“… Alexis Rangell-Onwuegbuzia!” Lindo finishes with enthusiasm.
The reaction of the room speaks volumes. As cheers erupt on the floor and spread to the gallery above, it’s clear Alexis was a fan favorite, winning the approval of her peers as well as the judges. In a venue like the historic Assembly chambers, where decisions are made each day by representatives of the electorate, the occasion feels fittingly democratic.
An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation, administered by the CAC, Poetry Out Loud offers teens the confidence to make themselves heard, with poetry as their medium. Contestants get the chance to better understand and connect with the work of the masters through their own unique interpretation and delivery.
Over the course of the two-day final competition, Alexis captured the hearts and minds of her observers, reciting three poems with style and precision: “If They Should Come for Us,” by Fatimah Asghar, “Chorus Sacerdotum,” by Baron Brooke Fulke Greville, and “The Mortician in San Francisco,” by Randall Mann.
The Orange County senior from Mater Dei High Shcool explains her relationship with poetry as a tool to promote social change on a civic level and within the world of art itself. “The arts give me the courage to express my values with an activist’s voice in the midst of the fear and ignorance residing on both sides of the ‘fourth wall,'” she said.
Sacramento County senior Sage Innerarity of Pleasant Grove High earned the prize of runnerup. Nicholas Panyanouvong, a sophomore at James C. Enochs High in Stanislaus County took third place for the second year in a row.
Poetry Out Loud is a statewide combined effort—this year involving the participation of 46 counties and 261 schools, the encouragement of 783 teachers, and the dedication of 30,000 students. It takes a panel of knowledgeable judges, a cadre of CAC Council Members and staff, a guest appearance from California Poet Laureate and POL founder Dana Gioia, and the backing and encouragement of countless legislators—just to name a few.
But the county finalists are no doubt the stars, and not only for their onstage presence. Their enthusiasm for one another out of the spotlight is all the more extraordinary, as heard in that volcanic moment on the Assembly floor.
“That’s what I love so much about Poetry Out Loud,” explained Chair Nashormeh Lindo. “It is the young people’s camaraderie and genuine support of one another that makes it so much more inspiring. It makes me hopeful, seeing their authentic humanity and respect for one another.”
Alexis will go on to represent California in the national finals next month in Washington, D.C., on April 23-25. We’ll have all the details for you to tune in and watch coming soon.
Congratulations to this year’s winners, and to all the county champions!
(Featured photo: The 2018 Poetry Out Loud Champions in the Assembly chambers at the California State Capitol. From left to right: CAC Deputy Director Ayanna Kiburi, California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, Third Place Winner Nicholas Panyanouvong, Runnerup Sage Innerarity, California Poetry Out Loud State Champion Alexis Rangell-Onwuegbuzia, CAC Chair Nashormeh Lindo, CAC Vice Chair Larry Baza. All photos by Tia Gemmell.)
Just before the new year, we got some great news: Governor Jerry Brown had appointed a new director to head up the CAC, Anne Bown-Crawford. Anne is a champion for arts education in California and a leading arts advocate with a sphere of influence stretching from her local school district in Humboldt County to the international stage.
Anne’s been with us for nearly a month now, and the Council and staff have been delighted to work with her and get to know her better. Now it’s time to dish a little deeper to you! We asked Anne a handful of questions to shine more light on her background in arts education and community service, her thoughts on the future of the arts field, and the tasks and challenges ahead for the CAC—as seen from the director’s chair.
The mission of the CAC’s is to advance California through the arts and creativity. What is your personal mission for the arts, and how does it impact your professional one?
Connecting young people to their voice and nurturing in them the agency to make connections between the social and cultural contemporary issues that shape their lives has always been of personal and professional importance to me. In my mind, making those connections is crucial to their success in the 21st century. Our communities as a whole, including our youth, need creative strategies to become proactive instead of reactive within their culture. By reducing the sense of alienation and fragmentation found in contemporary society, we can best nourish healthy communities.
I hope to continue and expand this commitment to the California Arts Council’s programs and initiatives in ways that are consistent with CAC’s mission, vision, and values.
I feel particularly inspired by the CAC’s work in strengthening respect for cultural heritage and advancing racial equity and in nourishing arts education in schools and communities, and even within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. These actions are essential for our civil society’s health.
