A Conversation with Community Advocate John Davis

Posted by Lindsay Sheridan On October - 23 - 2013
Lindsay Sheridan

Lindsay Sheridan

John Davis

John Davis

Note: an abridged version of “Teaching Moments” from this interview, conducted by our former intern Lindsay Sheridan, was published in Arts Link, the quarterly membership publication of Americans for the Arts. John Davis is the Executive Director of Lanesboro Arts Center.

LINDSAY SHERIDAN: What is your personal arts history and educational background?

JOHN DAVIS: From a very early age, my mom was supportive of my interest in the arts. We lived in Minneapolis, and I grew up with her taking me to all the museums there. I went to college at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, so my background is in fine art and design. I studied graphic design and industrial design, but ended up taking classes in painting and sculpture. I pretty much love all aspects of the arts.

SHERIDAN: Is there an arts leader or community advocate who helped you hone your interests at a young age and develop your own career? 

DAVIS: In college I took a class on creative problem solving, and my professor was a man named Jerry Allen. I began using the principles he taught us as an approach to community development and arts administration years later in my career. I think that class and that professor were really pivotal for me. He taught us that anything was possible, and that mindset, especially when working in a rural area, is extremely valuable.  Professor Allen is definitely the first person that comes to mind when I think of people who have helped me develop a leadership philosophy.

SHERIDAN: What drove you to want to become community advocate?

DAVIS: Living in a small town, one tends to be more aware of the need for advocacy. After 25 years of living in rural communities, it’s not really a choice–one has to be an advocate. I think what that means is speaking out for others in the community and giving them a voice. It means advocating for accessibility, advocating for innovation, and advocating for the recognition that there’s value in your community, no matter what size it is. And I believe that really translates from rural small towns to metropolitan big cities.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jamie Kasper

Jamie Kasper

Imagine a fast-growing, increasingly diverse school district with approximately 2,700 students in grades K–12, located 12 miles from the downtown area of a city. The district currently consists of three buildings: an elementary school (grades K–4), a middle school (grades 6–8), and a high school (grades 9–12). Also imagine the following:

  • Because of the growing population, the district is building a new facility for grades 3-5 that will open in the 2013–2014 school year. This building will have a STEAM focus.
  • In addition to visual arts and music, students in the elementary school also participate in an Arts Alive class. Arts Alive is a performing arts class that focuses on storytelling; students employ dance, music, and theatre to tell and create stories. Students often comment that they wish Arts Alive would continue into the middle school because they learn so much in elementary school.
  • The administrative team—including the superintendent and other central office staff; building leadership; heads of transportation, food service, and grounds; and other leaders—has spent its last three summer leadership retreats at local arts and cultural facilities, engaged in creative arts-based learning with staff from those facilities.
  • The middle school visual arts teacher took it upon herself a few years ago to attend a robotics workshop at a local university. With the help of staff from a special robotics program at the university, she now engages her middle school students in designing, creating, and programming kinetic sculptures that use the elements and principles of design. Read the rest of this entry »

Can Art and Culture Districts Shape the Cities of the Future?

Posted by John Eger On April - 23 - 2013
John Eger

John Eger

Welcome to the global economy and society.

U.S. astronauts reflecting on their experiences in space all seemed to see the earth as one “big blue marble.”

As NASA writes: “For the first time in history, humankind looked at Earth and saw not a jigsaw puzzle of states and countries on an uninspiring flat map—but rather a whole planet uninterrupted by boundaries, a fragile sphere of dazzling beauty floating alone in a dangerous void.”

Thanks to the pervasive worldwide spread of internet technology, the “big blue marble age” is here, the global economy has arrived, and in a sense, the world’s map is being redrawn in a way never envisioned.

While interviewing Nandan Nilekani, the C.E.O. of Infosys, Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times and author of The World is Flat, observed:

“There (has been) a massive investment in technology, especially in the bubble era, when hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in putting broadband connectivity around the world, undersea cables, (and) those things…created a platform where intellectual work, intellectual capital, could be delivered from anywhere. It could be disaggregated, delivered, distributed, produced and put back together again.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Emerging Leader Vision of Moving Communities to the Next Level

Posted by Sara Bateman On April - 19 - 2013
Sara Bateman

Sara Bateman

Having been engaged with the Emerging Leaders Network for several years now, I remain thoroughly impressed with those whom this network connects me to. These individuals represent a group of next generation leaders filled with great capacity, innovative approaches, and a strong vision for how to strengthen their organizations, the arts field, and their communities.

