Civic Practice: Coupling Government Purpose and Artists’ Imagination in the City of Philadelphia
From 2015 to 2017, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) planned and implemented Civic Practice, a program exploring government-initiated artist-led work in the community. Civic Practice was co-led by myself and Art in City Hall Program Manager Tu Huynh. Working with then Creative Time Artistic Director Nato Thompson, Civic Practice began with the formation of a National Task Force that would come together with local government leaders, artists, and community leaders to learn about best practices and experiences regarding how government can be proactive in civic dialogue through the arts. In many ways, simply gathering this group of creatives and civic leaders in this type of facilitated discussion was a major breakthrough. Innovation and input came equally from artists and bureaucrats and led to many unexpected, but needed and wanted, conversations.
Inside Artist-Municipal Partnerships
Whether it is a City’s commitment to redress systemic racial inequities, a juvenile court system shifting from penalizing youth to a restorative justice approach, or a local arts agency advancing the power of art as civic change agent, more municipalities are engaging artists to bring new capacities and strategies to government agencies and, in doing so, increasing their effectiveness in achieving civic goals. More artists, too, are moved to contribute their creative assets to the public good by gaining access to and working as partners with municipal agencies and systems. This week, Animating Democracy’s blog salon, Inside Artist-Municipal Partnerships, explores the question: What does it take to make partnerships between municipal agencies and artists work? Leading-edge local arts agency leaders and arts practitioners who are serving as instigators, facilitators, intermediaries, and advancers of these partnerships share principles and practices they’ve tested and lessons they’ve learned that can help guide peer agencies and peer artists toward effective partnerships.
Learning that Asserting Oneself is a Good Thing
My title is President and CEO of the Staten Island Museum. I will admit when I first began introducing myself in this role, I felt somewhat awkward and uncomfortable with this title. In museums, the title of Executive Director is much more common, so in some way I felt like my title seemed overblown. I’m not someone who typically draws attention to myself, so at first I rather timidly stated my title, or even said “I’m the director of the Staten Island Museum” instead—downplaying the title, because that felt more comfortable. But then I thought about it. Why wouldn’t I say President and CEO proudly? There is no reason that I shouldn’t. Except for the nagging notion that women shouldn’t brag, or maybe that at some level I’m internalizing that there aren’t too many women President and CEOs and that it seems like that title doesn’t belong to me. But the reality is I’ve earned it.
Creative Expression and Workplace Culture
Providing constant and protected space for the exchange of ideas is critically important to the health of our business through the active engagement of our employees. All businesses need new ideas, and businesses benefit when the generation of ideas is encouraged and inclusive. To thrive, businesses need to provide a setting where ideas can be openly exchanged and tested. It is the responsibility of business leaders to understand that the work we all do is best done in an environment that’s not based on the ownership of ideas or the rank of those that offer them—but rather one that’s open, collaborative, and receptive to new ways of thinking and doing. Business leaders need to make intentional steps towards creating these spaces. Otherwise, we miss the opportunity to unleash and develop the inherit creative talent of our employees.
Rehearsing “Madeleine”: A Personal Story of Hope
A few weeks ago, a Lawrence Arts Center School of Dance staff member popped into my office to say hello. A few minutes into it, I realized her real reason for stopping in: they needed someone to be a walk-on in the fall production of Madeleine put on by our pre-professional company, Lawrence Ballet Theatre. That first rehearsal? Let’s just say this: I felt like I was losing a real-life game of Frogger. With ballerinas instead of cars. Unprepared, I stumbled, quite literally, upon what comes from commitment and practice. These young dancers spend 5-6 days a week in class, in concentrated training for years, to make an extremely difficult art form look not just beautiful, but completely natural. They make dance look effortless, like anyone could do it. At this point, I couldn’t match their training, but I certainly could find it within myself to try to match their commitment. With this humbling realization, I promised to stick with it. The next evening, I sheepishly slipped into our next rehearsal full of apologies: to the ballerina I almost hamstrung, to the junior stage techs that had to reset the stage twice for me, and the duet whose sequence I stumbled into the middle of. Expecting to be met with frustration and annoyance, I found exactly the opposite.