A strong, inclusive, and thriving civil society then positively impacts our entire state, including the economic and governmental landscape.
You are a champion for arts education. How will that play for you as director of the CAC?
Building arts education models has been a hallmark of my career. The most effective models have been partnerships based on collaboration, both within educational institutions and in community arts settings, that connect to the economic development of the region and the state. These partnerships concentrate on robust learning and the transferable skills needed to promote innovation, economic growth, and creativity. I look forward to doing the same type of work at the CAC, and more!
For me, meaningful, creative education sits at the center of so much, it touches every aspect of CAC’s work, whether it is in corrections, cultural districts, or community arts organizations. It sits at the center of a healthy community overall.
You are also a big proponent of technology, which has a long and rich relationship with the arts. In the postdigital era, what kinds of innovations in the arts have you seen that excite you?
I love the way technology has added to the tool sets available to artists. It has expanded our vision. I also delight in the fact that so many artists are involved with designing the digital devices, interfaces, etc. that we all use every day. We all hold art right in our hands, all the time! Technology offers ways to stretch the old boundaries of making and creating in very exciting ways. Being able to combine programming with two, three, four dimensions, in time-based art, offering up unusual solutions to creative challenges is inherently fascinating to me. Those art forms range from the sonic to virtual reality, to visual images changed and created with digital data, to completely immersive sensory experiences. And, ultimately, technology has the ability to make art more accessible to wider audiences, both as creators and consumers.
What is one surprising thing you’d like for the arts field to know about you?
Well, that’s a tough one, since I’ve been living my life for the past four decades in front of an audience, whether in a classroom or out in the community. Perhaps some folks around the state might not be aware of the fact that I not only have a visual art studio practice, but I played lead drum (tenor) in a steel drum orchestra for many, many years, and was taught by Ray Holman, one of the masters of the steel drum from Trinidad, a frequent guest of Humboldt County.
What strengths do you see in the work of the agency? What challenges lie ahead?
The strengths I see in the work of the CAC are well reflected in the lenses we use to focus the work: building public will for the arts; equity—ensuring that California’s diverse populations are always reflective in the work and accessible to all; serving as the leading authority and champion for the arts in California, regionally and nationally; and working to ensure that standards of excellence, relevance and effectiveness sit at the center of all of our programs and services.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, aside from trying to survive political currents, is how to serve and have a meaningful impact in every sector of this huge state. There is so much diversity, so many underserved populations, and—to put it simply—so much geographic territory to pay careful attention to in California, that can seem daunting. At the same time, as the sixth largest economy in the world, California is home to an amazingly vibrant and robust creative economy. That economic landscape, that pervasive feeling that we can be nimble and innovative while lifting up the diversity that makes California so unique, will help nourish and connect our work here at the CAC.
The fun final question: If you were hosting an intimate dinner party, and could invite any three people, living or dead, who would they be, and why?
Jim Bown, my father, because he has taught me well how to follow my dreams, work hard, be an effective public servant/leader, and how to be a compassionate mother. President Carter, for his life-long commitment to humanitarian work around the world. And Michelle Obama, because of the strength, lively spirit, sharp intelligence, and good grace she demonstrated in her role as a leader during the Obama administration. And I’d really love to talk about what comes next for her!
And then, since I really believe in filling out a table, I would add Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for her vibrant opinions on the strength of women in our society; Jerry Seinfeld for his great good humor and ability to draw good humor from others; and Paula Scher, because of her remarkable, articulate work in design, blurring the line between pop culture and fine art in her work as a graphic designer, painter, and art educator.
It’s time for another blog where you get to know the CAC staff! Since we’re deep in the throes of grant season around here, part two in our series introduces the amazing Programs staff that coordinates the 15 different grant programs we offer.
Name: Hilary Amnah Title: Arts Program Specialist First on the roster is our newest addition to the Programs team! Originally from the Hocking Hills of Ohio, Hilary has a passion desert landscapes and for artist-led, collaborative community projects. She had the chance to contribute to a mural of influential women in history called “Work in Progress,” led by pop artist Jann Haworth, featuring portraits of Ruby Bridges, Queen Elizabeth, Marie Curie, Jane Austen, and many more.
