Follow up on Americans for the Arts' Annual Convention

Posted by Ms. Ann Marie Miller, Jun 23, 2015 0 comments

The 2015 Americans for the Arts’ Annual Convention was also my first visit to Chicago. Having arrived early, I heard that the Chicago Architecture Foundation offered outstanding tours. I arranged to join the “Must See Chicago,” tour and was not disappointed. My inner geek enjoyed learning about Daniel Burnham, bundled tube construction, and remembering the contributions to mid-century modern architecture of Mies van der Rohe from art history class. While I spent a considerable amount of time “looking up” at numerous behemoth skyscrapers, I was grounded by a treasure trove of public art. It felt like opening a new box of crayons-truly inspirational. That was only the beginning of my #AFTACON inspiration.

Here are some personal highlights:

  • Colleagues from the State Arts Action Network. The SAAN network provides a unique national forum comprised of 501c3 and 501c4 organizations that advocate for the arts in their respective states, mobilize and grow grassroots and grasstops advocates, and provide programs and services that reinforce the value of the arts to the general public. They are the worker bees responsible for the hundreds of arts advocates who attend National Arts Advocacy day each year. I never cease to learn something new in the presence of these creative leaders who influence policymakers and inform the development of sound cultural policy. Their shared knowledge is both invaluable and undervalued. Sheila Smith of Minnesotan Citizens for the Arts offered us “Two Good Poems for Arts Advocates,” and “To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy sums up the never ending work of SAAN members, “…who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done, again and again...” Working at all levels of government, the SAAN is a collegial bunch of cheerleaders who lend their support and expertise to me and each other enthusiastically and freely.
  • Learning about Chicago’s Cultural Plan from Ra Joy, Executive Director of Arts Alliance Illinois, Tracie D. Hall of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for Chicago, and Peggy Stewart, Assistant Director of Culture, Arts and Nature at Chicago Park District. The well developed strategies and clear thinking these individual provided to the Cultural Plan reaped considerable rewards that will benefit residents and visitors well into the future. Tracie, who oversees the Creative Industries Division, offered insight into “Chicago Made” as an export brand for the city’s distinctive music—and I could only think of how the Jersey sound should be used similarly back home.
  • “Da Mayor”—since I was sitting close to the stage it was clear to me that Mayor Rahm Emanuel was speaking extemporaneously at the opening plenary session and referencing art around Chicago like naming members of his family. He is charismatic and impressive. We need more government leaders like him who can articulately and emphatically speak about the value of art to life, leaving no room for debate.
  • The critical nature of cultural equity – From Theaster Gates’ keynote remarks to AFTA CEO Bob Lynch speaking about the Transforming American Communities Through the Arts initiative, to hearing Roberto Bedoya’s poetic take on how to prevent community displacement and gentrification, to NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs Director Tom Finkelpearl’s reminder of our nation’s changing demographics and how the arts must not only reflect but be perceived as “giving back” to communities, it’s clear there is a LOT of work to be done in this arena.

Cultivating the skill of listening to our communities is a theme that resonated at the conference and back home in New Jersey as our largest city Newark takes on this challenging conversation. My hope is for ArtPride New Jersey to play a critical role in facilitating the ongoing discussion while listening.

There is certainly more inspiration to notate and my brain is still digesting many of the stimulating and engaging conversations that took place in the various concurrent sessions and afterward. I’d rate my first visit to Chicago as an unqualified success thanks to #AFTACON. Americans for the Arts’ Annual Convention never fails to take me away from my daily routine to new heights of contemplation, always “looking up” and ahead to a bright future for the arts in America.

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