Reflections on the Americans for the Arts Convention

During an unseasonably warm weekend mid-June in San Francisco, more than 1,200 arts and culture workers gathered for the annual Americans for the Arts Convention. Hosted locally by the San Francisco Arts Commission, the convention provided a great opportunity for the California Arts Council programs staff to network with their peers, connect with grantees and learn more about the issues that impact our work to support creativity and culture across the state.

Upon return from the Bay, members of our staff were gracious enough to reflect on the experience and jot down their thoughts on what would be most helpful for the field!

Shelly Gilbride, Programs Officer:  

Take-away #1: Foster evaluation from within – honoring the curiosity, explorations and intellect of artists and participants.

One of the sessions that inspired and energized me the most was one on … EVALUATION! Oh, I hear the virtual groans from all of you grantees and applicants. I hope you will read on, because these toolkits and resources from Animating Democracy are very cool and super useful. The Aesthetics Perspective Initiative is an 11-pronged framework that can give artists, arts organizations, funders and supporters a common language to unpack conceptualizations of “artistic merit” or “artistic excellence,” addressing the dominance of Eurocentric aesthetic standards, and acknowledging that artistic merit is relative to the community where the creative work is situated, as well as the work’s intent and goals. Check out the Companion Guides for artists, funders, evaluators and curators. I am still thinking about how to apply this framework to the CAC’s grant programs. Certainly it is food for thought as our staff and Council continue to assess review criteria for our grant programs.

Josy Miller, Arts Education Programs Specialist:

Take-away #2: Diversifying arts leadership relies on pre-professional development from within the field.

The dynamic session on “Building Next Generation Leadership in Arts Education,” facilitated by Tamara Alvarado of the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza (a CAC grantee!), included a multiplicity of voices from around the country discussing how to foster emerging arts education leaders. Perspectives were diverse, and specific strategies reflected important differences in organizational goals and contexts, yet a single refrain emerged over the course of the discussion: Young leaders must be fostered from within.

Both veteran and emerging leaders shared personal histories on how they got their starts, not only in the arts, but as arts leaders. Time and again, these stories included instances in which the individual had been invited and encouraged to take on high order tasks and duties. Crucially, these were not lessons, but rather actual chances to develop and implement projects that had real organizational consequences. The potential for failure hovered, mitigated by the presence of a mentor that supported, but did not direct their mentee’s process and decision making. These opportunities not only imbued those young people with the skill sets necessary to evolve into successful arts leaders in the future, but cultivated their understandings of themselves as leaders already.

Americans for the Arts is currently crafting a toolkit for arts education leadership development, which is set to be released in January, so certainly keep your eyes out for that. In the meantime, we at the CAC invite you to partner with us in fostering leadership talent from the ranks of amazing young people that are already in our midst!

Jaren Bonillo, Arts Program Specialist

Take-away #3: Model new forms of action, change narratives, share stories, and be of service to others.

On my way to the opening AFTA plenary, I took a photo with my phone of one of the texts of the 11 artistic attributes on display from the Aesthetics Perspective Initiative mentioned by Shelly above. I am not sure if it was the visual representation of the attribute or the title Disruption that caught my eye, but after reading,

“Art challenges what is by exposing what has been hidden, posing new ways
of being and modeling new forms of action,”

I used it as a mantra throughout the convention. The mantra continued to resonate as I listened to stories of civil unrest and injustices in Bryan Stevenson’s powerful keynote on his personal journey and the importance of changing historical narratives. Inspirational stories move me to tears—and laughter—and make me uncomfortable by challenging my worldview or triggering an old wound. Stevenson’s keynote delivered as such and was eloquently told as a classic tale of the “hero’s journey,” as popularized by Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. His speech invited us to be open, to dive deep into our personal and collective messiness—and come out the other side with transformational tools for being of service to others. These themes were further discussed in the “Talking About the Social Impact of the Arts” session. There was a generosity and vulnerability in the room of sharing personal and professional motivational values and how they drive us in our work and in practice to inspire and influence change.