On a sillier note, we have a passion for the ambiguous conviction of her answer to the question, “What’s your favorite food?”
“Probably pizza,” she said. “But it has to be good pizza.”
Hilary coordinates the Creative California Communities, Cultural Districts, and Arts and Public Media programs.
Name: Jaren Bonillo Title: Arts Program Specialist
Jaren is our resident photographer. She holds a BFA in Visual Arts with a photo concentration and an MFA in photography. She uses her talents to document her frequent travel adventures—most recently to Denmark, Sweden, and Colombia. Her favorite artist? Marcel Duchamp. “For his ability to innovate and communicate through a broad range of artistic mediums and processes,” she said. Jaren also loves hiking and exploring new restaurants.
Jaren coordinates our State-Local Partnership program, Statewide and Regional Networks, Professional Development, and Organizational Development programs.
Name: Shelly Gilbride Title: Programs Officer You know you’ve got a great staff when one of your favorite recent travel memories involves a canceled flight and co-workers. “Andrea, Hilary and I had an amazing adventure driving back to Sacramento from San Bernadino. Podcasts, good company, and a stop for delicious tacos made the trip,” said Shelly. So sweet! But what about when we asked what she’s up to when she’s not working? “Parenting!” she replied. “But even then, it STILL involves art!” She also makes time for her favorite pastimes: modern dance, yoga, and running with her early morning running buddies.
Shelly heads up the program team, directing implementation of grant programs and special projects, and overseeing grant review panels. She also coordinates the Reentry through the Arts program.
Name: Jason Jong Title: Arts Program Specialist
Jason is a force here at the CAC, and the story’s no different outside the office. He’s the executive producer of the Sacramento Asian Pacific Cultural Village and the Sacramento Asian Pacific Film Festival, a talented percussionist, and a father of three, for starters. He also serves on several local community boards, but hopes to find more time this year for the out of doors, hiking, kayaking, and camping.
Jason coordinates our Veterans in the Arts and Cultural Pathways programs, and facilitates our partnership with the National Arts and Disability Center to administer the Arts and Accessibility Technical Assistance program. His technical prowess has also proved invaluable support to the program staff in our move to a new online platform for grant applications.
Name: Josy Miller Title: Arts Education Program Specialist Josy shared a story with us that sums up her passions and personality so well, we figured we ought to just pass her the mic: “My great-aunt Judith, a very important figure in my life, took me to Paris when I was 15, and I was completely changed. In addition to taking me to the Ballet Opera of Paris and too many world-class museums to name, she taught me what true beauty and pleasure one could experience around the dinner table. The arts and food have been two centerpieces of my life ever since.” Her love of Shakespeare and stinky cheese have become so clear.
A mother of two boys, Josy is the lead on all of our arts education-oriented programs and initiatives, coordinating the Arts Education, JUMP StArts, and Research in the Arts programs as well as California’s Poetry Out Loud program.
Name: J. Andrea Porras Title: Arts Program Specialist
Andrea’s favorite color is “rainbow.” We hope that conveys the slightest bit of the extraordinary life and color she brings to our world! Andrea shines from so many facets, we don’t know where to start. Emcee, Reiki Master, National Latino Arts & Culture leadership fellow, roller skater who learned to swim in the San Felipe Springs of her Texas barrio, her favorite work of art is her son’s “every improv.” Andrea is an avid volunteer who “lives to dance in service,” as she says. Fun fact: She was once a guest on a live television show in Mexico City where a medicine man performed a healing on her.
Andrea coordinates our Local Impact and Artists in Communities grant programs.
Welcome back! We hope you all have had a fantastic start to your 2018 so far, taking time to make time, spending the holiday season with your friends and loved ones. In that spirit, we thought we’d kick off the first blog of the year with an introduction to our family at the California Arts Council, and give you a chance to learn a bit more about what they do and who they are. Part one begins with our administrative staff.
Name: Bintou Coulibaly Title: Senior Accounting Officer Bintou oversees the accounting staff and handles fiscal reporting to state control agencies. Born in the Ivory Coast, she says her move to the United States was one of her greatest life adventures. In addition to speaking English, French, and at least five different African dialects, Bintou has all the qualities of an incredible listener, often topped off with a witty reply. She enjoys reading, cooking, and playing soccer with her three children when she’s not here with us—though if you ask her what she does outside of work … here comes that wit we mentioned: “Sleep.”
