Artists of Change

Posted by James LeFlore On July - 23 - 2013
James LeFlore

James LeFlore

The types of cultural district that I like best are those that are the hardest to define. They’re not the type that is bolstered by a fine arts institution or even have organized events that you can rely upon for your evening and weekend pleasure.  I’ve always been drawn to the artist-made hot spots that evolve over time and transform areas of town known as a “dud” into a “hub”.

Why is it that artists are so good at being able to do that? What do artists know that is so potently effective at revitalizing old buildings and empty neighborhoods where others coming beforehand have failed, given up, and left ruins to slowly fade into darkness? The answer to artists’ effectiveness at environmental change is not a secret, but it does involve magic. First, the power they wield comes directly from their ability to harness the power of unbridled creativity. The illusion they achieve is due to their capacity to suspend reality just long enough for cool things to start happening – as if they can animate the dead. Artists are the best-trained professional I can think of in the art of improvisation; and when the chips are down we all must know how to improvise, right? Read the rest of this entry »

John Eger

John Eger

President Obama has said repeatedly that “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” According to Forbes Magazine, “If there was a central theme to the president’s remarks, it was innovation.”

Yet, although everybody is talking about how innovation is what we need and will solve our jobless dilemma, few people know what innovation is or how we get it, or critically, what our communities must do to meet the challenges of the new age.

It is becoming clear that art and culture districts are vital to ensuring vibrant economic activity in our cities. They are foreshadowing a whole new economy based upon creativity and innovation.

Fortunately, Americans for the Arts (AFTA), who as early as 1998 researched the emergence of such districts in which the arts were used as part of a strategy for revitalizing cities, has now launched an even more ambitious effort:

A plan to produce an update of the earlier report, and more importantly, a three year effort – inviting mayors and other city executives, architects, city planners, and experts in the field to “blog”, and to participate in webinars and conferences to help cities and towns across America to reinvent their community for the new age, this rapidly emerging age of  “creativity and innovation.” Read the rest of this entry »

Wendy Hawkins

Wendy Hawkins

It is hard to imagine a more visceral and impactful medium for connecting to an audience than film.  And if our goal is to bring about social change, what better medium for getting people to step up and take action than a well-made film?

I had the pleasure last week of participating on a panel on the topic of storytelling for social change – particularly around documentary films – at the 2013 CECP Summit.  There Joe Brewster told of the 13 years he and his wife spent filming their own son and his best friend as they embarked with great anticipation on the journey of their elementary and high school education – a journey that took them to some darker places and greater challenges than they had ever anticipated for this much loved son of a middle class African American family in New York City.  American Promise is deeply moving and delivers tough messages about the role of assumptions and biases in defining the world in which these boys grow up – beyond the ability of their parents to shape and control.

Rashid Shabazz of the Open Society Foundations and Program Officer for Black Male Achievement told of the process by which he and his foundation decided that this film had the potential to move audiences in ways that other, more traditional grants might never reach. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art and the Military

Posted by Ann Wykell On May - 17 - 2013
Ann Wykell

Ann Wykell

As art consultant to The Patterson Foundation (TPF) in Sarasota, FL, I manage the commissions of public art for the assembly space in Sarasota National Cemetery.  The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), National Cemetery Administration, builds and administers 131 national cemeteries in the US. TPF an endowed charitable foundation and is fully funding the design and construction of the ceremonial amphitheater called Patriot Plaza, as a gift to the VA to honor the military ties of the family whose fortune endowed the Foundation. The theme of Patriot Plaza is Honor Veterans, Inspire Patriotism, and Embrace Freedom.

To select artists we followed best-practices for public art process, as defined by the Public Art Network of Americans for the Arts. However working within a military space has implications that are not typically encountered when placing art in public spaces. It is impossible to make meaningful art about the military without encountering the historical, political, art-historical and personal context. Typical questions for a public art project took on nuances and complexities: Who is our audience? What is this space used for? A national cemetery is a place where active duty military killed in the line of duty are buried, and where men and women whose honorable service took place decades earlier choose to be interred. It also provides burial space for eligible family members of veterans. Read the rest of this entry »

Who’s the Voice of Guantánamo?

Posted by Liz Sevcenko On May - 17 - 2013
Liz Sevcenko

Liz Sevcenko

“I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late,” wrote hunger striker Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel in his 11th year of detention. Our eyes have looked away before:  twenty years ago this month, another group staged a hunger strike to bring attention to their indefinite detention at GTMO. They were Haitian refugees seeking asylum in the United States, first rescued at sea and then held in makeshift tent cities behind barbed wire while their cases were considered. In 1993, the hunger strike drew international attention.  After an intense legal battle supported by a strong social movement, in June a US district court judge “closed Guantánamo.” So why is it still open?

