8 Ways a Cultural Event Can Transcend Genre, Geography & Demographics

Posted by P. Scott Cunningham On April - 24 - 2013
P. Scott Cunningham

P. Scott Cunningham

Three years ago, a group of friends and I started to dream up what a lot of people considered impossible: a festival that would bring poetry to all 2.6 million residents of Greater Miami.

At that time, Miami’s cultural scene was exploding. Art Basel was in full force, and we wanted to do a festival that was the opposite of the “pipe-and-blazer” readings that most people associate with poetry. We wanted to do a festival that reflected Miami’s diversity and personality.

Knight Foundation had just finished the first round of its famous Random Acts of Culture™ and we liked how those events turned everyday events into cultural occasions. What if did something like that? What if we did it every day for a month?

And that’s how O, Miami was born. In the poetry festival’s first year, we did 45 events and 19 projects in a 30-day span, and almost none of them had a recognizable headliner. (You can get a taste for it in a new report being published this week.)

As we headed into our second full incarnation of the festival this month, we wanted to share a few of the things we learned about engaging new audiences and creating a cultural event that transcends geography, genre, and demographics… Read the rest of this entry »

Richard Jaffe

Richard Jaffe

April is National Poetry Month, inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets to celebrate poetry and its vital role in American culture. The academy sponsors events such as the star-studded Poetry & the Creative Mind Gala (April 17 at Lincoln Center in New York City) and mass-appeal activities like Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 18), when everyone is encouraged to carry a poem.

I love April, and not just because of my birthday and all those Final Four games!

We would be wise to celebrate America’s poetry because it’s an art form that does as much—sometimes even more—for the writer as the reader. Poems inspire, educate, and cleanse. And now that writing has become more abbreviated with blogs, text messages, tweets and the like, the time is perfect for poetry to make a big comeback.

The process of exploring my thoughts and feelings and expressing them in symbolic word images exercises my creativity in a fun way. I think it makes me sharper and, the more I explore the well of my imagination, the faster it fills again.

Everyone can benefit from writing poetry, whether they want to share it or not, because it:

1. Improves cognitive function. Learning new words (I’m never without a Thesaurus), working out meter (math!), and finding new ways to articulate our thoughts and feelings (communication) are all good for the brain. Want to get smarter? Write poetry!  Read the rest of this entry »

The Arts Are Patriotic, Too

Posted by Robert Lynch On February - 5 - 2013
Robert L. Lynch

Robert L. Lynch

Imagine this scene: there is a band playing as you walk in. As the musicians wrap up their piece and take their seats, a large choir pops up, featuring top-notch a cappella performers. This performance segues into rousing solo performances from vocalists backed up by beautiful orchestrations. Great writers are celebrated. Poetry is recited. And the whole celebration is capped off with—what else?—dancing.

If you were in Washington D.C. last week, or anywhere near a television, you might recognize this event, not as an arts festival, a cabaret, or a musical, but as our Presidential Inauguration. It’s probably not the first thing most people noticed as they watched the pomp and circumstance of a centuries-old tradition play out, but it is certainly what struck me most: at our most essentially American moments, when we want to celebrate most fully and most impressively, we inevitably employ the arts.

What I saw was:

  • The presentation of our National Colors through military music and choreography.
  • The spectacular Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
  • Myrlie Evers-Williams reciting the words to a great, moving spiritual at the center of her comments.
  • The story of the Dome of the Capital—of architecture, art and fine craft—completed in the middle of the Civil War as an artistic symbol of our Union. And the story of the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome—a piece of art cast, assembled and put in place by slaves in 1863.
  • Musicians James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson, and the Marine Band each singing our national treasures: the great patriotic songs of our country.
  • Poet Richard Blanco reading “One Today”; references again and again to a movie, “Lincoln;” handcrafted crystal vases gifted to the president and vice president at lunch; the gifts given to all members of Congress, a portfolio of essays related to the Statue of Freedom—in the words of Nancy Pelosi: “Freedom stands on the Dome of the Capitol.”
  • And so many more examples, from the arts and music performances in the parade and balls, to Speaker John Boehner’s story of a team of mother and daughter seamstresses who made the huge flag that hung over Ft. McHenry and inspired our national anthem.  Read the rest of this entry »

Unleashing Creativity in the Classroom via Common Core Standards

Posted by Natasha Hoehn On September - 13 - 2012

When I think of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I think of Martha Graham. I think of John Keats.

