2017 People’s State of the Union: “Stories Need to Be Told”

by Arlene Goldbard, Chief Policy Wonk

“Torhala, a senior at Roosevelt High School who is Muslim, spoke about a time during the presidential campaign when she and her mother were driving in the metro. A car pulled up and its passengers yelled ‘Make America Great Again,’ she said, and then told them to ‘go back to where we came from.’”

“’I was fearful that people would spit on me again, that people would laugh at me when I speak English, and that people would tell me to leave again on a boat,’ Nguyen said. ‘But deep in my heart I know that we are a great country and we are inclusive.’”

            Rizan Torhala and Vinh Nguyen, quoted in the Des Moines Register

For this year’s People’s State of the Union (PSOTU), most Story Circles took place between 27 January and 5 February. There were hundreds of events around the nation, from a few friends sharing stories across a kitchen table to dozens gathered in a public setting, perhaps meeting for the first time. In this third iteration of the USDAC’s annual civic ritual, tellers were invited to share first-person stories in response to three main prompts:

  • Share a story about something you have experienced that gave you insight into the state of our union.
  • Share a story about a time you felt a sense of belonging—or the opposite—to this nation.
  • Share a story about a time you broke through a barrier to connect with someone different from yourself or with whom you disagreed.

Anyone who wished was invited to upload a story to the PSOTU 2017 Story Portal. Check it out: you will find hundreds of stories from people of many ages, races, locations, genders and orientations throughout the U.S.

In Des Moines, Iowa, the event happened on February 20th. USDAC Cultural Agent writer, and musician Emmett Phillips and allies gathered folks in a club space called Noce, offered for community use on a Monday, its dark night. Organizing started when Emmett met with Carmen Lampe Zeitler, the long-serving former director of Children and Family Urban Movement (CFUM), where he works with youth as Program Coordinator. 

Carmen’s “love and passion for community building and youth empowerment and giving a space for voices to be heard is very evident,” Emmett told me, “so I’ve always had a lot of respect for her. She called me to meet one morning around election season, sensing all the things happening around that time and wanting to do something about it, but not knowing what. She reached out to Don Martinez, the executive director of an organization called Al Exito which works with Hispanic high school youth. And they also reached out to Larry Christianson who is retired and was more than willing to help us plan things out. This is around the time the USDAC was planning PSOTU. By the next meeting we decided that we wanted to do a Story Circle. After everyone knew exactly what it was, they jumped right onboard with it.”

Photo: Kelly McGowan/The Register

Photo: Kelly McGowan/The Register

The Des Moines Story Circles began with Emmett emceeing, young people performing poems, and a handful of individual stories presented onstage before sharing began at small tables all around the room. I asked Emmett why they chose to start out this way. “One, to break the ice for everyone, since it’s kind of a new experience just sharing stories. And two, to make sure that the groups that really needed to be included in the conversation got their perspective out first and foremost. We thought it would empower everyone else to be open with what they’ve been through.”

And the poetry? “I work with an organization called Run DSM that has a program called Movement 515 about the urban arts: poetry, graffiti, hip-hop, photography. I’ve done a hip-hop camp and currently do poetry workshops in the middle school with them. They have a lot of young people that are brought up and empowered and trained and rehearsed with poetry. They understand the power in it, and always do a great job. So I reached out to a couple of their poets to come and bless us. We had three different poetic performances, one for the opening and two to close the show.”

I asked Emmett about success factors. “We had great support from the venue. They were courteous. They were there to help us set things up. So the environment definitely played its part. A lot of the people were there off of respect of the people that invited them. It really helps to have like a team where people would follow them wherever they go because they know it’s going to be something good. Starting with poetry was good: a poem from a young high schooler that was very awake and very appropriate, that hit people in their feelings, the emotional investment that says why we’re even here. And the stories had people in tears. A note we took on ways to make the event better is to have more Kleenex handy.”

This year as in previous years, we’ve heard from many participants that Story Circles offer a powerful and simple way to connect people, even those who seem to have little in common. In a Story Circle everyone gets equal uninterrupted time to share a first-person story, usually two or three minutes apiece. Listeners give each teller undivided attention, allowing a breath after each story for it to settle. Those factors often have a large impact in equalizing participation; contrast this to a free-for-all where the loudest or most powerful person hogs the space. After everyone has shared a story, the members of each Circle reflect on what has been revealed by the body of stories.

In Des Moines, once folks in Story Circles started reflecting, it was hard to stop. “Our intention was to have people break into their groups for a little while, then hear from everyone and then do closing poetry. But people were having too much good topical conversation. I just couldn’t stop that. So we let them continue pretty much until we had to leave. People felt really, really open and connected. The event was two hours—it’s crazy that that wasn’t long enough, you know?”

Emmett and his collaborators sent a follow-up question to everyone who took part. A large portion of the participants responded. Forty-two indicated that they’d like to participate in future Story Circles. No one replied to that question with a “no.” The typical response was what we’ve come to expect from PSOTU participants: “Great start. Loved the conversations. Stories need to be told.”

Why is the simple invitation to sit in circles, share stories, and listen fully so powerful? Based on the hundreds of Story Circles I’ve observed and facilitated, two main answers come to mind. First, it can be a sadly rare and remarkably delicious experience to receive full attention, to inhabit the space to tell a story without fearing interruption or contradiction. Too often, people are texting while you talk, or waiting for your mouth to stop moving so their turn can start, or looking over your shoulder for someone they’d rather engage. But the attention and permission of a Story Circle are an antidote to that.

Second, as we say when each PSOTU launches, “Democracy is a conversation, not a monologue.” Too much ordinary public discourse is left to those deemed experts. Too much is conducted in a way that privileges certain types of knowledge—official findings, numbers, the jargon of a particular sphere. What tends to emerge is opinion, and opinion can always be contested. In a polarized moment, many people are made anxious or fatigued by the prospect of a shouting-match fueled by conflicting opinions that fail to persuade. But stories are different. When someone’s first words are, “I want to tell you a story about something that happened to me,” when the sentences that follow tell an actual story, with a beginning, middle, and end, surprisingly few even try to contradict another’s actual experience. Each storyteller’s truth emerges to stand alongside the rest, and when the group reflects on what has been learned, the richness is often unexpectedly powerful.

You don’t have to wait till PSOTU 2018 to try it out. The USDAC’s next National Action, #RevolutionOfValues, is a day of creative action taking place on April, the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s groundbreaking Riverside speech. There are many ways for individuals and groups to take part. Download the free Toolkit and you’ll have access to all kinds of resource, including detailed Story Circle instructions.

#FollowTheMoney  #SaveTheNEA

by Arlene Goldbard, Chief Policy Wonk

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

                                                  —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Learn more at #RevolutionOfValues)

This morning the White House released its proposed budget for FY 2018. The $1.1 billion proposal for federal discretionary spending (which amounts to about a third of all federal spending) calls for deep cuts to many agencies that protect the commonwealth. For example, it chops nearly a third of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, and more than one-fifth of State Department programs supporting exchange and development.

But federal cultural agencies—the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services—are singled out for extinction along with other independent agencies that promote international cooperation and address issues such as homelessness, community development, and public safety.[1]

The proposed budget has to go through the Office of Management and Budget and Congress before it can be enacted. You, the taxpayer, can influence whether it breezes through or is blocked by public outrage.

Want to be heard? Write to your elected representatives as part of the Arts Action Fund’s #SaveTheNEA campaign or use the Performing Arts Alliance’s response form. This tool will help you find contact information and background about elected officials: use it to make your own calls or  write your own letter.

The President’s budget is at once shocking and unsurprising. He’s making a frightening statement about American values, adding nearly $60 billion to our investment in war—which already amounted to three annual NEA budgets a day, seven days a week. For reasons far more symbolic than cost-cutting, he wants to eliminate the small programs that help us know and understand each other, those that make the constitutional commitment to freedom of expression real, for what does it mean to declare a right without the means to exercise it? 

