I recently attended my second annual Americans for the Arts conference, which is preceded by a smaller conference focused on public art. Last year, I had only been at the UrbanArt Commission for five months and was very much still learning my role as Executive Director while also trying to absorb all of the conversations and information at the conference. (Reading between the lines, I was pretty overwhelmed and very awkward.) I was particularly looking forward to this year’s conference in Boston with a better grasp of my role, the organization and the vision we are working towards. Also, people watching at an art conference is always fascinating.
A growing focus for me and the UAC team has been how can the work we do overlap with other disciplines and industries in a way that creates more buy-in and support for the arts. Feel free to read a previous blog post or view a presentation where I go on a bit more about this… I was heartened to see so many sessions and conversations popping up at the conference that focused on the intersection of the arts and engaged citizenship, innovative communities and equity. Keynote and plenary session speakers all touched on the recent (hate-fueled) tragedy in Orlando and the contentious upcoming election, grappling with how art can interact with and react to these very real and heavy situations playing out around us. One session leader demanded that more and different people need to be responsible for how our cities and experiences are shaped. That artists and art organizers should be part of that process. Donna Brazile, Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Convention, counseled that in demanding a seat at the table, you may have to bring your own folding chair.
And in the midst of all of this energy and call to action, Memphis earned some main stage spotlight. The ArtsMemphis’ Community Engagement Fellows Program, led by the fearless Linda Steele, won the first ever Robert E. Gard Award for the intersection of arts and community life. I had the great privilege of participating in this program while working for Ballet Memphis and was invited to help accept the award with a number of other current and past fellows in attendance. What a beautiful and proud moment for a room of 1,500 some odd people to hear about and applaud a program here in Memphis.
You may be able to tell at this point that I came home from this experience fully charged and eager to keep Memphis in the mix of this broader, national conversation. We are working hard to inject these ideas into the work we do and are looking forward to continue sharing that with all of you.