Offline at AFTACON

Posted by Lara Davis On June - 26 - 2015
Lara Davis

Lara Davis

Americans for the Arts Annual Convention (AFTACON) regularly draws thousands of members of the arts world to one location for a whirlwind four days of workshops, recognition, plenaries, and arts excursions in some of the most incredible and dynamic cities in the country. There is never enough time to attend all the sessions I’m interested in. They all offer an insight into how art influences our economy, education, and communities – and how we visualize and interpret our world.

But, just as important as attending these sessions are the conversations, connections, and friendships that are built offline and in-between “official” conference business. Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Action Heroes to the Rescue!

Posted by Robert Lynch On June - 24 - 2015
Robert L. Lynch

Robert L. Lynch

During my 30 years at Americans for the Arts, I have had the great privilege to visit and learn about a different community nearly every week. While they differ vastly from one another, there is one common strength I have observed: the arts have made a profound impact on the health of each community.

Across America, in communities of all sizes, a rising population of arts action heroes — both individuals and organizations — are stepping up, armed with the tools of their craft and a vision of how their work in the arts contributes to the well-being of a community. Read the rest of this entry »

One-Time Mentoring Has a Big Impact

Posted by Kimberli Picarillo On April - 27 - 2015
Kim Picarillo

Kim Picarillo

Free Arts NYC provides underserved children and families in New York City with a unique combination of arts education and mentoring that helps them to develop self confidence and resiliency needed to realize their fullest potential. While most Free Arts programs provide long term mentoring opportunities, our Free Arts Days are one-time “pop up art festivals” in which corporate volunteers are paired 1-on-1 with a child.

Long term mentoring has many proven benefits: increased confidence & self esteem, children more likely to attend college and grow up to give back to their communities, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as skipping school or abusing drugs, just to name a few. However, Free Arts see that even one-time pairings have positive effects on both corporate volunteers and children. Read the rest of this entry »

Using the Arts to Revitalize Downtown Miami

Posted by Laura Bruney On April - 9 - 2015
Laura Bruney

Laura Bruney

This piece by Laura Bruney of the Arts & Business Council of Miami was originally published on their blog, www.artsbizmiami.org/ArtsBizBlog.

Alyce Robertson is Executive Director of Miami’s Downtown Development Authority. The Great Recession wreaked havoc on downtown Miami, with empty condos and a surplus of office space that even the most bullish economists thought would take a decade to absorb. But the turn-around has been quicker and better than imagined. A 24-7 community has emerged as thousands of new residents and business professionals flood the district seeking a more urban lifestyle. Today, Miami has reversed course and emerged as a true metropolis and international destination for commerce, tourism, and arts & culture. Alyce shares her views with us on the value of the arts to downtown Miami. Read the rest of this entry »

Americans for the Arts Releases Its 2015-2017 Strategic Plan

Posted by Mara Walker On December - 11 - 2014
Mara Walker

Mara Walker

This month, Americans for the Arts releases its 2015-2017 strategic plan. For an organization that’s been around 55 years you might wonder, so what? The truth is, Americans for the Arts actually lives by its strategic plan, and this one, more than ever, focuses on our number one priority: building recognition for the transformative power of the arts in all of our lives and communities in new ways.

We have always been working to help decision makers understand the impact of the arts in building better places to live and work. Through research, professional services, advocacy, visibility and policy development, Americans for the Arts has remained committed to educating decision makers about the impact of the arts, increasing resources and policies for the arts and arts education, and generating awareness that the arts are more than a great way to spend your Saturday night, and in fact, change lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Abe Flores

Abe Flores

I had never been accused of being white. It was the second Diversity Forum with about two dozen local arts stakeholders and a clearly skeptical gentleman asked, “What are two white guys from a national arts organization doing facilitating a local conversation around diversity in the arts?” The question took me aback. “I’m not white, I’m Latino,” I instinctively responded as if my bona fides to facilitate this conversation were my non-whiteness. The gentleman had come into the meeting space with folded arms and body language that clearly expressed skepticism towards the purpose and the conveners of the forum. I continued to address the gentleman’s questions with a more detailed overview of the Diversity Initiative:

