Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How Will Our Arts Communities be Impacted by the 2013 Americans for the Arts Convention?

Here we go again – another annual AFTA convention in Pittsburgh, June 14-16, 2013. I think this will be my 8th or 9th convention. There is no published theme for the convention, however the website talks about the overarching topic of storytelling and messaging. As usual, there are several pre-conference offerings. They are Cultural Districts, Emerging Leaders, and Public Art. In addition, the various business type councils (such as united arts funds, urban arts federation, arts education, private sector) will be taking the opportunity to meet.

The schedule has been described in ‘tracks’ – Discussions, Workshops, and an Innovators speaker series.  The schedule can be easily organized by the track you wish to follow, or your choice from the scheduled listings. In reviewing the schedule, here are some of the offering areas:

·      Reviewing Business Models
·      Arts Education
·      Your Local Cultural Ecosystem
·      Resources and Services for Artists
·      Income Streams
·      Role of Arts Agencies
·      Partnering with Business
·      Civic and Community Identity

And, of course, the Keynotes, Art Venture Tours, receptions and late night jam sessions! But really, when you get down to it, the real value is in the networking with colleagues – reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. The opportunity to share, learn, and grow are incalculable.  Perhaps the deepest value of this is being reminded that others share your issues and problems so you are not alone, and to have our passion for the work we do rekindled.

I am personally looking forward to our conversation with some of the participants and Advisory Council with the National Endowment for theArts’ creative economy definitional research that has been in process for months. This research was submitted by the Creative Economy Coalition of the National Creativity Network in collaboration with Creative Alliance Milwaukee. Margaret Collins (Center for Creative Economy, Winston-Salem), Dennis Cheek (National Creativity Network) and I are in the throes of putting together the final report now. We will be submitting to the NEA by end of August. Watch this space!

But then again, I wonder about the bigger picture at AFTA. Will we really collectively tackle the issues facing us – how do we reach more audience, is our connection to the creative economy hurting or helping us, what changes in programming and product delivery do we need to make for more relevance in today’s community, what will we all do as soon as we get back home to improve the trajectory of our organizations – or are we just nibbling around the edges?

Don’t get me wrong – I love the networking and the learning, but I have been around long enough (have been in arts administration for over 30 years) to witness way too often patting ourselves on the back, focusing on advocating for public funds at the expense of developing new earned revenue strategies, and not getting into the nitty gritty of discussing the impact of larger societal trends on our work and sustainability.

Collaborative discussion and collective impact is tough work, particularly with a large crowd, but if I were to wish one thing about this convention it would be that we dive deep into the tough stuff collectively, roll around in the mud, and get a newly invigorated conversation about our future underway.

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