By Todd Lester
June 2014—Nashville, Tennessee
Big conferences. There are often too many exciting sessions to fully attend and I find myself winded as I try to get a taste of two concurrent panels that are happening at opposite ends of the convention center. Chock full of new and compelling ideas and people to meet, the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee was no exception. One of the best things about going to a big conference is seeing old friends. I met Matthew Mazzotta several years ago in Boston. It was nice to see him in Nashville and to witness all of the positive feedback that his 2013 Open House project in York, Alabama garnered (from a Public Art Award to individual conference-goers stopping him to chat). We got to talk about making works in public and how to get paid as an artist; Matthew turned me onto a database for sharing pay rates called Who Pays Artists? … which reminds me of another forum, called ArtLeaks, in which artist compensation and other critical topics are discussed. I also got to catch up with some Facebook friends like Favianna Rodriguez, a California-based artist and activist, and Roberto Bedoya, the Executive Director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council. I loved hearing Roberto talk about a counter-narrative to creative placemaking called ‘place keeping’, which comes from some of his colleagues in Detroit … makes sense, right? Roberto co-authored this important report called People, Land, Arts, Culture, and Engagement: Taking Stock of the PLACE Initiative that is published by the Tucson Pima Arts Council. There was a robust discussion on the pros and cons of cultural plans by cities. Some people felt that plans by the creative industries are empowering and others felt that creativity and culture should be included in the overall city (organizational) plans so as not to be sidelined. And an audience member added poignantly, “Culture plans are expensive”.
It’s all quite a blur really and I’m still processing the business cards and site-specific references, such as How the Arts Transformed Starksboro, Vermont; the Portland Art Tax; a pilot project for the National Coalition for Arts’ Preparedness and Emergency Response in Southern California; and how the Dodge Foundation Gives $5.2 Million Boost to Arts Groups in order to mitigate the impact of state budget cuts in its home state of New Jersey. There were some concrete takeaways that refer back to the topic of my first post on the role of the intermediary—such as the talk by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Director of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, on the document Living Theory of Change, which explains the guiding principles of the Life is Living festival. I think that the information in Artists Engaging in Social Change: A Continuum of Impact by the Animating Democracy unit of Americans for the Arts is very useful. And Making Waves: A Guide to Cultural Strategy, a publication by The Culture Group (of which Favianna Rodriguez is a member), is also worth a read and easy to download. Let’s see … what else: I learned something new from Jason Das who told me about the global movement of Urban Sketchers; was encouraged to meet Michael Rohd, the founder of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice; met some artists from Canada who made it all the way to Nashville for the conference; and heard a whisper of a possible collaboration between ArtPlace (US) and Artscape (Canada) in the future. Good stuff, all in all … thanks for reading!