  • We were there working with the local arts agency to create a space for dialogue to discuss diversity issues identified by our partners and forum participants.
  • We are doing this in the six regions that constitute the Greater Washington DC area to help bridge efforts and learning locally and if possible nationally.
  • Finally, we are doing this because the arts administration field has made it clear to us that it’s time to move beyond simply agreeing on the need for more diversity and begin to create actionable frameworks. Our first steps were these sometimes awkward conversations to develop small objectives to begin to address local diversity in the arts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pop Quiz: Socially Engaged Art and Aesthetics

Posted by Jen Delos Reyes On November - 21 - 2014
Jen Delos Reyes

Jen Delos Reyes

I received an invitation to participate in this blog salon on the relationship between aesthetics and arts in community development and social change work by way of my work as an artist and organizer around socially engaged art, however my response is most informed by my work as an educator.

From 2007-2014 I served as the co-director of an MFA program focused on art and social practice. The mantra of the program could have easily been that art and social practice starts and ends not in rarefied spaces, but out in the world. The students did not receive studio spaces and instead created their work out in the world through collaborations and partnerships, embedded in communities. The program sought to educate and activate students to develop and utilize their artistic skills to engage in society. It is the kind of education that created engaged citizens. But perhaps the most important aspect of the curriculum was that it asked artists to consider their relationship to and placement in society. So the core questions of this invitation, “But what happens when we assess art not just for art’s sake, but also for its civic purpose?” was a familiar one. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s time to Replace the “Broken Window” with a “Scaffold Up.”

Posted by Amy Sananman On November - 21 - 2014
Amy Sanamman

Amy Sanamman

A year ago, New York City voted in its first new mayor in 12 years. The city council election resulted in new members in almost half of the 51 seat council. It was an exciting time for the progressive communities—for all those that have fought for social change through the fields of education, immigration reform, fair wages, affordable housing or, of course, the arts. While the Mayor’s new platform addressed many of these items, it did not include an arts agenda or integrate a strategy to use arts and culture to support a more just and equitable city for all. Over the past few months, I have seen NYC—its new administration and city council—struggle with finding new frameworks. I have been thinking about how the aesthetics of language and framing influence how we understand our communities, their challenges, opportunities, the role of arts, and how policies may be considered. One example of this is how NYC is grappling with the broken windows theory and its legacy. Read the rest of this entry »

The Beauty of Change: Re-imagining Small Town America

Posted by John Davis On November - 20 - 2014
John Davis

John Davis

I am the Executive Director of Lanesboro Arts, a multidisciplinary arts organization founded in 1980. Lanesboro Arts fulfills its mission to serve as a regional catalyst for artistic excellence and educational development in providing diverse art experiences for people of all ages through visual art galleries, the performing arts, an artist residency program, public art, and educational outreach. Last year, Lanesboro Arts programming involved more than 180 volunteers, 300 artists, and 30,000 audience members. In 2013, Lanesboro (pop 754) was named one of the Top 12 Small Town ArtPlaces in America, a recognition determined by the number of arts opportunities per capita. Read the rest of this entry »

Calling Out to the Old Radical Herbert Marcuse

Posted by Bob Leonard On November - 19 - 2014
Bob Leonard

Bob Leonard

The definition of aesthetics drafted for 2014 ROOTS Week seems to have stood up usefully: “aesthetics are means by which art and art-making respond to and stimulate sensory and emotional experience, and how such sensory and emotional experiences contribute to meaning. Understood this way, we believe the term can be applied affirmatively and effectively to community-based arts practice for social justice.”

