watching a conductor while blowing on your reed, moving your fingers on your oboes keys, playing in tune and in rhythm. It’s the ultimate in multitasking.

Each day Ms. Garay has the ability to model and teach these kids so many things. How does one teacher get kids to learn to play the oboe, clarinet, saxophone, trumpets, bassoon, tuba, violin, viola, cello, bass, etc? Read the rest of this entry »

Gregory Burbidge

What I was really planning on doing at the conference this year was coming and learn what trusted friends and advisers are doing all across the country. We spend so much time being part of a small pool of people doing the work we do in our communities that this is a rare chance to take a break from that isolation. I feel like I come to conference to learn advocacy, and instead I build relationships and discover a library of incredible research.

If I didn’t come home with an advocacy guide, it would be my secret. But as I thumb through my notes this year, it turns out I learned a lot about advocacy this year that I am going to go and share in Atlanta this month.

At the end of the month, I will talk to a small group of emerging leaders in Atlanta about advocacy. A colleague has added to his personal work plan this year the goal of meeting all the elected officials that represent him and I could talk about that. It would certainly be a good start for most people. At the conference though, I added some tools to pass along to the group.

All things obvious. All things you already probably know. None of the subtlety of conference for me, thank you.

Once is not enough…

The first unfortunate bit of news is one meeting won’t be enough. I think my colleagues’ efforts to meet each of their elected officials is absolutely heroic. I won’t manage to match this feat. But Bob Lynch, in his remarks, let us know that it is time to become a trusted adviser instead of a last minute lobbyist. I haven’t taken the time to think about how trusted advisers are developed. Read the rest of this entry »

Benavides self identified as an artist at an early age. (Image courtesy of Andy Benavides)

Twenty-two years ago, just for fun Andy Benavides, executive director at SMART (Supporting Multiple Arts Resources Together), decided to create weekend programming in his neighborhood. By identifying an immediate need in his community, the humble beginning of bringing art to the people blossomed into an art education and community movement.

Benavides dedicates his time to raising awareness of the developmental impact of the arts in San Antonio. He asked those in attendance at the Emerging Leaders Preconference, “What really stops communities from providing free art programming?”

During his keynote address, Benavides discussed how he confronts perceived challenges, “we deal with a lot of at risk youth and what they actually are is really creative.” He also talked about keeping art as the core of his organization and not making it secondary to funding. By being flexible and open to work-arounds, SMART does not let money hinder program creation or implementation. Being brave enough to make “the ask” yields the required results.

Benavides has a long history of creating experimental and community engagement programming including: SMART Student Photo Competition, SMART Fair, SMART Art and Pie to the People. Pie to the People showcases community education and the power of recycled materials for creativity and self expression. The event included all-day art educational workshops, a design competition, and What the Fork! A Community Collaborative Fork Art Project. Read the rest of this entry »

Tim Mikulski

“Something big is going on in American cities. It is urban. It is real. It is transformative.” “It is a golden time for an urban renaissance.”

Those are just short soundbites from former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former Mayor of San Antonio Henry Cisneros during his introduction to our Town Hall session to start day two of the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention.

Following that stirring introduction, Cisneros joined five other panelists, and Americans for the Arts President & CEO Bob Lynch, in a fascinating discussion about how the arts can be involved in all aspects of creative placemaking.

Opening Remarks

In a round of opening remarks, the panelists were asked to respond to Cisneros’ statements about the arts, cities, and placemaking.

Knight Foundation Vice President of Arts Programs Dennis Scholl asked several questions including: “What role are we going to play in this urban renaissance?” (as described by Cisneros) and “How are we going to seize this moment?” More importantly, he stated unequivocally, “I want a seat at the table and a national cultural policy.”

Los Angeles County Arts Commission Executive Director Laura Zucker stated, “Arts and creativity is a special sauce…if we could bottle and resell it to people, everyone would want to buy it. The challenge is to sell it.”

Trey McIntyre Project (TMP) Executive Director John Michael Schert explained how the dance company chose to make Boise, ID, its home because founder Trey McIntyre wanted to be part of shaping the community—how the city sees itself and how others see it.

In a fine example of placemaking at its core, Schert described how vital TMP has become to the community as they were named economic development cultural ambassadors and the fact he can walk down the street and local residents know who he is and often look to TMP as a resource for guidance.  Read the rest of this entry »

From Boots to Brushes

Posted by Joanna Chin On June - 10 - 2012No comments yet

Joanna Chin

Beginning and sustaining work using the arts to serve veterans’ needs is an exercise in translation. While the need is great, it is also daunting to move into that space or grow existing programs to meet that need.