Over the course of the Emerging Leaders Blog Salon these past five days, we had the privilege to meet 22 more of these arts leaders, each filled with insightful and passionate approaches to what they feel would make where they live a better place or bring it to the next level.

In a time where we are both witnesses and participants to massive change on local and global scales—both in the arts & culture field and in the general landscape of our communities—we as arts administrators need to be ready to tackle the challenge of using art as a catalyst for the betterment of the places and the people we belong to.

And after reading through these posts this week, I’d say we’re up for the challenge.

We’ve heard a wide range of ideas, including incentivizing an arts district and cultural planning; the challenge of making an arts and culture identity known when it sits in the shadow of a major city or a large tourism industry; and ideas on how we can create social bridges, claim public space, and enable the ability of a community to tell their own story. Read the rest of this entry »

A Community That Values Its Own Commitment to the Local Arts!

Posted by Susan Appe, PhD On April - 19 - 2013
Susan Appe, PhD

Susan Appe, PhD

What would make where I live a better place?

I want Broome Country, upstate New York to value its own commitment to the local arts. Own it! That is, I don’t want to have to have to feel the need to convince my graduate students and other community members—friends and colleagues—that the arts in Broome County, are diverse, vibrant and, yes, cutting edge.

The evidence is out there. In practice, the community—my students included—of Broome County supports and attends arts and cultural experiences and events, but I am finding we don’t always value this commitment we have for the local arts. Let me explain.

I first started noticing this with my students. I teach a nonprofit administration graduate class in a Masters in Public Administration program. In the class we emphasize capacity for community-based practice and discuss various policy areas such as social services, work development and yes, the arts. When I asked my students who had recently (in the last two weeks) attended an arts and cultural event, all—every single one of my students—confirmed they had. Activities and events shouted out were attending a local history museum, participating in the city’s monthly Art Walk, going to a local theatre production, screening an independent film at a local nonprofit organization.

While certainly not a representative, scientific sample, it surprised me. It surprised me because I consistently feel I need to convince my students of the cultural aliveness of our community. As I am trying to convince my students, they brush me off as being just easily excitable. Meanwhile they are actively participating in this cultural aliveness and don’t even realize. They don’t value the arts community that they are creating. Essentially they don’t value what they value. Read the rest of this entry »

A City, and an Artist, Finding Their Authentic Creative Voice

Posted by Christy Bors On April - 19 - 2013
Christy Bors

Christy Bors

It was during my third year as an undergraduate art student (Go Slugs!) that I met Frank, my abstract painting professor.

I’d never been more frustrated with a syllabus or a teacher in my whole life as I’d been with Frank. He gave us rules by having none. “Paint like you mean it,” he would say. “But don’t think about it. And don’t really mean it.”

The careful, thoughtful, planner inside me cringed every day in that studio. I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do, so I constantly monitored what everyone else was doing and followed instructed suit.

The bi-product: A six-foot tall canvas spread wildly with a cake frosting texture of Alizarin Crimson and Flake White oils. It took me over a month to create and countless two a.m. sessions to perfect.

I hated it. Truly—I gutturally despised it. It didn’t get better when I squinted my eyes. Or when I turned it upside-down. Frank loved it the moment he laid his eyes on it. “This is the best thing I’ve seen this year,” he gushed, hands literally clasped to his cheeks.  Read the rest of this entry »

Bringing Backstage Onstage with Social Media

Posted by Kelly Page On April - 18 - 2013
Kelly Page

Kelly Page

Imagine, if we saw social media more like an artist’s studio or cafe and less like a marketing channel?

While walking through the exhibit, Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects at the Arts Institute Chicago last November, I felt like I was seeing into the private design space of the architect.

The exhibit was an installation of an architect’s studio with concept drawings, full-scale project mockups, material samples, and photographs of completed work that now form part of the Chicago city skyline. This exhibit was a celebration of the work of the artist behind their city stage.

The work of the artist backstage, however, many don’t experience. The space is unorganized and cluttered; the work in progress, being constructed, deconstructed, is unpredictable and incomplete. This is why many artists and arts managers do not openly bring backstage onstage and into the public eye—because it is messy.

Imagine for a moment, however, if we did?  Read the rest of this entry »

New to the Community: A Love Story Set to Beethoven

Posted by Jenifer Thomas On April - 18 - 2013
Jenifer Thomas

Jenifer Thomas

I am a fairly recent transplant to a city with a vibrant arts scene chock-full of healthy arts organizations, beautiful parks and architecture, wonderful public art, a squadron of young professionals getting involved, and our very own culinary smorgasbord: a signature chili (you either love it or you hate it), mouthwatering ice cream, and questionable breakfast meat.