My imagination runs wild with images of fun, inspired, powerful learning experiences for kids. There is no doubt in my mind that this transition opens the door for new energy and greater opportunity to elevate the joyful practice and rigorous study of the arts in our classrooms across the nation.

It says something powerful to me that the authors of the Math and English Language Arts (ELA) standards often begin their explanations of the CCSS through art. Last month, for example, I savored several lovely minutes gazing at a sketch of a Grecian vase in a hotel ballroom packed with K–12 district academic administrators. This wasn’t a time-filler. It was the keynote speaker himself, Phil Daro, describing the major transitions in the Math Standards by invoking Keats’ “Ode to a Grecian Urn.”

Keats’ image and accompanying poem, the pinnacle of art meeting craft, he explained, conveys the major instructional shifts of the new Math Standards. As as he spoke, I couldn’t help but think of the ways in which Keats’ ekphrastic approach, the poetic representation of a painting or sculpture in words, mirrors the function of math in human endeavors, as the beautifully-crafted ten-line stanzas, quatrain and sestet, the lines explore the relationship between art and humanity.

Keats’ topic and craft also invoke CCSS-Math’s call for increased focus, coherence, and rigor in conceptual understanding, procedural skill, and application, academic skills. Indeed, many of these academic math skills, as arts educators well know, can also be taught and reinforced well through music, visual arts, and dance. Rhythm as fractions. Choreography as geometry. Math as art.

Similarly, I’ve enjoyed experiencing David Coleman launch into his wonderfully compelling elucidations of the new English Language Arts standards by asking educators in the room read aloud a short first-person narrative, often from some of the world’s greatest artists. I’ve heard him guide a room full of the wonkiest of wonks through Martha Graham’s “This I Believe” testimony from NPR. Read the rest of this entry »

Mentorship and the Millenial Woman

Posted by Delali Ayivor On July - 17 - 2012

Delali Ayivor

There has been much talk lately of what it means to be a “modern woman.”

I am told that I am a millennial, that I am part of a generation, a movement much larger than myself. This may be true for the purposes of the census but on a day-to-day level I am not overly-conscious of myself as a particular type of woman who is part of a particular type of generation. I owe that to my parents, who built a life for my sister and myself that meant that we could decide who we wanted to be, that we could fulfill most of our dreams if we had the ambition.

So this blog post is not about what it means to be a millennial woman because:

1.) I’m less concerned with “having it all” by myself as I am with everyone getting the very least that they deserve (give me a society with truly equal rights for all, then we’ll talk.)

2.) I’m 19-years-old and I cannot speak on behalf of an entire people.

I have refused to do this since third grade when, while becoming friends with the most popular girl in school, I was designated as the emissary to tell some poor girl who had done nothing that “no one” liked her; I’ve strayed away from the crowd mentality ever since.

What this post is about is mentorship.

This has been a pivotal argument in the “modern woman” debate: who does the next generation of women look up to and why? The landscape seems bleak. Those astute enough not to follow the Kardashian life plan seem equally as disinterested in becoming the high-flying corporate woman on the other end of the spectrum. So the millennial generation, my generation, has decided they can go it alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Bringing Poetry to Prisons

Posted by Victoria Ford On July - 17 - 2012

Victoria Ford

It’s rare, if not completely unheard of, to hear a recent college graduate speak about the social responsibility that compels him to reach the community at-large as well as the individual spirit.

And quite possibly, it’s even more unique to hear this from a young poet, one who holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School of Business coupled with a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.

