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

 

 

One thought on “Reflections on the Americans for the Arts Convention

  1. Good stuff, Shelly, Josy, Jaren.
    T’was invigorating to gather with so many whose good intentions and actions are making a difference across the country.

    Like

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