Where is this cultural mecca, you might ask? It’s Cincinnati, OH.

Cincinnati’s varied offerings come with an equally diverse community of people. But like many cities, Cincinnati could get to the next level by seeing art and artistic involvement that connects all of us, not just the arts-prone.

The Cincinnati ethos is evolving, and many organizations are doing great things to get engagement that is more reflective of our community and encourages we locals to put our personal stamp on the Queen City.

Recently, after two years of living in Cincinnati, I fell in love. With Cincinnati.

It happened in the most unlikely of places: the concert hall. Read the rest of this entry »

The Space Race

Posted by Chase Maggiano On April - 18 - 2013
Chase Maggiano

Chase Maggiano

There are a few things I have come to believe are true: Justin Bieber’s monkey is more famous than I will ever be; there are more self-proclaimed artists in the world than at any time in history; and the arts are the next big export—both here in Washington, D.C., and abroad.

All three of these truths lead to a problem we have in our cultural communities. We need more space.

With YouTube, an iPad, and Kickstarter, anyone can create and distribute art while sitting in front of the computer in their underwear (no…not THAT kind of art). Some artists can even launch careers from the keyboard. But it is not enough to think of art as an activity performed in isolation, behind the curtain of technology.

I have learned that many people in my community feel the same way. Sure, it’s easy to rehearse and perform a play in your living room, read chamber music in a basement, and labor over paintings in the garage for hours—but if no one sees your art, does it have any real impact?

While finding performance space is often the key stumbling block, locating adequate rehearsal (or studio) space is an equally important challenge. Without an appropriate place to cultivate art, there is no true quality control of the product. Don’t believe me? Ask a dancer. Read the rest of this entry »

8 Tips to Survive a Cultural Planning Process

Posted by Sarah Lawson On April - 18 - 2013
Sarah Lawson

Sarah Lawson

You’ve probably never visited an art gallery or a classical music concert in Charlottesville, VA.

Though the area is known for its views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, historical landmarks, and local food culture, many people don’t consider it an arts destination. At Piedmont Council for the Arts (PCA), we see this every day.

Residents might know everything that’s happening in one area of arts interest, but nothing broader. Visitors tour Monticello or the University of Virginia, but rarely stay the extra day to explore our museums or see a play performed by one of our many community theater groups.

Very few people ever see the full breadth of the Charlottesville area arts community.

However, data from Americans for the Arts’ Arts & Economic Prosperity IV study in the Greater Charlottesville area showed that our arts and culture industry generates $114.4 million in annual economic activity, supporting 1,921 full-time equivalent jobs and generating $9.2 million in government revenue.

As the Charlottesville community continues to grow this arts and culture sector, we see a greater need to address this issue of coordinated cultural tourism.  Read the rest of this entry »

2013 Annual Convention Spotlight: Exploring Pittsburgh’s Art Community

Posted by Michelle Clesse On April - 17 - 2013
Michelle Clesse

Michelle Clesse

An installation art museum, a nationally renowned glass studio, and a cartoon museum walk into a bar. Just kidding. Museums and studios do not have legs, and therefore, cannot walk anywhere.

Plenty of cities have great art resources for artists and art enthusiasts alike. When I stumbled into Pittsburgh in 2009, I was amazed by the combination of major arts institutions, niche arts organizations, and scrappy little start-up arts groups; but even more so by how approachable and accessible the Pittsburgh arts community was.

I had a hotbed of arts at my fingertips. By the time I’d been in Pittsburgh for a year, I’d taken two glass blowing classes at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, dragged every out-of-town visitor to the Society for Contemporary Craft, and learned about Gertie the Dinosaur at the ToonSeum.

Now, I certainly didn’t limit myself to the visual arts scene. During my first year I also saw the Pittsburgh Ballet perform twice, checked out the Pittsburgh Symphony, and saw The Mikado performed by CMU’s School of Drama.

As I’ve settled into the city and put down more roots, I still frequent some of my favorite art spots fairly regularly. I have also continued to explore both large and small performance art groups, while keeping my hands busy (and dirty) at many of the public access and cooperative art studios. Read the rest of this entry »

The Value of an Afternoon with an Artist

Posted by Ronda Billerbeck On April - 17 - 2013
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 - 2013
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 »

Evaluating Our Arts Footprint in a Growing City

Posted by Sarah Rucker On April - 17 - 2013
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 »

Yesterday’s Tragedy in Boston

Posted by Robert Lynch On April - 16 - 2013
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.

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.