Here are some of the facts Carlton Turner, Minister of Creative Southern Strategies on the USDAC National Cabinet, posted to Facebook this morning with the hashtag #followthemoney:

I wish mainstream arts advocates talked less about economic impact and much more about who we are as a people, what we stand for, how we want to be remembered, because that’s what is endangered here: the value of beauty and meaning to the body politic. We urge everyone to stand for cultural rights and cultural freedom—for the public interest in art—against a White House that considers them dispensable.

The quotation at the head of this blog is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Riverside speech, “Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break Silence,” delivered fifty years ago on April 4, 1967. In the speech, Dr. King calls for a “a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society.” Presented with this thing-oriented budget proposal—far more oriented to such things as guns and bombs than to the well-being of communities and families—, it is our obligation to stand for love and justice, walk in Dr. King’s footsteps, giving voice once again to his powerful words, and reminding people of his real message and unfinished work. Join us:

  • Enlist as a Citizen Artist to join the people-powered USDAC in year-round learning and action to make cultural democracy real. You’ll be the first to know about actions, events, and resources you can use.
  • Download the free #RevolutionOfValues Toolkit to join people across the nation in drawing inspiration from and breathing new life into the prophetic words Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shared one year to the day before he was assassinated. The Toolkit will give you everything you need to take part in #RevolutionOfValues, a national Day of Creative Action on April 4th.
  • Join our free, online video Citizen Artists Salon on Wednesday, 22 March, at 3 PDT/4 MDT/5 CDT/6 EDT when fiercely creative activists from three generations share their wisdom and inspiration in preparation for April 4th.

The release of this budget proposal is the just first shot in a battle over investment in cultural rights, human rights, equity, and social and environmental justice. Public response can turn the tide, not only from ordinary citizens who cherish cultural rights, but from all those big Republican donors who support arts organizations. If the White House won’t listen to parents whose kids benefit from arts in education or neighbors who love their local arts center, perhaps they’ll listen to the people the rest of their policies seek to profit. Let them hear your voice:

Write to your elected representatives as part of the Arts Action Fund’s #SaveTheNEA campaign or use the Performing Arts Alliance’s response form. This tool will help you find contact information and more about elected officials if you want to write your own letter.


[1] Including the African Development Foundation; the Appalachian Regional Commission; the Chemical Safety Board; the Corporation for National and Community Service; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the Delta Regional Authority; the Denali Commission; the Inter- American Foundation; the U.S. Trade and Development Agency; the Legal Services Corporation; the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation; the Northern Border Regional Commission; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; the United States Institute of Peace; the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness; and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Building Democracy in "Trump Country"

NOTEBen Fink, who authored this essay, is creative placemaking project manager at the Appalshop; he grew up in Connecticut and now lives on Little Cowan in Letcher County. He holds a Ph.D. in cultural studies from the University of Minnesota. He’s taught school in Minneapolis and Berlin, directed youth arts programs in New Jersey, and consulted with homeless service nonprofits in Connecticut. You can find him at the nearest shape note singing, or follow him on Twitter at @benjaminhfink. This piece, which was first published on BillMoyers.com, originated in his presentation at CULTURE/SHIFT 2016, the USDAC's national convening held in St. Louis in November, 2016. 

Appalshop program participants filming. (Photo by Shawn Poynter Photography)

Appalshop program participants filming. (Photo by Shawn Poynter Photography)

A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them Letcher County, Kentucky, is one of the most open-minded places I’ve ever lived.

I moved here a year ago. I’ve spent most of my life in cities and suburbs, and I arrived with all the assumptions you can imagine about Central Appalachia and the people who live here.

I might not have believed it either, before I moved here a year ago. I’ve spent most of my life in cities and suburbs, and I arrived with all the assumptions you can imagine about Central Appalachia and the people who live here.

But if you’ve been here, or to similar places, you know how wrong those assumptions can be. Yes, some people fly Confederate flags. One of them, down the road, used to share a front lawn with an anarchist environmentalist, and they got along fine. Yes, my northeastern accent sticks out. And as long as I’m open about who I am and interested in who they are, I’ve found almost everyone here is ready to open up, take me in and work together.

Letcher County went 79.8 percent for Donald Trump. He won every county in Kentucky, except the two that include Lexington and Louisville. Around 3 a.m. on election night, I woke up in a panic as three celebratory gunshots from next door shook my house.

The next morning it was hard to get out of bed. Was this still the same loving, open-minded place where I went to sleep last night? Did I belong here anymore?

Bill, Letcher County Volunteer Fire Chief (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College/Clay Wegrzynowicz ’18)

Bill, Letcher County Volunteer Fire Chief (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College/Clay Wegrzynowicz ’18)

My phone rang; it was Bill. Bill is fire chief in one of the remotest, poorest parts of the county. He and I had worked together a lot over the past year, most recently on a project to get energy costs down at the county’s cash-strapped volunteer fire departments. Bill and his crew do a lot more than fight fires; they look after sick neighbors, get food to hungry families and otherwise work day and night to take care of their community, for no pay.

Still, Bill isn’t your average partner for a social justice-oriented nonprofit. He’s a former logger and mine owner. He’s campaigned for some of the most right-wing candidates in the area. And his interactions with public officials have been, well, colorful.

I let the phone ring. I didn’t think I could talk to Bill that morning. He was going to be happy and peppy — he’d just won, after all — and he’d ask me how I was. What could I say? I’m doing bad, Bill. Four-fifths of this county just elected someone really scary.

Letcher County went 79.8 percent for Donald Trump. He won every county in Kentucky, except the two that include Lexington and Louisville.

Finally, I called him back. He greeted me as always: “Why hello there, young feller! How’re you this morning!” I hesitated: “Honestly, I’m not doing great.”

Turns out he wasn’t either. His close friend and longtime secretary was dying of cancer — and without her help, he’d need a few more days to find the power bills I’d asked him for. I told him of course, take the time you need, and that I was very sorry to hear the news. She would die a few days later.

The Appalshop, in Letcher County, Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of Appalshop)

The Appalshop, in Letcher County, Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of Appalshop)

I work at the Appalshop — originally short for “Appalachian Film Workshop.” We were founded in 1969, with funding from the federal War on Poverty and the American Film Institute, as a program to teach young people in the mountains to make films. A few years later, when the government money stopped, some of those young people took it over and re-founded it for themselves.

Ever since, it’s been a grass-roots multimedia arts center: a film producertheater companyradio stationrecord labelnews outletyouth media training program, deep regional archive and sometimes book and magazine publisher. It’s put the means of cultural production in the hands of local people.

At the Appalshop, we work with stories. Stories are how we learn, how we make meaning out of our lives, how we understand who we are and what we can do, individually and together. The story of Appalachia, as told in so many reports from “Trump country,” tends to be pretty depressing: broken people, victims of poverty and unemployment and addiction, clinging desperately to a divisive and hateful politics as their last hope.

My phone call with Bill, like so many other moments I could describe, hints at a different kind of story. A story suggesting that even after Election Day, we might not be as divided as we think. That even those who feel like we “lost” the election could ultimately win, together. And that if what we’re doing works here — listening to each other, caring for each other, working with each other on common ground toward common goals — it might work in other places, too.

If what we’re doing works here — listening to each other, caring for each other, working with each other on common ground toward common goals — it might work in other places, too.

One thing that’s different about Appalshop, compared with a lot of nonprofits, is we don’t do “community engagement” or “community outreach.” We aren’t looking to “help” or “save” the community. We are part of the community, no less and no more. One day, several months into my job, my boss pulled me aside and told me to stop starting sentences with “I’m not from here, but….” “You are from here now,” he said.

Of course, not everyone else from here loves what we do. I hear the term “Appalhead” now and again; I’m told it was real big five years ago, at the height of the so-called “Obama War on Coal.” It’s easy to call out the misinformation behind the label. No, we’re not all from New York and San Francisco; more than half of us grew up here. No, we’re not marching in liberal lockstep; our staff meetings can involve heated political debate. And no, we don’t hate coal miners; but industry executives and their political allies would like folks to think we do.

