A Tending

Posted by Aracelis Girmay On November - 18 - 2014
Aracelis Girmay

Aracelis Girmay

I begin with that which is languageless. Gesture, wordless calls of grief or joy, exclamation, a dancer’s body moving in time. What John Edgar Wideman calls, in his essay “In Praise of Silence,” “the entire body’s expressive repertoire, subversive, liberating, freighted with laughter, song and sigh, burdened and energized by opposition.” Which means: not words alone, but every mark we make in the landscape, in the air. I begin here because when I think about the art and resistance work I am most enlivened and taught by this moment, I think about the Turf Feinz and Yak Films. Read the rest of this entry »

Clay Lord

Clay Lord

The pursuit of forward progress in issues of diversity, access, and equity in the arts in America is a difficult and frustrating business. A conversation that starts with, say, a lack of racial diversity on an organization’s staff can quickly move from hiring practices to a perceived lack of qualified candidates of color in the pool, to a discussion of the systemic devaluation of the arts as a career option in certain populations, which may or may not stem from systemic inequalities in the American education system surrounding arts education, which in turn is representative of a society built from bottom to top on the creation of privileged class predominantly defined by the unequal distribution of wealth and access to opportunity across hundreds of years and dozens of generations. And suddenly you aren’t talking about a problem you can do anything about, and you feel either overwhelmed or off the hook. What can I do about that, anyway? Read the rest of this entry »

Five Minutes, Five Questions: Marlene Ibsen of the Travelers Foundation

Posted by Patrick O'Herron On July - 17 - 2014
Marlene Ibsen

Marlene Ibsen

Patrick O'Herron

Patrick O’Herron

Past BCA 10 honoree Travelers has been a long-time advocate of the arts. In 2013 alone, 17 percent of Travelers’ overall corporate giving went to arts and culture organizations. The company’s belief in the power of arts is also held by its employees.

Marlene Ibsen, President and CEO of the Travelers Foundation and Vice President of Community Relations at Travelers, recently talked to Americans for the Arts about the Travelers Arts & Diversity Committee, a group of Travelers employees who are out in the community and use the arts to encourage diversity.

Patrick O’Herron, Business Committee for the Arts Coordinator, Americans for the Arts: Can you start by giving me a quick overview of the Arts & Diversity Committee?

Marlene Ibsen: The Travelers Arts & Diversity Committee is comprised of employees in our St. Paul, Minnesota office who are looking to provide first-hand support to the region’s arts scene. They allocate funds to various arts organizations that are committed to supporting diversity.

Though funding is a substantial portion of what they do, their work doesn’t end there. Some committee members have prior experience in the arts, and they use that background to occasionally help produce local live performances. Their passion for both the arts and their neighborhoods’ appeal makes this group a strong–and highly visible–component of our involvement in our communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Elena Muslar

Elena Muslar

“We have got to diversify our audiences!” How many times can you recall hearing this phrase in meeting after meeting? And yes, of course, the mantra still rings true. But, what are the ways in which target marketing campaigns reach out to those diverse audiences?

“It’s Black History Month! Let’s offer a special on tickets to ‘A Raisin in the Sun’! The Latin show is coming to town; let’s advertise our banners along the streets of East LA.” I could go on, but now is not the time to dwell on past mechanisms of “outreach” done with fairly good intentions. This is the time to go beyond talking about these kinds of basic ideals of promotion and start changing our values towards active relations. It’s the time to chart the future and put models into play that not only shift, but flip, the paradigms set in place that don’t currently reflect expanding communities meant to be served by arts organizations.

As a young woman of mixed race, being half-Black/half-Belizean, I am a product of a community that was just “out of reach”; that desperately needed the “out-reaching”. When more criminals cross the threshold of your apartment complex than high school graduates, you learn early on that you have to be strong enough to stretch your reach further when that reach from the other side doesn’t make it far enough. As a “Next Gen” arts leader, this has been a huge inspiration for me to have a voice that extends beyond my community and into those buildings laden with white walls. I see myself as a bridge between worlds and am committed to paving roads that provide better access to communities resembling mine. Read the rest of this entry »

Abe Flores

Abe Flores

Change is the only constant in life and in art. Demographic shifts, technological leaps, economic cycles, and cultural trends require creative, knowledgeable, and skilled leaders to ensure the relevance and resilience of all art forms. When old ideas, values, and models become obsolete, it takes leaders to chart the future to accommodate the changing reality. Experimentation, risk and failure are inherent in the charting of the future. No one knows if something will really work until they implement it. That is why I am a fan of the term “pilot program” – it tells the world that we are trying something new and it may not work. Younger leaders often take on the role of charting the future and piloting programs because we are the future: demographically diverse, technologically savvy, and more inclusive in our values.

The Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Council, a body of fifteen incredibly smart, visionary and engaged young arts professionals, acts as a brain trust informing and advising Americans for the Arts (AFTA) on trends, new ideas, latest models, and the direction of the field in order to assist in developing new programs and resources to promote professional development and networking opportunities for young professionals nationwide. Part of my role at AFTA is liaising with the council and working with them to present and implement their best ideas and strategies. In the couple of months I have been working with them it has become clear that there is much great work yet to be done. I am very excited to see what develops and very thankful to be part of the process. My brain is divided between my immediate daily tasks (blog salon, convention, digital classrooms etc.) and contemplating how we can best serve and advance the field. Read the rest of this entry »

How do you say “Arts Education” in Spanish?

Posted by Alex Sarian On August - 23 - 2013
Alex Sarian

Alex Sarian

If you take a minute to reach out and feel the pulse of the arts education landscape around the country, I’m willing to bet you’ll hear the phrase “Community Engagement” a lot more than you’d expect: cultural institutions in every state provide education programs that engage the community through the arts; schools across the nation fight for arts programs that engage their students both in and out of the school day – and don’t expect to receive any money from the philanthropic sector unless “community engagement” is at the center of your argument.  And it should be.  In the arts (and even more in the world of arts education) we are in the business of engaging audiences (and students), so we need to constantly be in-tune with what makes them tick.

But do we often stop to talk about demographics?  No.  So let’s…

One of the highlights of my year (so far) was listening to Manuel Pastor discuss the demographic shift in communities around the US and how they will inherently affect those of us who claim to work to serve community needs.  In my opinion, some of the most important facts to come out of his research are:

-          In the last decade, the number of Latinos in the US has grown by 43%, whereas the number of African Americans has grown by 12%, and the number of Non-Hispanic Whites by 1%.

-          Statistics show that in 2010, the number of Non-Hispanic Whites dying was greater than the number being born.

-          Studies indicate that the “net migration” from Mexico is “0” – almost at a standstill.  Which indicates that the growth of the Latino community is a result, in large part, of family planning: the average Mexican family is 3-5 times larger than the average American family.

Pastor’s findings indicate that the largest demographic shift in the US today is affecting the youth population: there are currently 4.3 million less Non-Hispanic White people under the age of 18 than there were 10 years ago; and there are 4.7 million more Latinos under the age of 18 than there were 10 years ago.  By the year 2020, the majority of people under the age of 18 will be people of color.

So what are we doing as a field to engage the ‘new’ American community? Read the rest of this entry »

The Strength of Diversity: The Strength of the Arts

Posted by Robert Lynch On March - 12 - 2013
Rep. John Lewis (r) receives the 2009 Congressional Arts Award from Robert Lynch (l)

Rep. John Lewis (r) receives the 2009 Congressional Arts Award from Robert Lynch (l) during Arts Advocacy Day.

One of our great American leaders, Congressman John Lewis, has been celebrated in the news quite a bit recently. It is the 48th anniversary of the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, AL. The march was led by a young John Lewis—his skull was fractured, and for that sacrifice an enormous gain for civil rights and for voting rights was realized.

Congressman John Lewis is also a great arts leader. For years he has personally led the fight for fair tax treatment of artists. Many times over the last several decades, he has brought his powerful story of how the arts and the Civil Rights Movement were invaluable allies to Americans for the Arts gatherings.

He has pointed out that the arts—from folk or gospel or classical music performed in jails or the streets or in concert halls, to the visual arts in portrayals of the struggle through posters and placards—were a key to motivation and hope as the Civil Rights Movement progressed. We all honored him last week as he, Vice President Joe Biden, and others reenacted that famous bridge crossing.

During the State of the Union Address, President Obama highlighted the civil rights of the broad face of America when he honored the battles and sacrifice at Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. And during this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, First Lady Michelle Obama honored the transformative power of the arts and arts education for everyone when she said, “[The arts] are especially important for young people. Every day they engage in the arts, they learn to open their imaginations and dream just a little bigger and to strive everyday to reach those dreams.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Tossing Small Stones to Change an Entire Landscape

Posted by Kacy O'Brien On April - 3 - 2012

Kacy O'Brien

Change starts small, right?