Name: Richard Diaz Title: Receptionist
Richard’s our go-to guy for all the office needs—fielding and directing calls from our main phone line, delivering the mail, purchasing office supplies, and storing CAC records. When he’s not representing at reception, he spends his time off working on model planes and cars, or playing old-school video games. He also enjoys the company of family and friends, furry incarnations included. Richard has three dogs: Scooby, Shaggy, and YoYo.
Name: Jared Hamlin Title: Accountant I
Jared’s part of our accounting staff, processing payments to our grantees. Some quick math about Jared: His favorite colors (green and orange) + his favorite food (pizza) = Michelangelo. As in his favorite Ninja Turtle, not the Renaissance artist—our interests can sometimes stray from the more obvious, you know! Jared’s also recently married. He and his newly betrothed just moved to a new place in order to add a dog to their current two-cat lifestyle. Congrats, JareBear!
Name: Yurika Jimenez Title: Accountant I
Yurika is without a doubt the owner of the sunniest disposition of the CAC staff, with a smile that may require UV protection. She also loves the color “pink!” and eating “sushi!” (both followed by enthusiastic exclamation points in the staff survey—you see what we mean?). As one of our accountants, she’s got a head for numbers… and so much more. In a recent staff meeting, we were delighted by this diva’s operatic rendition of the birthday song. Move over, Marilyn!
Name: Mariana Moscoso Title: Arts in Corrections Program Analyst
Mariana’s administrative specialty lies with our Arts in Corrections program, coordinating contracts, program development and monitoring. Her interests in life, however, are less specialized, more just special. Mariana is deeply inspired by tradition, with her Afro-indigenous roots shaping her understanding and place in the universe. She speaks four languages—English, Spanish, German, Italian—and is working on a fifth, Tz’utujil. Mariana recently participated in the WESTAF Emerging Leaders of Color Cohort, and has an impressive collection of bead jewelry and a cat named Machiavelli. How cool is all of that? We say very.
Name: Nicole Sanchez Title: Procurement and Contracts Analyst
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” That line, by Robert Brault, is Nicole’s favorite quote, and it sums up her life philosophy well. Nicole’s responsible for agency contracts and procurement activities here at the office, but at home, she’s responsible for her two young sons, ages 8 and 13, who she says inspire her every day to be better. She often serves as Team Mom or even Coach for whatever sport is in season. “Their hobbies are my hobbies!” she adds. Except for her love of skydiving—the boys will have to wait until they are a bit older for that one.
Name: Debra Waltman Title: Director of Administrative Services Debra heads up the aforementioned administrative support staff while also handling all things budget, in addition to contract completion, interagency agreements, and purchasing. Outside the office, the music maven makes time to teach herself guitar, check out concert scene and serve on the Girls Rock Sacramento Advisory Board. Debra’s attitude about her team, and of all of the staff at the CAC, is a fitting close to Part 1 of our Meet the Staff series:
“One of my favorite things about the Arts Council is the culture. We are all open and accepting of each other as individuals—not just as co-workers.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Meet the Staff series, coming soon!
At the California Arts Council, Council members and staff certainly aren’t limited to wearing only one hat when it comes to their relationship with the arts. Whether it’s dance, music, film, literature, visual or performing arts—creativity thrives here.
A recent moving example comes from our Council Vice Chair Nashormeh Lindo. Last month, while attending the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies Leadership Institute in Portland, Lindo took the opportunity to represent our state by sharing a heartfelt poem she penned about the recent wildfires in Northern California. The text of the poem is below.
They came, crept up on us, in the middle of the night. In darkness,
the Diablo Devil winds fanned flames, Sending spooky sparks Ember imps, flying over hilltops and trees, and skittering across roads, highways and boulevards. Spreading mischief, conjuring up evil and creating a haze of dry orange smoky, choking air. California dreams turned nightmarish. It is unrelenting. Everything is burning. Words like, apocalyptic, devastation, scary, other worldly Moonscape come to mind. It is the scorched Earth. Come back to haunt us. A desolate landscape is all that is left. People, trees, homes, vineyards, Gone.
Days later while Escaping Fleeing, in search of cleaner air One can still see plumes of terrifying toxic smoke From the air. The fires rage on. It’s hard to breathe particulate.
I think of Kingsolver’s words:
“The fire ran ahead at times, and sometimes flagged, as if growing tired like the rest of us. The heat was unspeakable. I imagined the taste of water.”
Dazed people gaze at each other; and at their charred and ruined things, after fleeing terror in the middle of the night, and tracing the tracks of sooty tears, Days, spent in evacuation despair. Loss, exhaustion, raw grief and disbelief makes us all equals. Makes us care,
What will rise from these ashes? Belief in Healing Hope. The Courage to Create To rebuild with the innate tools of Music, Poetry, Dance, Theater, Painting, Photography. Mapping the path back, to see beyond the seeming Abyss.
(Excerpt from the Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver)
As winter approaches and 2017 draws to a close, the staff and council at the CAC are busy thinking ahead to next year! We’re on a quest for the best and the broadest minds in the field to serve on peer-review panels for our grant programs in the first half of 2018.
As an artist, arts administrator, policy maker or activist, that means you!
Here’s how it works: Each spring, applications to our grant programs are reviewed by a panel of three to five arts and culture experts. Panelists independently read and review between 30 and 60 applications via our online portal, then come to our offices in Sacramento—travel expenses paid—for one to three days to collaboratively rank applications. The rankings are brought to our Council members to inform funding decisions.
That’s the who/what/when and where for you. Now comes the why.
Why should you be a part of our panels? Here are the CAC’s top three reasons you should apply today:
1. It’s good for us.
This is the more obvious one, hence its place at the top of the list. No question, you’re doing us a solid by participating. We literally can’t do this without you. It’s crucial that grant application evaluation is unbiased, considered by groups with varied backgrounds, identities, and knowledge bases. Our conference room of panelists will ideally match the demographics of our state (minus nearly 40 million people, plus a dozen bagels).
2. It’s good for you.
Joining one of our panels isn’t just a benefit to us, there’s a major upside for you, too. It’s a fantastic opportunity to network with your peers in the field, to gain insight on a wide array of arts organizations while reviewing, to glean suggestions for your organizations over lunch. It’s also a great way to broaden your perspective on the arts in California, soaking up ideation and creativity; gaining exposure to different business models and leadership styles; gauging potential and community impact. Every learning is a chance to reignite and reinvigorate your own mission and values as part of the creative community. Don’t just take our word for it—this guest blog from one of last year’s panelists comes to the very same conclusions.
3. It’s good for California.
When you help us to enrich the lives of those who live in our state by access to and participation in the arts, it’s a good thing. When you emerge newly inspired to do the same, it’s a good thing. When our grant applicants receive expert evaluation to ensure maximum benefit to their communities, it’s a good thing. Being a panelists is a win-win-win situation that leaves us all better off. Apply now!
The California Arts Council is deeply saddened by the devastation caused by the multitude of wildfires currently burning in Northern California. To our grantees, artists and their communities; to families and businesses in the region; and to all those affected by these traumatic events: Our hearts are with you.
In the wake of continued evacuations and the governor’s emergency proclamation yesterday, we are requesting that all CAC grantees in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Butte, Yuba, Nevada and Orange counties please check in with our Programs staff via phone or email if you have not done so already.
The California Arts Council website features a page of resources for artists affected by the fires, also listed below:
Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF+): The Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF+) has emergency relief grants and interest-free loans available for eligible artists working in craft disciplines. Guidelines and eligibility are available on the CERF+ website. The application process is quick and easy, with a rapid response of 2 weeks to give artists the help they need as soon as possible.
The Joan Mitchell Foundation: The Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Emergency Grant Program is available for visual artists who have suffered physical losses due to a natural disaster that relate to their artistic practice. Click here to learn more.
MusiCares: MusiCares provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. MusiCares’ services and resources cover a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies, and each case is treated with integrity and confidentiality. A directory of resources for musicians and other artists is available on the MusiCares website.
CAL FIRE: The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is our state’s go-to resources for up-to-date wildfire information and resources. www.calfire.ca.gov
Studio Protector: An artists guide to emergencies. A wealth of information on emergency readiness for all artists can be found at www.studioprotector.org.
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
Underneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge lives an amazing display of color and culture.
After our public meeting in San Diego on Tuesday, Arts Council members and staff took some time to explore a highlight of the city’s vibrant arts and culture scene—Chicano Park. Steering committee members Tommie Camarillo, Victor Ochoa, and Josie Talamantez, along with park artists Mario Chacon and Irma Patricia Aguayo, served as our gracious tour guides.
Chicano Park stands as a cultural and political stronghold for San Diego’s Chicano community. In 1970, as neighborhood gathering spaces were being lost to rigorous development, residents of Barrio Logan held their ground, staging an occupation of the area for 12 days before city officials conceded. Just three years later, a large-scale art project was organized, paving the way for what is now the largest collection of outdoor murals in the world. The vivid hues and evocative images range in size and subject, but all share a story of human experience—and empowerment.
It’s been a national symbol for Latino activism nearing 50 years, but the 7.4-acre park earned its rightful place as a National Historic Landmark just this year. And with fewer than 200 of the 2,500 registered landmarks tied to minority ethnic groups, we were honored to offer our full support for the national designation.
To have such a knowledgeable group share this rich cultural icon with us was a real treat!
As an added bonus, we were delighted to be there as our partners at the Latino Arts Network of California presented Josie Talamantez with her Maestro Award, recognizing her commitment to work in the community. Among many other accolades, Josie is the founder and chair of the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center, a member of the Royal Chicano Air Force, and—we’re proud to say—a former CAC staffer for more than 20 years. Congratulations, Josie!
Tomorrow is our friend and colleague John Seto’s last day at the Arts Council. We wish John all the best in his retirement, and we know we’ll be seeing him around. Today we share a special interview with John, as he reflects on his time at the Arts Council.
When did you join the California Arts Council, and how many years have you worked here in total?
I joined the Arts Council in 2000, at the apex of our agency funding. Altogether, I have close to 16 years with the State of California, and over 10 of those years were with the Arts Council. Between 2003 and 2008 I had to take a position with CalSTRS due to a devastating budget cut that Arts Council suffered and are finally recovering from with recent budget increases.
What are some of your favorite memories of working at the California Arts Council?
As an emigrant, I was/am most mindful of the traditional and ethnically diverse constituents of our great state. Many of these organizations may be grass-roots in nature and not experienced in the areas of grants application. Yet, they are passionate about the preservation and their culture and identity. The Arts Council used to have three programs related to multiculturalism – Multicultural Entry, Multicultural Advancement, and Next Generation. And this year we launched our new Cultural Pathways program. These truly serve all unique cultures, and not just organizations of color. I’ve always felt that it was important for all people to acknowledge the uniqueness of world cultures and their historical richness. In the service of these applicants, I have learned much about diversity and the context in which world cultures have migrated to California, and how they are evolving in the new environment.
How was this work important to you?
The arts and the humanities are the essence of what distinguish us from other animals. We create visual arts, music, literature, plays, dance, etc. to celebrate and commemorate events important to our lives. The arts are individual or group expressions that come from the heart and soul and gives meaning to human existence. To work for a state agency that supports and funds collective cultural expressions reflective of our world is both humbling and extremely gratifying.
What will you miss the most about working at the Arts Council?
I will miss working with colleagues within our agency who all share the core values of services to the artists and cultural organizations that make California one of the creative centers of the world. While I will no longer be an administrator of grant programs and interact with constituents on a day-to-day basis, I plan to allocate some of my retirement time allotments to visit and participate in the activities being generated by the CAC’s many great grantees!
In what ways are the arts a part of your daily life?
My daily life in the last 25 years have primarily been involved in participatory dancing – English country, contra, and international dancing of the Balkan styles. Our international group has also started a singing group, and now has a repertoire of over 40 songs. This year I have also been drafted and joined the board of the Country Dance and Song Society, a national group based in Massachusetts that celebrated its 100 anniversary last year. As part of the organizing local group, I also help the Sacramento Country Dance Society (https://sactocds.wordpress.com/contra-dance/) put on between 4 to 6 dances a month for English country and American contra dances that feature live music and a dance caller.
Enjoy retirement, John! Congratulations on your long tenure at the Arts Council, and thank you for your service to our arts communities.