Still, if I lost a well-paying job when a mine shut down, and I saw people who claimed to be from my community raising money to make a film about how awful strip mining was instead of doing something to try to help my family, I’d probably be resentful, too. That resentment, I think, is a lot of what this election was about. County by county, the electoral map of the whole country looked a lot like Kentucky. Urban went Clinton. Rural went Trump. Rural won.

For those of us who don’t like how the election turned out, we’re left with two choices. We can keep ignoring or ridiculing the resentment my neighbors feel, and calling them ignorant and otherwise illegitimate for the ways they think, talk and act. And we’ll keep getting the same results. Or we can listen and try to understand where they’re coming from, even when we don’t like it, and see what we can build together.

Because either way, in this election we learned that rural people have power. Whether we like it or not.

In this election we learned that rural people have power. Whether we like it or not.

The work I do is rooted in the Popular Front of the 1930s, when people came together across all kinds of differences to build power and fight against fascism. They understood power very simply, as organized people plus organized money. Since then, some organizers in this tradition have added a third term: organized ideas.

That’s the formula I use every day: Power = Organized People + Organized Money + Organized Ideas.

If we want to understand the power in rural America and how it can be organized differently, first we need to know — who’s got it? Who, exactly, has been doing the organizing?

The answer is, as usual: not us. The bigotry and violence of the Trump campaign wasn’t the product of our people, money or ideas. My neighbors may not be up on the latest social justice lingo, but they are not hateful.

No, the organizing took place far away. What we get, on both sides, are the bumper stickers, the prefab identities sold by the people with power to make us feel powerful — even as they use our power for their own benefit.

(Photo by Mimi Pickering)

(Photo by Mimi Pickering)

During the election our county was full of “Trump Digs Coal” signs, but the week afterward the top headline in our newspaper The Mountain Eagle was: “Don’t expect jobs mining coal soon, McConnell warns.” Again, though, if you’re a coal miner who lost your job and you’re convinced Obama is to blame, it makes sense that a sticker on your car could make you feel better. Like you’re fighting back.

So we’re left with the all-too-familiar story of “us” versus “them.” “Our” “good” bumper stickers — and energy-efficient foreign cars — versus “their” “bad” ones — on a clunker to boot.

The bumper that gives me hope, though, is the one parked in front of our building the day after the election. It had a “Make America Great Again” sticker and a sticker for WMMT-FM 88.7, the community radio station run by Appalshop, which broadcasts news and music across central Appalachia and streams worldwide. WMMT has 50 local volunteer DJs, from all political positions.

Old Red on the mic at WMMT-FM 88.7, the community radio station run by Appalshop. (Facebook photo)

Old Red on the mic at WMMT-FM 88.7, the community radio station run by Appalshop. (Facebook photo)

Including this guy. Old Red hosts the First Generation Bluegrass show on Thursday mornings. He plays great music, has a terrific radio personality and likes to make fun of Al Gore on the air. When I hosted a show last summer, I went on right before him.

One morning I played “Pride,” a haunting song by Ricky Ian Gordon about a gay man discovering he has AIDS and finding home in the uprisings of the mid-1980s. Near the end of my show Red came into the studio, as usual, and put down his pink bag. “I heard that song you played while I was driving in.” I took a breath. He continued: “I don’t know a lot about this stuff. I think I know what ‘L, G, B, T’ means, but I’m not sure about ‘Q, I….’ Can you help me?”

When Red steps into that studio, he feels safe enough to admit he doesn’t know something, and learn. Even from someone like me. Because that studio is a place Red knows he belongs. He gets to broadcast his music, his voice and his ideas, whatever I or anyone else might think of them, to five states every week. Just like scores of other people — including relatives of folks locked up in nearby prisons, who call in to our weekly hip hop show “Hot 88.7 — Hip Hop from the Hilltop and Calls From Home.” We can’t always see them, but they are part of our community, too.

Economist Fluney Hutchinson (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College/Clay Wegrzynowicz ’18)

Economist Fluney Hutchinson (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College/Clay Wegrzynowicz ’18)

A few years ago, with the coal economy on its last legs, a new generation of Appalshop leaders started working with a Jamaican economist named Fluney Hutchinson. Fluney has done development in poor areas across the world, sometimes with the International Monetary Fund.

But he doesn’t work through loans, austerity and government takeovers. He works, basically, through organizing. Or as he puts it: “Strengthening the capacity of residents to exercise voice, agency and ownership over their community affairs is essential to their ability to create communities that they value.”

He recognized Appalshop was already doing this, through radio and theater and other media. But he asked, how could we do more? How could we help build an economy where everyone had voice, agency and ownership? Where we can work and act and vote out of hope for a future we’re working to make, instead of out of fear of a future we feel powerless to stop?

This is what we came up with:

(Image courtesy of Appalshop)

(Image courtesy of Appalshop)

Basically, Appalshop would use its resources and relationships to do broad-based organizing. We would build a wide network of grass-roots organizations working to strengthen people’s voice, agency and ownership, starting in Letcher County. Each organization in our network would support everyone else’s work, connect each other with resources, plan projects to bring value and wealth into our communities, and bring together organized people, money and ideas.

What does this look like? It looks like a remote community center getting the support to reopen the longest-running square dance in the state of Kentucky, with guests from around the state and around the country.

It looks like the county volunteer fire departments, led by my buddy Bill, working together to start an annual bluegrass festival that made $10,000 in its first year.

It looks like starting Mountain Tech Media, a new cooperative for-profit corporation, under Appalshop’s roof. And at the same time, working with our regional community and technical college to start a certificate program in tech and media skills — to create a complete community-based pipeline to employment for young people in the area.

It looks like people and groups of all kinds coming together and recognizing that we have power, and together we can build more. That we don’t have to wait to be saved. That we can create markets on a scale to attract the attention of investors — and keep the value of those investments in our community.

It looks like a certain drink at the new Kentucky Mist Moonshine, Letcher County’s first legal still, run by a Republican businessman who’s now a close partner in the Downtown Retail Association we helped found. It involves apple pie moonshine, cider, a little sour mix, cinnamon, sugar and apples. They call it the “Appal Head.” (They made me a free one recently; it was delicious.)

And it looks like the young girl who recently came to a painting party hosted by our youth media institute. She said she’d wanted to come for a while, but she was nervous because she didn’t know anyone. Before she left, she left a note with the Institute’s director:

(Photo courtesy of Appalshop)

(Photo courtesy of Appalshop)

At the start of 2017, Appalshop is 48 years in (and still learning, of course). But I think we’re onto something. When we work together to make places where we all feel like we belong, we can feel safe enough to open ourselves to people and ideas we might otherwise fear. When we build a culture and economy based on shared agency, voice and ownership, we can live with dignity and own the value we create. That’s what we’re imagining here in Letcher County, Kentucky.

Can a project started in Letcher County go nationwide? We’re ready. Want to work with us? Let’s talk. We like visitors. Above the doors of our local library, in the words of Letcher County author Harry M. Caudill, is our standing invitation to all:

(Photo courtesy of Lafayette College/Clay Wegrzynowicz ’18)

(Photo courtesy of Lafayette College/Clay Wegrzynowicz ’18)

The Space Between Imagining and Making Real Is Very Small

NOTE: On Saturday, 21 January 2017, Judy Baca, Minister of Sites of Public Memory on the USDAC National Cabinet, delivered these inspiring remarks to 750,000 marchers at Los Angeles' Women's March. 

Hello marchers! Hello Angelitos! Welcome to the official inauguration of President Trump!

My name is Judy Baca and I am cofounder of a woman-founded arts and social justice organization—SPARC—that has been fighting for human rights for 40 years.

For me today all of you are the best news I have heard since November.  I look out and see every generation that has historically stood for justice on every front, united today. And perhaps that is what we must be grateful for at this heart-clenching moment.

We outnumber by millions those who would make America whites-only again. Remember that we once stopped a war. We changed profoundly women’s roles in society. We fought for acknowledgement and fair treatment of immigrant laborers in our nation of immigrants. We pressed for the rights of the LGBTQ community.