GTMO has over a century of history before 9-11. It’s been used and reused to contain a whole variety of perceived threats, from communism to communicable disease. While the Haitian camps were closed in 1993, the government’s right to hold people at GTMO indefinitely was ultimately upheld – allowing “Gitmo” as we know it to open just a few years later.

But for many military families, GTMO has never been forgotten. “My most vivid memories of Guantánamo was everything just being free down there,” says Anita Lewis Isom, whose father was stationed there in the early 1960s. “I would give anything to be able to go back.”

How can Guantánamo represent both freedom and confinement? What can we learn from this contradiction? Read the rest of this entry »

Enriching the Public Narrative

Posted by Joanna Chin On May - 16 - 2013
Joanna Chin

Joanna Chin

On the website for the Combat Paper Project, founder Drew Cameron (who issued a brilliant call to action in our blog salon on Tuesday) is quoted:

 The story of the fiber, the blood, sweat and tears, the months of hardship and brutal violence are held within those old uniforms. The uniforms often become inhabitants of closets or boxes in the attic. Reshaping that association of subordination, of warfare and service, into something collective and beautiful is our inspiration.

Today’s topic gets at the heart of why the arts are and have the potential to be so effective in this intersecting space with the military. Whether contributing to national interests abroad or supporting service members here in the U.S., artists are core to changing and enriching the public narrative around the military, war, and service members. Today’s bloggers will speak to the ways that artists from within and outside the military are creating art that impacts the public narrative about the politics of war and military culture, and the effects on those actively engaged as well as those left behind.

Up until this point in this salon, we’ve talked about the connection between the arts and the military as something new and ground-breaking. However, in his post later on today, Artistic Director of Outside the Wire, Bryan Doerries places the company’s innovative Theater of War Production within the context of storytelling and a history that stretches back to the ancient Greek tragedies. Picking up on this thread of connectivity – between past and present; military and civilian – Graffiti of War Project founder, Jaeson Parsons articulates that “art, in its many forms, can be that bridge we so desperately need” for this generation. On the civilian side, Tammy Ryan, having never experienced war firsthand, provides some insight into the forces that drive us as artists to create work that gives voice to an issue, sparks conversation, and contributes to larger social and policy change.

Advancing Cultural Diplomacy

Posted by Joanna Chin On May - 15 - 2013
Joanna Chin

Joanna Chin

After moving from the individual warrior to families and communities of service members, we’d like to widen the lens even further. Our first post of the day by theater artist, David Diamond, transitions us from work with service members returning home to arts activity supporting military communities abroad. His reflection on experiences working on army bases abroad gives a personal context to the topic of day: the relationship of the arts to cultural diplomacy and military missions abroad.

In the past couple of decades, the arts have gained legs as a tool for diplomacy and as a transformational lever to build transnational community connections, bridge cultural distinctions, strengthen foreign relations, and support military communities abroad. However, this growing appreciation for the power of the arts and culture carries with it additional challenges and questions:

  • What is the role or responsibility of the military to protect other nations’ culture?
  • How do arts and culture strategies contribute to the success of U.S. missions abroad? to stronger civic structures?
  • What are the ambiguities for artists and cultural workers helping achieve “soft power” objectives?

Check back in later today for posts from General Nolen Bivens, U.S. Army, Ret. and Professor of International Communications at American University, Dr. Robert Albro, which will offer differing insights around these important questions.

Walking Wounded

Posted by admin On May - 14 - 2013

Walking Wounded
By Maritza Rivera

I used to dance
and carry your weight
effortlessly across
the floor.

I used to walk
the distance of your gaze
keep cadence when you marched
kick a soccer ball past the goalie
score winning runs
dash to the finish line.

A bullet whispered your name
before you heard the shot
before you felt the sting of it.
When you regain consciousness
I will be a ghost of searing pain
reminding you of how I felt
before the lights dimmed. Read the rest of this entry »

Start Your Own Workshop

Posted by Drew Cameron On May - 14 - 2013
Drew Cameron, photo by

Drew Cameron, photo by Kari Ovik

Like many recently separated veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan era of wars, I enrolled into community college as soon as I left active duty. The war I had been a part of was just two years old and I remained uncertain about identifying as having been in the military. I was a diligent student and kept to myself but enjoyed the classroom dialogue. Occasionally related material about the wars would surface and I would share my perspective with the class. There was always a sudden quiet when I chose to speak about the war as a veteran, as if I had a just trumped the other’s ability to have a contribution any further in fear of offending or denigrating mine. “I can’t imagine what it was like over there,” was the collective sentiment much to my dismay.

