As rain splattered on the dark sidewalks between skyscrapers, I sat in a room on the twelfth floor of a hotel shrouded in blankets and ideas. I waded through everything I’d soaked in earlier that day. I was at my first
Americans for the Arts Conference (#AFTAcon). Like the lightning outside, the conference theme, “Art Empowers us All,” flashed through my mind. All day long, quick strikes of inspiration lit up my mind. And I want to share seven of those thoughts -- those flashes of light -- with you. Come along on a trip through my mind -- and Chicago:
1. Artists are more powerful than we remember.
Theaster Gates, Urban Planner/Potter/Artist/Community Organizer, gave the keynote address. This thought is from him. After saying, "Artists are more powerful than we remember," he added, "but we can't do it alone. Check out his
Ted Talk. He's an inspiring speaker.
2. Having power is having purpose.
This is another thought from Mr. Gates' keynote address. In response to a question about how artists can obtain the power to make real change, he stated that he doesn't know power as anything different from purpose. Purpose, in itself, is powerful.
3. Community engagement cannot be done at a desk.
I went to a lot of sessions on community engagement. Real community engagement is about empowering a community to be change makers in their place. This can't be done at a desk. It has to be done out and about. It has to be done through listening. It has to be done through building a relationship.
4. Arts were created to inspire humanity.
If we remember that the arts were created to inspire humanity, then how does this inform our discussions about equity in the arts?
5. Do the arts matter?
Nobody at the conference was arguing that the arts don't matter, but there were a lot of conversations about relevance. How does your organization stay relevant to the community? Or, in other words, why does your art matter to the community?
Hideo Mabuchi, physicist/potter and MacArthur Fellow, talked about the arts being a way to continue searching. He said that searching is good for your soul and your art. In what ways are you constantly searching?
7. Find one small thing.
We may not be able to move from A to Z all at once, but we can move from A to B. So, what's one small thing you can do?
It was an enlightening conference for me. I'm curious about what lights up for you? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.
FYI: Did you know that Americans for the Arts will be in Salt Lake City this fall? Join us at the
National Arts Marketing Project Conference!
Megan is the ZAP Grant and Communications Program Coordinator. She's the voice behind ZAP's
pages. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Community Leadership, with an emphasis in Arts & Cultural Leadership, from Westminster College. She collects children's books and loves teaching children's theatre.