What is important at this moment is to not underestimate the powerful role of artists. Witness all of our pussy hats, handmade, behind them are hours of people making them. It is our job as artists to:

  • visualize in the broad strokes of a brush,
  • to articulate in the spoken word or the stories we tell,
  • to lift hearts with song; and
  • to create a vision of a humane and just world.

In my 40 years as an activist artist at SPARC I have come to understand that the space between imagining and making real is very small. Together, we can imagine and make real the vision of a country that is respectful of all its people, particularly women and of Mother Earth that gives us our very life. To quote our former President, “In our increasingly interconnected world, the arts play an important role in both shaping the character that defines us and reminds us of our shared humanity.”

Each day that passes, with each egregious action of the Trump administration that would dismantle all of our hard-won progress, it is important to know that we need to resist each attack one by one and stop every action, every move toward fascism. And we must do it sustainably, with joy and certainty that we can and will win.

We are already seeing the beginnings of official actions by the current administration to undermine all that we have worked for. We cannot allow these backward hateful, misogynist, racist, ideas to become the new normal. This is not normal. The building of walls, actual or metaphoric, forecasts a future of division between peoples.

I remind us that the only wall that should be built is the one we build with our bodies and our resistance against the destruction of our dignity and our democracy.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

 

 

CULTURE/SHIFT 2016: Recap

Many months ago, when we joined with the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission to plan the USDAC’s first national convening, CULTURE/SHIFT 2016, we chose dates closely following on the 8 November 2016 U.S. presidential election. No one had a clue what the outcome might be (or even who would be the candidates), but we knew that whatever came, it would be a good time to be together.

Attendees of CULTURE/SHIFT 2016 offer opening remarks to one another. Photo by Dan Brugere.

Attendees of CULTURE/SHIFT 2016 offer opening remarks to one another. Photo by Dan Brugere.

That turned out to be a huge understatement. As USDAC Chief Instigator Adam Horowitz said in his opening night talk:

Now is a time to be together and however you are arriving in this moment, you are welcome. We welcome those who are grieving, those who are hurting, those who are fired up, those who are searching for that fire. We welcome your uncertainty, we welcome your rage, your courage, and your hope. We welcome your anger and we welcome your love. We welcome your big hearts, and your audacious imagination. We welcome your ancestors, we welcome your laughter, your tears, your dreams. We welcome your paradoxes, your vulnerability, your care, and your questions. We welcome all of you, and all of you. Because we need all of us more than ever.

Two hundred people joined together in St. Louis, about half from the region and others from far and wide: California, New York, Florida, South Dakota, Washington, Texas, and just about every state in between. There were students and elders, artists and activists of every cultural heritage, race, orientation, medium, and approach. What could the members of such a varied group have in common? In his opening plenary, Adam quoted historian, theologian, social justice activist Dr. Vincent Harding: “I am a citizen of a country that does not yet exist.” Many participants had never met before, but even so, CULTURE/SHIFT 2016 was like a reunion from an imagined and yearned-for future shaped by creativity, love, and justice.

Perhaps the title of Carlton Turner’s Friday morning plenary says it best: “Art, Truth, and Healing: Practicing Radical Love.” “I start with the art,” Carlton said, “it’s the entry-point to all our understanding. It’s how we make meaning of time and space. It’s how we interpret the vast spectrum of experiences that make up the human condition….But even before the art is created, there has to be an intention. So that’s where we will start, with the intention.”

USDAC Minister of Creative Southern Strategies, Carlton Turner. Photo by Dan Brugere.

USDAC Minister of Creative Southern Strategies, Carlton Turner. Photo by Dan Brugere.

There was pain and fear in the aftermath of 11/9, to be sure. Participants shared experiences back home of people living in fear of deportation, compulsory registration, or internment. No one knows what a Trump administration will bring, but creative resistance to all attempts to limit human rights, including the right the culture, was the watchword of the weekend. The clear and immediate priority is defending the vulnerable and threatened and standing with those on the front lines of attack.

By the time USDAC Chief Policy Wonk Arlene Goldbard stood to deliver closing remarks at the final plenary launching Standing for Cultural Democracy: The USDAC’s Policy and Action Platform, a moment of true synchronicity had emerged. As she said,

You’ve heard people talk about love a lot here at CULTURE/SHIFT: Adam Horowitz in his opening plenary, Carlton Turner in yesterday's plenary. We did not orchestrate this beforehand. I did not know what either Adam or Carlton planned to say. Speaking for myself, love is a word I use in public contexts with that same slight reservation Che Guevara expressed. More than once, I’ve written something about cultural democracy and been told that the piece is good, but if I want to be taken seriously, I need to choose a different word than “love.”

Right now, coming off the recent election, with hate looming so large in campaign rhetoric, I see no alternative. The antidote to despair is to glimpse the world we are trying to help into being, to glimpse the beauty and meaning emerging from the gifts of artists of social imagination and to know what is possible. The antidote to hate is love as the always-brilliant James Baldwin defined it in The Fire Next Time:

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word "love" here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace—not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.

Our task now is to live into that love so that everyone we meet understands that though we are many, we are one.

CULTURE/SHIFT won’t be a one-off. We are working to raise resources for a biennial national convening, with regional CULTURE/SHIFTs in the in-between years. And as we plan for more face-to-face gatherings, we’ll continue to support Citizen Artists through National Actions such as the 2017 People’s State of the Union 2017 (stay tuned for the a Citizen Artist Salon coming up on December 6th). On 1 January, our first four Regional Envoys go to work, supporting local organizing in multi-state regions.

Closing Ceremony of CULTURE/SHIFT 2016. Photo by Dan Brugere.

Closing Ceremony of CULTURE/SHIFT 2016. Photo by Dan Brugere.

Take a look at some of the amazing sessions captured on video, and it will become immediately evident that standing with those most threatened in no way precludes mobilizing skills and resources to focus on visionary local work pointing the way to cultural democracy. In coming days and weeks, we’ll be sending out more information on how to get involved. For now, here’s a list of videos available on Facebook:

  • Opening Ceremony — Remarks from Felicia Shaw, Roseann Weiss, and Adam Horowitz, followed by an introduction to St. Louis in the words of its poets.
  • Opening Plenary: Art, Truth, and Healing: Practicing Radical Love — Carlton Turner calls on us to practice radical love, love in the service of truth and justice.
  • Creative Strategies for Resisting Displacement  Betty Yu, Dave Loewenstein, Anyka Barber, moderated by Amanda Colón-Smith. Across the country, gentrification and displacement are threatening the cultural and social fabric of towns and cities, large and small. Experienced artist-organizers explore creative strategies for fending off inequitable development, preserving community cultural life, and resisting displacement.
  • Cultural Rights — Mervyn L. Tano. The right to culture is enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN's Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world's indigenous peoples. But will it be honored? What would it take to make this more than words on paper?
  • Art and Hope in Rural America — Mervyn L. Tano, Dudley Cocke lead an exploration of the national place-based movement for rural self-development, in which artists and cultural workers play leadership roles.
  • Music, Action, and Social Imagination — Sebastian Ruth, in a presentation that includes music and discussion, leads an exploration of foundational ideas from Maxine Greene and John Dewey, and practical applications from the work of Community MusicWorks.
  • Plenary: Standing Standing for Cultural Democracy: The USDAC’s Policy and Action Platform — Arlene Goldbard, Adam Horowitz,  Yolanda Wisher et al. What will it take to shift from a consumer to a creator culture, from a policy based on privilege to a cultural democracy? The answer has to start with a national conversation, then move on to local, regional, and national experiments in policy change.
  • Equity in Cultural Funding — Carlton Turner. People of color, women, and communities grounded in non-Eurocentric cultures receive far less of public and private cultural funding than white counterparts. This session places this current moment in the context of a historic continuum of inequity to build insight and capacity to make change.
  • Public Art and Public Memory — Judy Baca with Dave Loewenstein and Lily Yeh. What is the public artist’s role and responsibility in excavating community memory and amplifying the voices of people grounded in that place? Whose memories, whose voices matter in this moment? An audiovisual presentation that sets the stage for a practical discussion kicked off by a panel of public artists.
  • Cultivating the Network: Skill-building and support for people working at the intersection of arts and community — Liz Pund, Bill Cleveland, Gina Martinez, Terry Artis. This session explores the various definitions of this work, the landscape of available training options, and the lasting impacts of sustained training programs such as St. Louis’s own Community Arts Training (CAT) Institute. 
  • Artists and City Government: Elected, Embedded, and Unauthorized — Bryan Walsh, Beth Grossman, Rebeca Rad, Josh Adam Ramos, moderated by Jack Becker. What happens when an artist chooses to work in or with city government? Three distinct perspectives from a St. Louis artist who occupies elected office, two Public Artists in Residence with the City of New York, and one Bay Area artist who has made surprising inroads with city government, from the outside.
  • Cultural Planning — Roberto Bedoya offers a fresh take on cultural planning, focusing on belonging. What are deep powerful and equitable ways to engage people as a foundation for policy and action?