Workshop in progress, photo courtesy of Combat Paper

Workshop in progress, photo courtesy of Combat Paper

Fast-forward a few more years of deployments, a growing population of young veterans filtering back into towns across America, the demanding fervor of war fighting and the inevitable growth of arts groups, workshops and collections of activists seeking to illuminate the complexity of it all. Yet still, our common greeting of the day for those who have returned from war is, “Thank you, welcome home, I don’t know if I have the framework to understand your experience.” There it is, but if you honestly asked yourself, don’t you want to know?

Since beginning to facilitate workshops with veteran and civilian communities in 2006 with the group Warrior Writers and then Combat Paper Project, I have noticed a growing trend in others seeking to do the same thing. Historically there is a strong tradition of individuals, groups, and organizations turning to the arts to investigate and connect affected communities in warfare. Today, whether it intuition or mandate, I am encouraged at how the arts are once again connecting not only the veteran population but civilians as well through a massive growth in workshop based practice.

Read the rest of this entry »

Music Helps the Military and Healing

Posted by Rebecca Vaudreuil On May - 13 - 2013
Rebecca Vaudreuil

Rebecca Vaudreuil

Military service members are returning home in mass quantities nation-wide, some locations more prevalently populated and therefore more noticeable than others, such as in San Diego where Resounding Joy’s Semper Sound Military Music Therapy Program is based. 13% of all active duty military service members are stationed in California and San Diego has one of the largest military populations and is home to thousands of service members and their families. The need for service is ubiquitous and it is our calling to serve those who protect our freedoms as Americans.

The ever-compelling questions of, “WHY music?” and more commonly , “HOW can music therapy help returning veterans?” is answered  in the complete music therapy  definition as released by the American Music Therapy Association stating,Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”  Music therapy was founded after WWII when psychologists at the VA in Topeka, Kansas saw the advantageous affects that music created by volunteer musicians had on the veterans. Psychologists began to train these volunteer musicians in the realm of behavioral psychology and hence the commencement of the music   therapy degree, which can be earned on the bachelors, masters, and PhD levels from accredited universities.

In addition to this concise yet comprehensive definition, music therapy is used to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, promote physical rehabilitation and very importantly with the military, provide reintegration opportunities.

Table 1:1  Pre/Post Music Therapy Pain and Anxiety Scales ; Observation Length- 8 weeks; n= 15New Picture (5)

Read the rest of this entry »

And the Oscar Goes to…Arts Education

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen On February - 26 - 2013
First Lady Michelle Obama presented the nominees for Best Picture and announced "Argo" as the winning film via satellite.

First Lady Michelle Obama presented the nominees for Best Picture and announced “Argo” as the winning film via satellite.

The big winner at Sunday night’s Academy Awards was arts education. In two key moments, a spotlight was shone on the important role the arts play in children’s lives.

At the end of the broadcast, there was the wonderful statement of support by First Lady Michelle Obama. She said, “They 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 every day to reach those dreams.”

But before the First Lady’s surprise appearance, there was another big moment for arts education during the Best Documentary Short category. The winning film, Inocente, is the story of a 15-year-old girl who refuses to let her dream of becoming an artist be stifled by her life as an undocumented immigrant forced to live homeless for the last nine years.

Inocente was introduced to the arts through a program in San Diego called ARTS | A Reason To Survive, which uses therapeutic arts programming, arts education, and college & career preparation to create pathways to success for youth facing adversity. Founder Matt D’Arrigo is a member of Americans for the Arts and we featured his programs in our December 2012 edition of the Monthly Wire, our member newsletter.

The following video from San Diego’s ABC affiliate shows the arc of events for Inocente—starting homeless, then participating in ARTS’ programs, all the way up to production of the documentary and standing onstage at the Oscars after Americans for the Arts Artists Committee member Kerry Washington revealed her story as the winning documentary:  Read the rest of this entry »

Blog Salon Recap: So, Does Size Matter?

Posted by Joanna Chin On December - 7 - 2012

Joanna Chin

As the newest staff member on the Animating Democracy team, reflecting on how our past has informed present work has been illuminating.

By placing individual artists and organizations such as those that made up our original Animating Democracy Lab cohort into a national or field-wide context, we hope we have helped to magnify their impact over time and on a national scale.

Although the initial Animating Democracy grant cohort was a relatively small group (36 organizations), we continue to see the connections and ripples from relationships formed through many deep learning exchanges. As time progresses, the connections made within a small group of artists and arts organizations continues to “scale out” (a phrase borrowed from Roberto Bedoya’s post) in the form of collaborations and cross sector work such as that of Sojourn Theatre.