This statement was crafted as a positive strategy to counter the common assumption that aesthetics is way of thinking devoted to the establishment of standards of excellence or criteria of evaluation, all too often predicated on the dominant culture. The strategy seemed to work at ROOTS, where the conversation has advanced past defensive posturing to a pretty vital engagement with learning how to talk about the actual sensory and emotional experience of conceiving, making, and receiving art, especially in the context of ROOTS’s artistic commitment to working for social, economic, and environmental justice. Read the rest of this entry »

The Aesthetics of Politics, Art, and Communications

Posted by Nato Thompson On November - 18 - 2014
Nato Thompson

Nato Thompson

When we begin to wrap our heads around the fact that culture-making surrounds us on a daily basis, and that everyday people are now both consumers and producers of symbolic production, we can then more accurately approach the question of aesthetics and politics, and begin to see how it operates around us daily.

The question of aesthetics and politics is certainly not new. It has been both a productive and destructive line of inquiry throughout much of the 20th century, much debated between Bertolt Brecht and Theodore Adorno, and the Constructivists and social realists of the Russian Revolution. It sat at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance, was rife throughout 2nd wave feminism, was a central concern of the Zapatistas revolution, and was prominent in so many other social movements. It is a question that is as clumsy as it is urgent. It is neither new nor resolved.

This is all to say: if the topic of aesthetics and politics gives you a headache, find odd comfort knowing that you are not historically alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Pam Korza

Pam Korza

Flashback: 2002. Aesthetics and related questions of criticism, evaluation, and meaning in community-based arts are grist for a session at Alternate ROOTS’s 25th anniversary Focus on Community Arts South gathering. Participants applauded the assertion that “theory and thinking are not just academic concerns.” They advocated notions of “critical generosity” and “critical intimacy” that fostered more dialogue and border crossing between artists and critical writers in order to capture the intention, complexity, and richness of community-based practices. To prevent aesthetic clichés, stereotypes, and inaccuracies, hip hop dance artist Rennie Harris added that sharing dialogue may require both artists and critics to code switch, and to understand how language intersects with power. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding Beauty In Another Reality

Posted by Denise Brown On November - 18 - 2014
Denise Brown

Denise Brown

A decade ago, when the Leeway Foundation decided to support artists and cultural producers interested in community transformation and working at the intersection of art, culture and social change, there were a lot of questions raised about the aesthetics of such work. The general presumption of the majority of our critics was that our interest and appreciation for the aesthetic value (aka artistic excellence) of the work would be lost and, as a result, the nature of the work we supported would take on a more didactic form. This was a nice way of saying it would be bad art, because there seemed to be a belief that both things – beauty and social change intent – could not exist in a work of art or cultural act that would satisfy an aesthetic ideal. Read the rest of this entry »

Living Into The Questions

Posted by Arlene Goldbard On November - 17 - 2014
Arlene Goldbard

Arlene Goldbard

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers. – James Baldwin

Baldwin’s epigram reminds us that to thrive, we must be able to see through imposed realities and prefab solutions. We may be tempted to seek definitive answers, but what we really need now is to live into the questions.

To inhabit questions means to first unpack their assumptions and implications.

What’s the context for an inquiry into aesthetics and social justice? When I speak on this topic, someone from the “establishment” arts world always asks me this: “What about standards? What about excellence? A lot of this work isn’t very good.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why Is It So Hard? Seriously.

Posted by Matt D'Arrigo On October - 22 - 2014
Matt D'Arrigo

Matt D’Arrigo

I write this as an arts leader but, more importantly, I also write this as a dad. My wife and I have two amazing children, ages 5 and 8, who are lucky to have both parents who are artists and work in the arts. They receive daily

artistic and creative encouragement at home. We want our children to be creative in their approach to everything in life, to learn and grow with a sense of wonderment, curiosity, and discovery. We want them to express themselves in authentic ways and to respect and understand the immense role the arts and humanities play in shaping all of our lives to be more meaningful, fulfilling, and enjoyable.

They attend a fantastic public school, one of the best in San Diego (I know, I’m biased). They receive arts programming once a week, but only through the generosity of parents and families donating to a foundation that pays for it and volunteers who help support in the classroom. We’re lucky they attend a school in a more “well off” area of town whose families have the means to fund the arts programs. If they attended a lower income school, and we didn’t hold the arts as a highest priority in our home, they would receive very little to no arts exposure or engagement. I don’t think that’s fair.

Read the rest of this entry »