See photos from CULTURE/SHIFT 2016 in the photo album here.

Love and Power: Standing for Cultural Democracy Platform Launch

Following is the text of USDAC Chief Policy Wonk Arlene Goldbard's talk at the final plenary of CULTURE/SHIFT 2016, the USDAC's first national convening, hosted by and cosponsored with the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission.

It marked the official launch of Standing for Cultural Democracy, The USDAC’s Policy and Action Platform, offering ten ways to advance toward cultural democracy. Click here to download a platform summary or the full summary, and to link to an online petition where you can endorse the platform. You can also watch the video on Facebook here

Thousands of Citizen Artists have been working on this platform for a long time. It is based on the USDAC’s ongoing action research, inviting people across the U.S. to share hopes, dreams, and concerns through art and culture. In dozens of Imaginings, in National Actions from the People’s State of the Union to #DareToImagine to USDAC Super PAC, people have told fierce and beautiful stories of a future they want to embrace. With the help of our National Cabinet, we’ve translated these visions into powerful practical proposals.

All of that happened before #11/9.

Many people gathered here at CULTURE/SHIFT 2016 have spent the last ten days in dialogue with friends, neighbors, family members living in fear that families will be torn apart by deportation, internment, forced registration. People fear that now more than ever, their communities will be made sacrifice zones, ravaged to feed the bottomless appetite for profit of the hungry ghosts this system breeds. And in the face of this massive insult to the body politic, people under attack and their allies are rising once again to annihilate injustice and give birth to the beloved community.

This platform proclaims and defends the right to culture: the right to be who we are, to show up in our fullness—in both our rich particularity of difference and our transcendent oneness—and to be valued, honored, and treated with respect as a fundamental human right. Some of the platform points will be immediately doable, especially locally—tools we can use to create sites of true belonging. Others are aspirational, pointing us toward the cultural democracy we deserve regardless of who occupies the White House.

The challenges we face under President Trump—racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, institutionalized greed, state-sanctioned violence, and every other form of predatory behavior—are not new. But the level of response is already astounding. We will be working in countless local communities to build on the courageous action already seen from mayors of sanctuary cities, leaders who have declared their refusal to normalize hate, vast numbers of individuals and groups who have already—less than two weeks after the election—taken action in the courts, on the streets, and in their own lives and communities.

Protecting and defending are urgent, essential priorities. The USDAC stands with all who are endangered by policies that deny belonging and further threaten the people. We stand to support and assist all those who are affected by the repression of rights. We will work with you to co-create a network of connection and support, to share skills in planning and executing creative resistance, and to bring as much attention as possible to your courageous work in kindling a shared vision of cultural democracy and putting it into practice. 

And while this massive outpouring of creative resistance unfolds, we can’t surrender our dreams because we awoke on 11/9 to this funhouse nightmare of democracy.

A platform is a compendium of ideas for policy and action. Ideas are essential to reveal and explore the true depth of demand for cultural democracy which has been increasingly evident over the years as artists and allies show up everywhere, investing creativity in social and environmental justice. Ideas are essential, but without action they are stillborn. To create the conditions for action, we need a national conversation bringing the right to culture to the fore as a foundation for belonging without barrier, belonging that knows no borders and needs no papers.

A tall order, you may say—noticeably taller than it was a couple of weeks ago.

Yes.

And no.

Never once in all the time this platform was in development did I think, “Oh, we’ll release the platform and the new Clinton (or Sanders) administration will adopt it. Mission accomplished!”

What I did think about while the platform was taking shape was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s August 1967 speech, "Where Do We Go From Here?" delivered on the tenth anniversary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In it, he paraphrased something that had been said by abolitionist Theodore Parker a century earlier:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Both Dr. King and Parker, as with Moses whom Dr. King alluded to in the mountaintop speech he gave the night before he was murdered, never lived to see the fruits of their labor. Parker died in Italy, of overwork and tuberculosis, a year before the start of the Civil War. A quarter-century later, when Frederick Douglass visited Florence, he went straight from the train station of Parker’s grave.

There is a line of continuous transmission that pumps like a drumbeat through all those who love justice, who see the moral grandeur and culture of possibility that is the best of humanity.

If you put your hand on your heart, and you will feel it pumping now.

We have to be in it for the long haul if we are in it at all. But we are not in it alone.

Just about every worthy social initiative has been a long time coming. Plessy v. Ferguson, establishing the “separate but equal” doctrine that legitimated racial segregation, was decided in 1896. How many court cases, years of legal research and strategizing, decades of activism, eons of fundraising did it take to end that doctrine? Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954, 58 years later, and that is when the struggle began.

It took just as long for the idea of social insurance, introduced by progressives and unionists, to become law as Social Security in 1935. It took 70 years after the mid-19th century Seneca Falls Convention for women’s suffrage to be ratified by the 19th amendment. The struggle for LGBTQ legal rights persevered for decades before same-sex marriage began to be legalized.

Changing these laws has been just one part of these movements for social justice, and it couldn’t have happened without changing the story first.

History’s pendulum swings. Tearing down can be very fast: a symbol of social progress disappears overnight, generating a tidal wave of disappointment and anger. Building is what takes time. Good parents and teachers know the painstaking investment required to nurture a young and promising life; good farmers and foresters understand permaculture and sustainable harvest; good healers are prepared for the long haul of preventive care; good organizers understand the cultivation that democracy requires.

When the pendulum swings away from justice, what sustains perseverance?

Cultural organizers and transformative arts workers know this: whatever engages the whole person—body, emotions, intellect, and spirit—the work that braids pleasure and purpose, is the most powerful, the most sustaining, and the most likely to accomplish the great awakening needed now.

That work feeds us because it is love in the service of justice and healing—personal, political, and planetary.

Dr. King’s remark about the arc of the moral universe came late in a long speech recounting the SCLC’s progress and the work that remained to be done. I want to share some things he said first:

What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love  implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

Then he called for a much-needed program that is now point number 10 in our platform. This is 1967, mind you, a few months before he was murdered:

We must develop a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed annual income.

He went on to say:

[O]ur country can do this. John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God's children on their own two feet right here on earth.

If he could be here, Dr. King might say that the United States government has spent 8.3 million dollars per hour since 2001 on war—that’s $20 billion not in one year, but every 10 days. A universal Basic Income Grant would cost much more today, but it would save a significant amount compared to spending on means-tested and often punishing social service programs.

For the last five years, I’ve been quoting something Van Jones said in the midst of 2011 protests against the union-busting of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: “Don’t adapt to absurdity.”  He was making the point that over time, if we let it, even what seems preposterous becomes normalized—as was clear on #11/9. Flexibility is one of humanity’s best qualities, enabling us to adapt and advance. But it’s also one of our worst: it can be just as easy to adapt to harm, going along to get along until what has been imposed feels “natural.”

Each person here stands for thousands who have the capacity, conscience, and talent to change the story, refusing to adapt to the absurdity of a system that lavishly underwrites war profiteering, energy corporations that poison the environment, and a massive prison-industrial complex, then tells us it is too broke to underwrite creativity, equity, and justice.