We have seen time and again that small pockets of people, when seized with an idea, can come together and with the right leadership, momentum, and tools can affect change.

Change often starts with one person and a vision. If we want to be part of the “cultural zeitgeist, actively addressing the social inequities in our country” and reach “exponentially greater numbers of people,” as Diane Ragsdale suggests, then we need to do it in our backyards.

That may sound counter-intuitive—“to reach more people stay close to home”—but in my experience thus far as an early-career theatre producer, it seems to be the only way we’ll stay relevant to our respective communities.

In addition, cultural institutions need to have the room to try out ideas that are related to our missions, but not bound by them. That is not a new idea, by any stretch, but I think if we’re able to consider programming—not funding (though we could use that, too!)—in terms of venture capitalism, we may see large equity returns by way of audience growth, community partnerships and social relevance.

We talk a lot about relevance to our communities in the arts sector, particularly in regional institutions, and I think that the future of arts institutions and artists would benefit greatly from pursuing high-potential, high-risk programmatic change—what I’ll dub “venture capital projects.” Read the rest of this entry »

Back to the Future (Part 2)

Posted by Erik Takeshita On December - 2 - 2011

Erik Takeshita

The deeper the roots, the stronger we are. 

I have a print in my office made by a teen from The Point Community Development Corporation with this on it. I couldn’t agree more. We need to know where we came from to get where we wanted to go. This is true for individuals, organizations, and communities.

On November 16, Minneapolis-based Bedlam Theatre had 24 hours of live, web-streamed programming for “Give to the Max Day” including a panel discussion on “Placemaking? Arts Bubble or Dawning of a New Age?”

While I enjoyed participating in the conversation with Bedlam, Anne Gadwa from Metris Arts Consulting, and my colleagues from the Irrigate project (an artist-led creative placemaking initiative in St. Paul that received one of the initial ArtPlace grant awards in September), I am not sure we are asking the right question.

What I mean is I think placemaking is neither an “arts bubble” nor the “dawning of a new age,” but rather something that human beings have always done. We are always striving to make the places we inhabit more livable, attractive, and vibrant. Read the rest of this entry »

Emerging Ideas: Classical Music’s New Entrepreneurs (Part 3)

Posted by Ian David Moss On October - 27 - 2011

Ian David Moss

(This three-part post is the first of a series on emerging trends and notable lessons from the field, as reported by members of the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Council.)

The three enterprises discussed in Parts 1 and 2 are hardly the only examples of conservatory musicians or classically-aligned individuals shaking up the classical world with innovative ideas.

Here are a few other notable instances of classical music entrepreneurship that I’ve come across:

•    The Wordless Music Series burst on to the scene in New York five years ago, presenting a head-spinning mix of programs combining first-rate classical ensembles with esoteric indie rock bands on the same bill. Founded and curated by a former Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center staffer, Ronen Givony, Wordless Music bills have included Godspeed You! Black Emperor, composer Nico Muhly, and the United States premiere of a string orchestra piece by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. In many cases the events happen at unusual venues, such as churches, that are totally alien to the participants from the popular music realm.

•    The International Contemporary Ensemble has pioneered a remarkable hybrid structure that combines elements of performance group, presenter, and producer across multiple venues and even cities. More centralized than the grassroots chapter network of Classical Revolution, ICE is ostensibly based in Chicago and New York, but its network of ensemble members is spread out across the country. Founder Claire Chase, as well as many of the musicians, graduated from Oberlin Conservatory. Read the rest of this entry »

Curation and Controversy at the Smithsonian

Posted by Graham Dunstan On April - 29 - 2011

"Hide/Seek" catalogue from the National Portrait Gallery

“Above all I wanted to keep the exhibition open. I wanted to protect the Smithsonian in its entirety,” said Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution earlier this week at the symposium Flashpoints and Faultlines: Museum Curation and Controversy.

Clough was specifically addressing last year’s controversy over pulling David Wojnarowicz’s film A Fire in My Belly from the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” exhibit—a show demonstrating the influence of gays and lesbians in modern American portraiture.

The Smithsonian’s day-and-a-half symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art focused on the role of the curator and museum officials in curating and handling topics that could be controversial.

My personal hope as I went into the symposium Tuesday night was that Clough would say something along the lines of: If I had known what I know now I would have tried to find a different way of addressing the controversy. But it came as no surprise to me or the 100+ art enthusiasts, Smithsonian employees, reporters, and others who had gathered when he didn’t apologize for removing Wojnarowicz’s film or even try to excuse his decision. Read the rest of this entry »