And so, I introduce you to a good friend of mine, Cortney Charleston, a man who embodies a beautiful truth: philanthropic and volunteer work should not be solely reserved for more glamorous and older generations.

I asked Cortney to detail his personal artistic journey that brought him to this understanding, and how his two years of service spent hosting poetry workshops at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center (PICC) have affected him and can indirectly, I hope, change our own personal beliefs about service.

Victoria: From looking at your educational background, it’s interesting that during your college career you became a poet. Could you explain that journey and how you came to pursue poetry?

Cortney: I suppose having a business degree and an interest in poetry would surprise most people (not to mention the fact I did not take an English course during my entire tenure at Penn), but for me, it was a very natural progression.

During my Freshman Year, I was going through a tumultuous time. I was struggling to find my niche on campus, I was lonely, romantically frustrated, and my family life began to deteriorate. My grades dipped and my extracurricular involvements were not giving me the escape I needed. I needed a way to work through my trials.

Poetry was not initially a consideration. I happened upon it by chance. A friend of mine was visiting Penn in the spring semester, trying to decide between coming there or going to Stanford. I decided to show him around and take him to [see a spoken word performance on campus by] the Excelano Project. I had not seen the group at that time; I had only heard rumblings around campus. Quite frankly, I walked in there and was blown away. It was at that moment I thought poetry might be the outlet I needed. Read the rest of this entry »

Camille Russell Love

There is an undeniable compatibility with the arts and the City of Atlanta local economy. According to the newest evidence provided by the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV report on Atlanta, our nonprofit arts and culture organizations are a $300 million industry.

This calculation is a combination of the expenditures of these organizations ($168.1 million) and that of the attendees to cultural events ($131.9 million), excluding ticket prices. This local spending by residents and visitors to arts events benefits not only local business but local government as well.

Local government revenue from the above mentioned cultural expenditures, according to the AEP IV study, are $14 million. Proper distribution of these above mentioned government funds, in support of Atlanta’s booming arts industry will continue to heighten the city’s economic standing—without question. A good example of this cyclical relationship is a 2011 project of the Office of Cultural Affairs, Elevate/Art Above Underground. Local businesses, ranging from mom and pop shops to large hotel chains, gathered in support this downtown contemporary art and culture initiative.

Downtown Atlanta received a rather bold, immediate, and affirmative reaction following Elevate’s implementation. Elevate/Art Above Underground, a 66-day performance and visual arts exhibition in 2011, filled vacant properties, street corners, and plazas to showcase artwork ranging from 13-story murals to contemporary dance, video, installation, and poetry.

Although public funding allocated through our percent for art program was the direct source for the artist commissions, additional funding to execute an exhibition of this caliber was provided through local Atlanta businesses. Donation of art space, hotel rooms, theatrical lighting, food, advertising, and cash support nearly doubled the exhibition’s initial budget. Read the rest of this entry »

Recognizing the Light (in Poetry, Spoken Word)

Posted by Delali Ayivor On June - 28 - 2012

Delali Ayivor

At age fifteen, I made the decision, completely of my own accord, to move halfway across the world from my home in Accra, Ghana to Interlochen, Michigan so that I could attend boarding school and learn to be a writer.

Yet, still, three years down the line, I had to be told that I was a poet. Sure, I knew that I wrote poems, I even knew that some of them were pretty good, but to me, a poet was something larger than that, something otherworldly and infinitely wise that I could only ever hope to become after years of turmoil, some kind of Southeast Asian religious epiphany, at least one mutually-abusive romantic relationship, and lots of hard drinking.

But when I was named a YoungArts finalist in poetry and then, later that same year, a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts in poetry, reality intruded, and I was forced to give up my romanticism in favor of convenience.

Recently, after a performance with YoungArts in Los Angeles, in which I performed one of a series of poems that revolved around black women and the complex relationship we have with our hair, I was introduced to someone as a spoken word poet.