My personal reflections, take-aways and observations from AFTA generate more questions than answers. Many of you may find the same as the field engages more with conversations around equity, diversity, and inclusion in our work and in our communities. In my own practice, I aspire to model the empathy needed to equalize and normalize the conversation around difference. And share and encourage stories! Sharing stories heals and serves the world—it connects us, rather than divides, and supports us to be in service to others, humanizes the work, and allows for new ways of seeing and being. For:
“the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on
his fellow [wo]man.” – Joseph Campbell

 

 

Blog bite: The power of poetry

Online news source Circa put the spotlight on poetry this week, publishing a story that called out the work of Street Poets Inc. The L.A.-based California Arts Council grantee has a firm grasp on both rhyme and reason: Dedicated to transforming the lives of at-risk and incarcerated youth, the organization inspires its participants to find their voices through the art of poetry and chart a new course toward a better future.

Street Poets Inc. is funded in part by the California Arts Council JUMP StArts grant program, supporting arts education and artist-in-residence programs for youth engaged in the juvenile justice system, in the classroom, after school, or as a social service or in an incarceration setting.

We’re proud to support the work of Street Poets Inc.! Read the full story here and check out the video below:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcirca%2Fvideos%2F1424937644239623%2F&show_text=0&width=560

This week in arts funding

It’s been a busy and exciting week in the world of arts funding!

On Tuesday morning, the California Arts Council made what is arguably our biggest announcement of the year: more than $15 million dollars to be distributed among 1,076 grantees! We increased maximum grant request amounts within many of our programs and expanded our arts education grant programs to reach students outside the classroom. We also funded grantees through three new pilot programs this year: Reentry through the Arts, Research in the Arts, and Arts and Public Media.

Award totals were nearly double that of last year, and mark the largest investment in grants for the Arts Council since 2003. No small achievement!

We will admit, it’s our favorite time of year. It’s the culmination of all of our efforts here at the CAC. To be able to share the news, congratulate all of our grantees, then sit back and put the spotlight on the great work they’ll do locally with the state’s support—fostering art and creativity, shaping our communities, inspiring and informing.

Right away, our social media started lighting up with giddy grantees and appreciative art supporters. We love it, and we love our grantees!

We were still floating high on that cloud when, the very next morning, another big reveal: this time from the National Endowment for the Arts. The federal agency announced its second round of funding for the 2017 fiscal year, including $5.3 million for 162 grantees in the state of California. More than $1.1 million will provide support directly to the California Arts Council.

NEA funding has a massive impact on California communities, not just through direct contributions to arts organizations in the form of grants, but through its intrinsic value. The power of an NEA grant can attract matching funds and spur economic interest through other means.

And the NEA as a leader and partner is, of course, invaluable to us at the Arts Council. The annual grant we receive supports the fulfillment of our strategic plan, provides additional funds to our grantees, and helps California’s overall creative economy thrive.

A huge thank you to the NEA, and a whopping congratulations to state and federal grantees!

(Pictured: The Regional Organization of Oaxaca in Los Angeles will receive a California Arts Council grant to produce a series of workshops celebrating the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The organization also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts.)

Blog bite: Shakespeare at work in Solano State Prison

A quick shout-out to one of our Arts in Corrections providers, the Marin Shakespeare Company! Yesterday, CNN’s Great Big Story highlighted the theater group’s work with inmates, helping them to confront emotions and heal through self-expression, channeling their own life stories through Hamlet.

Arts in Corrections is a partnership between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Arts Council to combat recidivism, enhance rehabilitative goals, and improve the safety and environment of state prisons.  The program has reached more than 2,000 inmates since its return three years ago, and is expanding this year to all 35 institutions statewide.

Check out the clip of Marin Shakespeare Company’s great work below: