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

 

 

California Arts Council tours Chicano Park

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!

ChicanoParkTour_6
A beautiful day at Chicano Park!

Parting Perspectives from Longtime Staffer John Seto

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.

JohnSeto2What 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!

JohnSeto3In 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.