While they enthused about the authenticity of my poem and my presence on stage, I was struck completely dumb. “Hold on,” I thought. “I just barely reconciled myself with being a Jr. Deputy Poet in Training. How did I become a spoken word artist? Can you even become a spoken word artist without trying?” And then of course, came the perennial paranoid knee-jerk reaction familiar to many “Is this only happening to me because I’m Black?” Read the rest of this entry »

Victoria Ford

My name is Victoria Ford. I’m Southern, I’m black, and I’m an artist. Perhaps you’re wondering—and appropriately so—why I would begin this way.

My introduction is inspired by exciting news. With her recent honor as the 19th U.S. Poet Laureate, Natasha Tretheway is the first Southern writer to hold this prestigious title since Robert Penn Warren. She is also the first African-American Poet Laureate since Rita Dove, who held the post in 1993—almost two decades ago.

That year holds a great deal of weight to me being that it was my birth year, an indication that during the course of my young life there have only been two female black poets, two artists I can closely relate to, who’ve held this title.

Shortly before finishing my first year in college and prior to beginning my internship with Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C., I’d been invested in answering a particular question: What are the ethnographic implications on my artistic context?

I frame the question this way because I’m not interested in answering the age-old question, “Who am I?”—this I’ve already answered. Rather, “Why am I and what difference does it make?” is a question that I find myself perpetually chasing.

So let’s begin here. Why am I here? Before this internship, before any shatter of a formal arts education, I was 12 and in middle school. It was there that poetry first came alive to me in the form of a friend. I thought of poetry as a sacred language we shared. Something ignited in my relationship with words and images. Writing became less a mandatory school affair and more a site of inexhaustible magic. Read the rest of this entry »

Marty Pottenger

Art At Work

Recently, I found myself sitting in a circle in Portland, ME, leading a group that includes the city manager, police chief, a leader in the Occupy Maine movement, one of the founders of Portland’s NAACP, leaders from the Sudanese and Congolese refugee communities, the president of a city union (CEBA), and a doctor active in public health, among others. The members of this group are impressive and diverse, but what we are sharing is more so.

In only seven minutes, 20 city and community leaders composed poems that draw upon their personal histories, the history of Portland, and those things they have witnessed in this place we all call home.

Increasing the Odds

All of Art At Work’s projects are designed to increase the odds that Portland and their partner cities (Holyoke, Northampton, and Providence in 2012), launch their own Art At Work will be better able to turn anticipated social and economic crises into opportunities by integrating creative engagement in their ‘way of doing business.’

This workshop was a part of Portland Works, another one of our experiments in figuring out how to harness the transformative power of art to achieve concrete community-based outcomes. These workshops bring together community and city leaders to create a dialogue and increase understanding between individuals and groups that often see one another as obstacles as opposed to allies. “It’s just brilliant,” says Mike Miles, the City of Portland’s director of human resources, “using art to break conceptions about who people are and what people do.”

Art At Work, of which Portland Works is just one part, is designed to improve municipal government through strategic arts projects involving city employees, elected officials, community leaders, and local artists. Read the rest of this entry »

Hill Harper: Arts Advocacy is Something I Live Everyday

Posted by Tim Mikulski On April - 23 - 2012

2012 Arts Advocacy Day Co-chair Hill Harper took a few minutes out of his busy schedule during the two-day summit to talk to ARTSblog about arts advocacy, his own arts education experiences, and how he fights to help future generations receive it.

Seeing Anew: How Serving on a Selection Panel Changed My Perspective (Podcast)

Posted by John R. Killacky On February - 28 - 2012

John R. Kilacky

(Editor’s Note: Play the podcast above to hear John read his post. Both were first published by Vermont Public Radio earlier this month.)

Recently I served as a panelist for the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. Forty-nine applicants wanted to be embedded in scientific research teams. They sought to explore the ethos, mythologies, and realities of this extraordinary continent.

Composers wanted to listen to the wind, water, animals, and shifting ice. Visuals artists hoped to delve into infinite striations of whiteness: the effects of transparency on ice, the glitter of ice crystals, and light and shadow patterns on the surface and internal features of the frozen landscape.