The insights that emerged from the Boots to Brushes session at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention is that many of these obstacles (and some of the solutions) are, at their core, an issue of translation.

Here are a few of those:

Because of the structure and culture of the military, partnerships are a foreign concept. For the most part, the military just takes what it wants. For the arts, collaboration and community are essential pieces of the process.

One insight that emerges for arts organizations interested in addressing veterans’ needs is being cognizant of how foreign the concept of partnerships is to the military.

To tackle the hurdle of getting a foot in the door with the Veterans Association, one key insight was to use the veterans that you’ve worked with in the past as your spokespeople.

It might be an unintentional consequence of doing good work and transforming someone’s life that s/he spreads the word about your organization; however, veterans themselves can be the best ambassadors into hard-to-crack groups.  Read the rest of this entry »

Roger Vacovsky

Yesterday at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in San Antonio, attendees engaged in a session that asked them to reconsider the classic membership model and theory behind membership and subscription programs.

As we are circling around this concept of “the new normal,” we must begin to look at the fact that the changing culture of our work force has different wants and needs. With regards to membership, this new crop of individuals want the tangible, the direct benefit, and the question that will be asked after (or instead of) “Why should I join?” is, “What am I going to get for my money?”

We also know that “we’re doing it this way because this is how we’ve always done it” is OUT. If you’re membership is declining, it’s time you try something different.

Membership, in many cases, is utilized for financial reasons more so than for purposes of engagement. As membership is a revenue strain (and, as we membership folk proclaim, our job depends on that revenue), it is important to consider the ‘why’ when promoting membership.

Deborah Obalil, who moderated the session asked participants to “be honest with yourself about why you are doing it. Memberships can inspire, or fail to inspire loyalty” without a defined goal in sight.

Obalil then asked attendees to think of their own membership program with regards to what they do to inspire loyalty. The loyalty of a member to an organization consists of the following:

  • Belief in the mission
  • Tangible benefits: “what are they getting out of it?”
  • Recognition/validation “wearing membership as a badge of honor”  Read the rest of this entry »

Catherine Brandt & Graham Dunstan are frazzled after trying to keep a lid on the AEP IV story for so long before Convention.

As everyone who reads ARTSblog should know by now, the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV study (AEP IV) was released yesterday at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in San Antonio.

With 182 participating communities and more than 150,000 audience-intercept surveys, this economic impact study of the arts is the largest and most comprehensive ever conducted. As the study launched before 800 attendees and countless others who saw the announcement live on the web, there was a collective sigh of relief at Americans for Arts.

The story we had held on to for more than six weeks was finally able to fly free.

Embargoed press releases. Pre-written tweets and Facebook updates. Scripted talking points. There were a dozen different ways that the big story of the $135 billion impact of the arts in our country could have been “spoiled” early.

Multiply those communications tools by the number of participating organizations and other partners and members of the press who had this information for the last few weeks and it’s nearly a miracle that barely anyone spilled the beans.

When we released the previous study (AEP III) at the 2007 Annual Convention, social media wasn’t the cultural and communication force it is now. Twitter wasn’t even a year old. And while Facebook was a staple at universities and colleges, its use by nonprofits wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as today. Very simply: in 2007 it was easier to keep a secret.  Read the rest of this entry »

Luis Ubiñas

Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas started his opening keynote at our 2012 Annual Convention talking about about how he came to the arts. It was through free access in New York City. Having grown up with modest means, Ubiñas was only able to attend the finest cultural institutions that the city had to offer via free days.

In fact, he recounted one story when he was 14-years-old and went to The Public Theater to see Macbeth. However, he and has friend had arrived so early that they ran into founder Joe Papp who told them so, but also invited them to look around and explore his theater.

It was that kindness that stuck with him and shaped his appreciation for the arts. He reminded attendees that everyone in the room had similar experiences that shaped our attitudes about arts and culture and to never forget to provide those experiences to other 14-year-olds you stumble across in your work.

Beyond that personal anecdote, Ubiñas also talked about the economy behind the arts. During one passage he reminded the audience how important it is to explain to decision-makers at every level (city, county, state politicians, etc.) the value of the arts. He said all-too-often, it seems that they will fight to hard to bring a new manufacturing facility to their area due to the jobs it brings, but that doesn’t happen for the arts. And, as he said it doesn’t make sense because, “you can’t outsource a museum.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.