A Voice, and a Choice
I’ve always spent a lot of time thinking about issues related to gender, identity and culture. As the first-born daughter of a Mexican mother and a Bulgarian father, I spent much of my childhood in a state of cultural confusion as I tried to navigate both of the cultures that I had inherited, and assimilate to the one that I was born into as an American. I grew up listening to opera with my dad, eating taquitos with my mom, and learning to speak English as my third language. In addition to this, I soon saw the differences between myself and my brothers in all of the cultures that we were navigating. These differences deeply affected me as a young girl. Music was my safe space: a place where identity didn’t matter. People often refer to music as the universal language, but I have come to a different conclusion. I believe that emotion is our universal, and the arts offer us a safe place to investigate what it means to be human.
Can public art be used equitably?
The benefits of public art are plentiful: inspiration, engagement, revitalization, economic development, beauty. Public art has all too often been directly associated with the displacement of families and individuals when used as an economic development tool in historically low-income communities without proper protections in place against displacement. With a well-thought-out anti-displacement strategy in place, public art can be transformative for historically low-income neighborhoods everywhere. The Punto Urban Art Museum, a public art initiative founded by North Shore Community Development Corporation in Salem, Massachusetts, is addressing this head on as we enter a third year of programming. After seeing increased levels of engagement when utilizing arts and creativity in our community organizing work and in a temporary pilot mural project, NSCDC began to take art and placemaking more seriously as a strategy to address the community priority of reducing stigma in the predominantly low-income, majority-minority Point neighborhood.
The Arts Say Thank You to Our Veterans and Active Duty Military
As we celebrate both Thanksgiving and National Veterans and Military Families Month this year, we honor the service and sacrifice of America’s more than 18 million veterans across the country. Arts and humanities events and programs remind us of the contributions that veterans and active duty military and their families have made and the power of joining together through the shared experience of art. We recognize the growing number of state and local-level arts and military initiatives that are creating greater access and more opportunities across the country. These programs unite us, bridging the civilian/military divide in a non-partisan way that only the arts can, in communities both large and small. And these efforts aren’t just one-time events; they represent long-term commitments from artists and arts groups to serve those who have served.
Marketing New Works: Making the Unfamiliar, Familiar
The words “new play” or, even more so, “new musical” tend to strike excitement in the hearts of artistic directors, terror in the hearts of managing directors, buzzworthy glee in the hearts of funders, and, unfortunately, hesitancy in the hearts of audiences.
A Woman of Substance
When I first read Katharine Graham’s autobiography, which later became the basis for The Post, I don’t remember experiencing any moments of recognition. Awe, yes. Admiration, absolutely. That a woman with so little self-confidence had found the capacity to topple a president by discovering some previously hidden strength—now that was an inspiring story. But it wasn’t until I watched Meryl Streep navigate Katharine Graham’s route from society maven to newspaper publisher with a backbone of steel that something struck me, and I recognized that her trajectory and my own career development bore some commonality. I was certainly not a pioneer of the generation of theater managers that included Nina Vance, Iris Siff, and Zelda Fichandler, or even that second wave that included Sara O’Connor and Alison Harris, Jessica Andrews and Mary Bill. Nonetheless, as an early career manager when few women were in the field, it was hard to have my voice be heard, to be able to command a room so that my thoughts could be presented.
Twelve Things Americans Believe About the Arts in 2018
There are many studies that document the social, educational, and economic benefits of the arts to communities. But how does the American public feel about the role of the arts in their lives? Do they value arts education and support government funding of the arts? How important is creativity at home and at work? We put these questions directly to the public to find out. “Americans Speak Out about the Arts in 2018” was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for Americans for the Arts in May 2018. It is based on a nationally representative sample of 3,023 American adults, making it one of the largest public opinion studies about the arts ever conducted. As one might expect when hearing from the public, we find a mix of assumptions challenged and observations confirmed.