We have always been a national initiative; but, we accomplish our goals by creating opportunities to capture and translate the practitioner’s voice to a broader field and across sectors. This is still essentially true in our current work exploring the social impact of the arts as well as mapping art and social change trends.

We are national in scope, but scale has been achieved primarily through promoting human connections and ripples over time. In this vein, I’d like to take a crack at summarizing and connecting our bloggers under some major themes/approaches that emerged during the Salon: Read the rest of this entry »

An Artist Reflects on Growth through the Eyes of His Community

Posted by Regin Igloria On December - 6 - 2012

Regin Igloria

Staying small sounds a bit counter-intuitive to creative types, especially artists.

Take into consideration the many years of art school where teachers keep telling students to “work bigger” so that they can “see that piece done on a much larger scale.” Sometimes it speaks beyond the formal issues of a piece: understanding that the effectiveness of its meaning and concept can be directly related to the size of the audience it has reached.

I’ve been thinking about this topic of scale my entire career, not just as a studio artist, but as a teacher and arts administrator who constantly has to create opportunities for others in the field while maintaining some sense of respect for my own creative ambitions.

My full-time paying gig is serving as the Director of Artists-In-Residence at The Ragdale Foundation, where artists, writers, and composers are offered time and space to get important work done.

As administrators, we are constantly balancing the working conditions of the artists, especially when it comes time to “gather round the dinner table.” Yes, sometimes the space where we consume our food is more important than the size of the studio where we make work.

We’ve kept the number of residents to about a dozen residents per session, so everyone can sit family-style at one large table rather than in separate clique-y style cafeteria tables. This is just one example of how to keep the residents engaged with appropriate peers (Author’s Note: You can read about the various types of programs through the Alliance of Artist Communities.) Read the rest of this entry »

Scaling Out Like a Saguaro Cactus

Posted by Roberto Bedoya On December - 6 - 2012

Roberto Bedoya

I don’t have a great talent to align easily with authority…one could say I have an allergic response to it…so when I was asked to write about “scaling up”, my head began to ache and I started to sneeze.

Maybe my responses are triggered by the “authoritarian” tone associated with scaling up, it’s hierarchical connotations that projects images of success, as a bigger and better operation that makes me wonder about the assumptions at work here or maybe it is the management chants of “scale up, scale up” that makes me nervous.

I do not oppose the work of scaling up, but I am not a skilled manger in that arena and the process of scaling up is mercurial to me. My experiences in the arena of community cultural development practices, has produce a understanding of scaling that is focused on scaling “out” as opposed to scaling “up”

A desert story: The most beautiful aspects of the Sonoran desert are the Saguaro cacti. Their majesty is how they dot the landscape as these tall and eloquent plants that reach upward. And in their long life span it takes up to 75 years to develop a side arm that stand out against the vivid blue of the desert sky. In the heat of this desert they thrive and their success lies in their root systems—a system that is linear, moves outward across the land and grows and proposer.

The Saguaro is a model of development that we can learn from—how to scale out and thrive. I find that the language of scaling up is inadequate when ones charge, as an art leader is to foster cultural vitality and support an equitable society. To do this work over time one must know to build relations, know how to scale-out these relationships that results in healthy communities and a robust democracy. Read the rest of this entry »

Go Deep to Go Wide

Posted by Jeanette Lee and Mike Medow On December - 6 - 2012

Attendees enjoy an Allied Media Conference session.

Organizers often believe we have to choose between breadth and depth. Do we prioritize meaningful relationships or strive to “reach” the greatest number of people?

At Allied Media Projects we see this is a false dichotomy. Over the past 15 years of organizing the annual Allied Media Conference (AMC), we have learned that we can achieve broad engagement while also prioritizing deep relationships.

Relationships are key

The AMC has a unique conference organizing model that fosters relationships at the internal and interpersonal, community, and inter-community levels. Small-scale relationships fostered through the AMC have ripple effects that create large-scale impact. Founded as a zine conference in 1999 around the independent press mantra of “become the media,”  the AMC has since evolved a theory of change that says:

Creating our own media is a process of speaking and listening that allows us to investigate the problems that shape our realities, imagine other realities and then organize our communities to make them real. When we use media in this way, we transform ourselves from consumers of information to producers, from objects within narratives of exploitation and violence to active subjects in the transformation of the world.

Our definition of “media” has grown over the years to include everything from breakdancing to broadcasting community radio and building web applications. The conference features more than 140 hands-on workshops, strategy conversations, caucus meetings, and art and music events. 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

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

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.