Each person here is a storyteller and a truth-teller for love and justice. The earth-shaking power of our collective energy cannot be weakened by a little thing like an election.

Believe me, I am not underestimating the might of our opposition when I say that our greatest obstacle is the risk of internalizing the oppressor’s voice, allowing ourselves to be overtaken by fear and self-doubt, and believing the propaganda that since there is no chance our aims can be realized immediately, we should postpone them again.

Given that risk, I want to ask you a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, especially when I feel vulnerable to the self-ratifying propaganda of the far right, which 24/7 broadcasts the message that resistance is futile.

When I was paralyzed with doubt, a wise friend asked me this: What would it look like to take yourself one hundred percent seriously?

“What do you mean,” I asked, “you want me to take myself more seriously than this?”

He was asking me to resist the temptation to identify with the world as it is, to reject the world in which we are expected to assimilate the unspoken assumptions and agreements that sustain an absurd order. We are expected to treat that order as normal, even natural, and in some sense right and proper. We are expected to learn our place in it, following the path others have laid for us. If we are in conflict with this received version of reality, we are expected to adapt to absurdity rather than ignore or demolish it.

Forget that!

How seriously can we take ourselves? Taking ourselves one hundred percent seriously not only means fighting back, it means knowing and representing our deepest truths, what matters most, our heart’s desires. Taking ourselves one hundred percent seriously means releasing our identification with the absurd world because it is blocking our view of how things could be. It means freeing our minds to see what is really present, rather than whatever others say we should see. It means embracing and inhabiting one hundred percent of our potential as artists and organizers and owning fully the value that holds for ourselves and the world.

This platform is not a plea to some all-powerful ruler who can decree it with a pen-stroke. It is for everyone seeking a response to the fact that in this nation, the right to culture is under attack. We have experienced a long, painful stretch of punishment and persecution by a system that treats identity as a crime: driving while Black, protecting sacred lands and waters, walking in one’s own city, dancing in a public club. Now fear abounds of more and worse to come.

In asserting the right to culture enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the platform stipulates that rights are only as real as the actions and resources used to protect, express, and extend them.

In a few moments, we’ll say more about your power to advance these claims, joining to build a world of beauty and healing, freedom, love, and justice. Right now, I ask you to listen to ten amazing thinkers and doers as they offer the ten points of Standing for Cultural Democracy: The USDAC’s Policy and Action Platform. We may not be able to fully realize this vision for some time—as Adam said last night, quoting “Crazy He Calls Me” by Carl Sigman and Bob Russell, famously sung by Billie Holiday, “the impossible will take a little while.”

As you consider these ten points, I invite you to put your hand on your heart, feeling the beat that connects us to the ancestors who inspired us and the generations who will benefit from our love. 

[Download the platform to discover the ten points that Judy Baca, Tunde Ogunfidodo, Martha Richards, Lily Yeh, Roberto Bedoya, Jack Becker, Amelia Brown, Dave Loewenstein, Dana Edell, and Daniel Banks shared at the plenary.]

 

*  *  *

We ask you to take this platform home—download the full text to read about the tools and examples we’ve shared and take steps to put them into practice, making cultural democracy real.

Let us stand together with the most vulnerable and the most courageous. Let me say it again: We have to be in it for the long haul if we are in it at all. But remember, we are not in it alone. The USDAC is here for you in every way possible. Talk to us, take part in USDAC actions, let us help you figure out how to put the platform into practice in your own community. Let us help each other resist normalizing absurdity. 

Earlier, I quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now I want to quote another great figure of twentieth century history, Che Guevara, a doctor, revolutionary, writer, and diplomat who famously said, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”

You’ve heard people talk about love a lot here at CULTURE/SHIFT: Adam Horowitz in his opening plenary, Carlton Turner in yesterday's plenary. We did not orchestrate this beforehand. I did not know what either Adam or Carlton planned to say. Speaking for myself, love is a word I use in public contexts with that same slight reservation Che expressed. More than once, I’ve written something about cultural democracy and been told that the piece is good, but if I want to be taken seriously, I need to choose a different word than “love.”

Right now, coming off the recent election, with hate looming so large in campaign rhetoric, I see no alternative. The antidote to despair is to glimpse the world we are trying to help into being, to glimpse the beauty and meaning emerging from the gifts of artists of social imagination and to know what is possible. The antidote to hate is love as the always-brilliant James Baldwin defined it in The Fire Next Time:

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word "love" here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace—not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.

Our task now is to live into that love so that everyone we meet understands that though we are many, we are one. This is beautifully expressed in a few lines I will leave you with by the 15th-century poet Kabir, whose work is a converging stream of Hindu and Muslim cultures:

This love between us goes back to the first humans; it cannot be annihilated.
Here is Kabir's idea: as the river gives itself into the ocean,
What is inside me moves inside you.

Thank you for your caring, courage and grace. For all you have done and will do. Know that you are loved. 

#ShiftHappens: CULTURE/SHIFT 2016 opening remarks

Following is the text of Chief Instigator Adam Horowitz's remarks at the opening plenary of CULTURE/SHIFT 2016, the USDAC's first national convening, taking place 17-19 November at the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission. (A recording of the livestream can also be found here, with remarks beginning at minute 27.)

Thank you friends and allies. Thank you for choosing to show up here. Now is a time to be together and however you are arriving in this moment, you are welcome. We welcome those who are grieving, those who are hurting, those who are fired up, those who are searching for that fire. We welcome your uncertainty, we welcome your rage, your courage, and your hope. We welcome your anger and we welcome your love. We welcome your big hearts, and your audacious imagination. We welcome your ancestors, we welcome your laughter, your tears, your dreams. We welcome your paradoxes, your vulnerability, your care, and your questions. We welcome all of you, and all of you. Because we need all of us more than ever.

I invite you to take a deep breath, land in this moment, in this place.

We are in it together. In this room, on Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis, on traditional indigenous land, in a country facing dangerously emboldened bigotry, in a warming world teetering on the edge of evermore catastrophic climate change. What a moment. We are in it together. And we can shape it together.

I want everyone to have a chance to give some opening remarks this evening, So, if you would, turn to a neighbor and each take two minutes to share: Why are you here? And how are you arriving?

As we saw last week, #ShiftHappens, sometimes with alarming speed and grave implications. Let’s go ahead and appoint all of each other to humanity’s Transition Team and ask: what’s the shift that we are called to make happen?

Surely, it’s the shift that the Water Protectors at Standing Rock are calling for, from an extractive to a regenerative relationship with the earth. Surely, it’s the shift from a system of white supremacy to a society where Black Lives Matter. Surely it’s the shift that Dr. King called for almost 50 years ago in his anti-Vietnam war speech at Riverside Church.

We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

And in the face of those triplets looming so large, perhaps it’s also the shift from the mind to the heart. The Dalai Lama has reminded Americans: “NEVER GIVE UP. No matter what is going on. Never give up. Develop the heart… Too much energy in your country Is spent developing the mind Instead of the heart…”

Chief Instigator Adam Horowitz. Photo by Dan Brugere.

Chief Instigator Adam Horowitz. Photo by Dan Brugere.

This is a room full of people who know that the work of culture shift is more important than ever. We know that culture—and that particular distillation of culture known as art—are the arenas in which we can make these shifts of the heart, where we become more human humans, create more life-giving ways of being, and build more democratic institutions. In a time of sickness, culture is a healing force. La cultura cura. Culture cures. And in a time of unrest, culture is the wellspring of our resistance.

Two years ago, the prescient science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin said:

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom—poets, visionaries—realists of a larger reality…. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable—but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art.

Indeed, reality is up for grabs and everything created must first be imagined—and it’s in that spirit that we launched the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture. Who here has taken part in the USDAC in some way? [Many hands were raised.] For those of you for whom this a first encounter with the USDAC, welcome aboard. This is an act of collective imagination, and you’re now implicated! To catch us all up to speed, here’s a very brief history of the people-powered department:

What’s in name? The USDAC began as a set of words, an imported poetic provocation. Living in Colombia, working with their Ministry of Culture, I wondered: “why don’t we have one?” and printed hundreds of posters, for this imagined entity.