Photographers and documentarians were drawn to the heroics of transformative research under such harsh conditions. Poets and writers wanted to go with a blank page free of hypothesis. Choreographers aspired to locate themselves in the overwhelming immensity of endless horizons.

My panel duty did not ignite a travel-lust of my own for Antarctica; instead I have been inspired by these artists to pay more attention to my own home environment. Seeing anew, I observe how the longer days continually shift the light in the woods behind our town house to reveal an ever-evolving panorama. I never realized before, just how many different kinds of birds live there even in winter. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry and Promise: Education Reform & the Arts

Posted by Ken Busby On February - 17 - 2012

I judged a poetry slam this weekend—Louder Than A Bomb–Tulsa!

It’s amazing to hear young people sharing about their lives and ideas through poetry. This was the second year for the event. The excitement and enthusiasm expressed by these students was palpable:

Listening to their poetry really made me start thinking anew about just how important the arts are to shaping young minds—helping build self-confidence, fostering creativity, and excelling in school. We as artists, art professionals, and art educators are very often a major factor in a student’s success.

Ten states, including Oklahoma, recently received a reprieve from complying with certain aspects of No Child Left Behind. It seems like we keep lowering our standards rather than lifting up our youth to meet and exceed the challenges put before them.

How are we going to have a capable workforce replete with skills for the 21st century if we keep lowering our requirements for graduation? Companies are spending millions of dollars every year providing remedial training. Universities are spending millions of dollars every year on remedial classes.

We cannot solve our current economic woes by burying our heads in the sand and hoping by some miracle that our youth will figure it out and be successful when we haven’t provided the proper foundation or the means to foster success. Read the rest of this entry »

An Interactive Arts Poem…Add Your Lines

Posted by Christina Wolfgram On August - 2 - 2011

Christina Wolfgram

A choka is a type of Japanese poem that is cousin to the haiku, using some of the same syllable restrictions.

Because of its short verses, the choka is easy to turn into a group poem. One person writes the first verse (with the syllable count of 5-7-5) and then each person after that writes two lines, the first with seven syllables, the second with five syllables. There is no limit to how long a choka can be – they can go on forever!

This summer, I’ve had an awesome experience interning with Americans for the Arts. At first, I was surprised at how dire the arts’ situation is – I felt ashamed that I had spent so many years in school growing with arts at hand and never taking the time to appreciate it.

I was inspired by the passion and dedication shown by those who spend every day working for arts advocacy.

So, I’ve decided to start a choka about the arts (who doesn’t love art about art, right?), and hope that you will take a minute out of your day to add a verse to it. Read the rest of this entry »

Introduction to the Encyclopedia Show

Posted by Robbie Q. Telfer On July - 26 - 2011

Robbie Q. Telfer

Hi, the internet! My name’s Robbie Q. Telfer, and I’m a performance poet and live event producer from Chicago.

The two biggest projects I am currently in charge of implementing are the annual Chicagoland youth spoken word festival Louder Than a Bomb and the monthly literary variety show the Encyclopedia Show. Both events are intensely rewarding, constantly challenging, and deeply exhausting endeavors.

The Encyclopedia Show was created by myself and longtime collaborator Shanny Jean Maney in December 2008 in part as a response to the adult performance poetry movement getting bogged down in cliquey cheerleading and egotistical self-indulgence.

Essentially, Shanny and I saw that there was this huge international community of trained performance artists who, after years of competing in poetry slams, were beginning to itch for new artistic challenges that had ostensible goals grander than “convince five strangers to give me high points in an intentionally absurd competition.”

Oh, that’s a fine goal for a while, but it would be akin to playing Apples to Apples every weekend for your whole life. They’re fun games and all, but there are so many more artistic possibilities if you just change up the rules. Read the rest of this entry »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Teaching Artists

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Charting the Future of the Arts

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices

Evaluation

Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

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.