This string of words became the container for a set of questions and conversations explored together by many in this room:

  • How can we shift art and culture from the margins to the center of civil society, given their true value and support as catalysts for social transformation?
  • What would it look like to perform a people-powered department—as both a playful work of collaborative art and as a serious vehicle for community-building, field-building, and movement-building?

And then at a certain point, these conversations had to turn into actions. So, we launched the USDAC with a press conference in the middle of the federal government shutdown in October 2013.

Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock said, “When you begin to imagine and act as if you live in the world you want to live in, you will have company.” 

And sure enough, three years later, more than 15,000 people have brought the USDAC to life in communities across the country—joining together at Imaginings hosted by Cultural Agents, connecting through Story Circles, showing up in public spaces as Emissaries from the Future through #DareToImagine (a campaign which was just replicated in the country of Scotland). At the USDAC our state of the union address is a poem, our SuperPACs are Super Participatory Arts Coalitions, and our Field Offices are local networks bringing cultural strategies to fights for housing justice, climate justice, transit equity and much more.

Together, we’re standing for the right to culture, spreading creative tactics applicable across movements, building momentum for cultural democracy, and performing possibility. Possibility can be just as contagious as fear…and is a lot more fun to be around.

Dreaming in public, we make the road by walking, and we play in the creative tension between what is and what could be.

And I think that’s one of the characteristics that brings us all together here. We are tightrope walkers, dancers along that thin line stretched between the world as it is and the world as it could be. As artists and organizers, we bear witness to the present while also bearing prophetic witness to that which might exist. And, through the power of our stories, our songs, our relationships, our acts of heart, we invite others on that tightrope with us.

It’s a precarious perch, a dynamic dance. In order to stay afloat we must remain in motion. In times such as these, how do we take to the tightrope with both patience and unyielding urgency? I’m reminded of Billie Holiday’s famous song lyric, “The difficult I’ll do right now. The impossible will take a little while.” How can we be good dance partners with each other in both the difficult and the impossible? The right now, and the long now?

Right now: In the face of an incoming administration that campaigned to ban whole religions, deport millions, and that is fanning the flames of all forms of bigotry, how can we create a culture of solidarity and belonging, standing up with and for the most vulnerable? And standing against all power claimed in service of hate, violence and domination?

And in the long now: What other possibilities can we perform together? What aspirational entities can we name and embody? What public programs, civic rituals, and community institutions might we imagine that align with our highest ideals of equity, participation, and justice? As the demographics of this country shift, what is the 21st Century civic and cultural infrastructure needed to heal the heart of democracy?

We may not have the answers, but this is a perfect constellation of people to ask the questions with. Take a look around this room, behold this motley bunch, your dance partners in the long now, your comrades in culture shift. We are urban alchemists, poet laureates, policy wonks, cultural agents, public dreamers, we are mirror-holders, tricksters, frontline truth-tellers, backstage myth-makers. We are reclaiming the commons, reimagining civic life, weaving the we. We are citizen artists, members of a society that does not yet exist, wielding weapons of mass creation—pens and instruments, metaphors and stories—to bring it into being. We don’t build walls; we take them down. Or, if they serve a life-giving purpose, we paint them.

So, how can we best be together in this short time? I know it doesn’t work this way, but how can we offset our carbon footprints in coming here by connecting with such depth and love that the benefit to all beings is undeniable? A few offerings:

  • Step outside of regular time. Let’s embrace and savor this time together, as time outside of daily life, time outside of the news cycle, time for us to learn something new as well as time to remember what we already know.
  • Model the world you want to inhabit. In our interactions here, let’s carry the love, the spirit of welcome and belonging that want to see in society. Let’s listen one another into our fullest humanity, fan the flames of one another’s light, lift each other up. Ask first, but hugs are probably also in order.
  • Connect courageously. Why are you here? Make it known! Share what is most alive for you. We like to say that the USDAC is not an outside agency coming in, it’s our inside agency coming out. It’s up to you to make this weekend work for you. And its up to all of us to make the thick connections that will enable possibility beyond these two days.
  • Hold both the right now and the long now. Let’s do our best to find the balance between this present moment which requires our urgent creative response and the long now which requires our most soulful imagination.

ShiftHappens. Indeed, on this very day, November 17th in 1983, the Zapatistas were founded on the claim that another world is possible. On this day, November 17th, in 1989, the Velvet Revolution began. Vaclav Havel, artist-turned-president of Czechoslovakia who played a core role in that non-violent revolution, reminds us “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

In a moment that’s hard to make sense of, it makes sense to be together, standing for love in the face of fear, belonging in the face of bigotry, and justice in the face of oppression.

This is a moment to pay attention. What is being asked of you now? How will you listen and how will you act? What creative gift is being called forth and how will you share it? We know that we’re capable of speaking truth to power, creating experiences that cultivate profound empathy, telling stories that bring people closer to each other, to a sense of the sacred, and to a more just world. What happens when we organize together, and do that at scale?

Over the next two days, we will not choreograph the perfect dance from where we are to where we want to be, but we will form the critical connections that allow us to walk that path together with love and courage, knowing that within and among us, we have what we need.

Thank you and welcome to CULTURE/SHIFT.

#DareToDream: Our Friends in Scotland Dream Out Loud

by Arlene Goldbard, Chief Policy Wonk

#DareToDream takes off on 27 October—designated #DareToDream Day—when “every creative citizen in Scotland is invited to share a dream for the future on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the campaign hashtag.” To get an idea of the scope of this national action, check the Facebook event page or the map for local events happening between now and the end of November, engaging an impressive list of partners. Check the resources page for a range of great tools. “There are lots of different ways you can join in with the #DareToDream campaign. Dreams can be wee or huge, and absolutely everyone can take part, in any language!”

#DareToDream is part of the annual Scottish Storytelling Festival, sponsored by TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland), and directed by Mairi McFadyen, National Storytelling Co-ordinator of the Scottish Storytelling Forum, “a diverse network of storytellers, organisations and individuals supporting Scotland’s vibrant storytelling community.”

Even though #DareToDream will happen halfway around the world, there’s a USDAC connection. As the website says, “Our #DareToDream campaign is inspired by the #DareToImagine campaign in the US, sponsored by the people-powered U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.

One of the ways #DareToDream expands on storytelling is to invite stories in the form of images and songs as well as narratives, reflected in the accounts populating the #DareToDream blog. Storyteller Beth Cross starts her contribution to the blog with a beautiful quote from Brenda Ueland of Hands on Scotland:  “Why should we all use our creative power? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate.” (I was honored to be asked to contribute an essay to the blog as well.)

Storyteller Lizzie McDougall and community members working on the Gold and Silver Darlings Story Quilt, a visual celebration of over 30 traditional stories from the North and Inner Moray Firth in the Scottish Highlands.

Storyteller Lizzie McDougall and community members working on the Gold and Silver Darlings Story Quilt, a visual celebration of over 30 traditional stories from the North and Inner Moray Firth in the Scottish Highlands.

On a more personal note, I know it’s a big generalization, but: Scotland is cool. And that makes me very curious to see the stories #DareToDream inspires. With a population of just over five million (New York City alone comprises 8.5 million) and an incredibly rich cultural life, things happen on a remarkably accessible and participatory scale. For instance, the September 2014 referendum on independence for Scotland lost 55-45 percent, with a phenomenal 85 percent of eligible voters (which for the first time included those 16 and older) taking part, as compared to the less than 29 percent of U.S. voters who cast ballots in our recent Presidential primary, the most hotly contested race in living memory.

When I visited Scotland well over a year before the independence referendum, everyone I met was already debating the pros and cons of independence from Britain—and telling stories to back up their opinions. (If you want to wonk out a bit, check out my blog on Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop from June 2013.) And when the rest of the U.K. voted by a narrow margin for Brexit in June, withdrawing from the European Union, 62% of voters in Scotland opposed withdrawal. Hyslop, whose full title is Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, has been working hard to keep Scotland in the EU.

What stories of Scotland’s future will be shared in #DareToDream? The USDAC salutes our friends in Scotland for an incredible national action! We’ll be following closely through the end of November.

 

Meet the USDAC's first Regional Envoys!

The USDAC is thrilled to introduce our first four Regional Envoys. Each of them will be working in a different multi-state region to connect artists, activists, and allies to each other and to USDAC organizing. Beginning in January, they’ll be available to help activate USDAC values in your community through workshops, technical assistance, and more. For now, join us in giving them a warm welcome!

West Coast Regional Envoy

West Coast Regional Envoy

Raised between Oakland and San Francisco, Katherin Canton envisions living in a community that values creative and cultural expression for all. She earned a BFA from California College of the Arts with an emphasis in Community Arts through a studio practice in photography and textiles. During her time at CCA, she was the administrator and Community Collaborations Director at the volunteer-run arts center Rock Paper Scissors Collective; she developed funding, business, and partnership processes that resulted in awards from the East Bay Committee Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, and the City of Oakland’s Cultural Arts Program. Katherin organizes with Arts for a Better Bay Area and consults with the Housing Rights Committee of SF. As the Co-Director of Emerging Arts Professionals SF/BA, she strives to build a visible network for artists, local/small businesses, and government to communicate and share resources.

Southeastern Regional Envoy

Southeastern Regional Envoy

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams, MA-TLA, is Principal and Chief Storytelling Officer at Narratives for Change. Embracing “all things narrative” as her work in the world, Yvette is a poet and essayist, teaching artist, and narrative practitioner in applied behavioral science. A passionate mixed-media artist, Yvette uses collage and fiber arts to express stories. Projects span autoethnography, story circles, writing workshops, developing leaders, narrative inquiry, and facilitating community change. Goddard College and the University of Denver are where Yvette completed her graduate studies in Transformative Language Arts for Personal and Social Change and Creative Writing. She publishes on the topics of intersectionality, diversity and inclusion, transformative narratives, and "women as leaders of their lives." The Community Foundation of North Florida ArtVentures recognized Yvette’s writing and awarded her a grant to support the completion of her essays and letters project. Jennifer Chen Tran, Fuse Literary Agency, represents Yvette’s work.

New England Regional Envoy

New England Regional Envoy

Devon Kelley-Yurdin is a maker, educator, and community arts activist living in Portland, Maine. She specializes in illustration and design, printmaking, and art direction, as well as community arts administration and collective/cooperative models. As a Vermont native and graduate from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn who has also lived in the Bay Area; Austin, TX; and rural Maine, Devon carries a diverse set of skills and community experiences in her tool belt. She believes creativity can be found everywhere, and that putting together a well curated outfit or finding the perfect bread-to-filling sandwich ratio are perfectly viable creative activities. Her activism and personal art practice are formed around the belief that art is a powerful avenue to learn new technical skills, discover ways of thinking and looking, explore ideas of place and community, learn histories, and find points of connection with others.

Southern Regional Envoy

Southern Regional Envoy

Harold Steward is a Dallas, Texas-based arts administrator and theater practitioner who is dedicated to social justice and cultural equity. He currently serves as the Manager of the South Dallas Cultural Center and is a founding member and Director of Marketing for the Next Gen National Arts Network. Harold is also the Artistic Director of Fahari Arts Institute, a multidisciplinary, black queer arts organization in Dallas. He is a graduate of the inaugural class of the Zilphia Horton Cultural Organizing Institute in association with the Highlander Research and Education Center. Harold is a proud member of Alternate ROOTS and serves on the Board of Directors for the National Performance Network.

Don't yet have an Envoy covering your region? Don't worry! Over the next two years, we are developing a cohort of 12 highly creative and strategic Envoys who will serve as the public face of the USDAC in their regions. We plan to open a call for the next four Envoys in the spring of 2017. Please join the mailing list to stay posted on this and other opportunities: www.usdac.us/enlist

Standing With Standing Rock: Testimonies from the USDAC Lawrence Field Office

At the beginning of September, Cultural Agent Dave Loewenstein and Citizen Artists Nicholas Ward and Amber Hansen of the USDAC’s Lawrence, Kansas, Field Office joined fellow activists and artists journeying to the Sacred Stone and allied camps on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation near Cannonball, ND, site of opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). This blog incorporates excerpts from their personal accounts. On Friday, 30 September, in Lawrence, the Field Office, in partnership with the First Nations Student Association at the University of Kansas, is sponsoring a march through downtown Lawrence followed by an evening of storytelling, arts and music.

Nicholas and Amber: One week before departing in early September to join the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in solidarity against the DAPL, USDAC Citizen Artist Michael Bradly of the Lawrence, KS Field Office quickly organized a collection of supplies from the Topeka and Lawrence communities. When videographer Nicholas Ward left Lawrence, his minivan was brimming with camping gear, art supplies, and other requested items for the encampment. Winter coats (donated by Vermilion, SD’s Civic Council Center) were crammed in up to the ceiling. Two days later, Nicholas, Amber Hansen, Connie Fiorella and Dave Loewenstein arrived at Sacred Stone Camp. We were later joined by members of The University of Kansas’s First Nations Student Association and Black Lives Matter.

Dave, Arriving at Oceti Sakowin Camp: After a 12-hour, 750-mile windblown journey north, the encampment—really a village—appeared as we coasted into the valley where the Cannonball River meets the Missouri. From afar, it resembled an embroidered quilt framed by sage green hills and blue water; closer up, it resolved into a mosaic of tents and tepees and flags and fires. I’d never seen anything like it: a giant family reunion combined with the Occupy encampment at Zuccotti Park and a county fair. There were people representing more than one hundred fifty Nations, a school for kids, corral for horses, community kitchens, medical tents, a radio station, and more.

At the entrance marked by hand-painted signs, we were welcomed with open arms and ushered through a corridor of brightly colored flags from Tribal Nations across the continent. We found the donation tent and got help unloading. It was festive and purposeful: people lifting, cooking, chopping, organizing, playing, conferencing, planning, befriending. We made camp close to the Cannonball shore.

Camp Kitchen

Camp Kitchen

Nicholas and Amber: We set out on the 2nd of September to deliver requested supplies and to document the water protectors’ resistance against the DAPL. Our specific focus, tuned to the key of USDAC, was to tell a more nuanced account of the cultural and arts based efforts emanating from the heart of the encampment. [Watch the video here!] On this day, the combined camps swell to an estimated 5,000 people.

Our first day at the camp we spoke with Remy, a direct-action activist and movement artist working with First 7 Design Labs. On this day he was the facilitator of the camp’s first horsemanship event—even as the now-infamous dog attack and pepper spray incident perpetrated by employees of DAPL took place two miles to the north. Speaking passionately about the role of arts and culture in the camp’s greater community, Remy led us to a trunk filled with large-scale banners created with children at the camp’s school. “It’s more than just a banner when we take this to protests or to rallies. We’re taking those handprints, those prayers, those messages that are wrote on there and those are our people, so we’re not alone. When we take that up there we are taking our friends and our family.”

The USDAC urges us to imagine a world where arts and culture, stories and song come before the concerns of capitalism and quantification. In many ways this encampment is the embodiment of that vision.

Lakota elder Cedric Goodhouse, Sr. tells us that, “Our art is kinetic. Song, dance, language and art, is kinetic art. And by that I mean it’s movement, it’s holistic in movement, so you can hear it, you can see it, you can feel it, and that’s what music does, and then it helps you to understand better what’s going on.” He went on to tell us about new songs that are being written to mark this time and how music has been used to bring people together and to mark time throughout history.

Dave: Connie and I carried our first paintings to the Info/Donation tent, discovering that while we had been working, front-line protectors stationed where bulldozers had destroyed documented sacred sites were attacked by DAPL private security. Medics were dispatched. “Democracy Now!” was there. Here is their account.

Connie and I drove north to see for ourselves. We wove our way through beautiful rolling hills, past glimpses of the river, until the road was suddenly blocked by North Dakota State Police. Ten officers in full military gear behind heavy-duty concrete barriers: their purpose was not clear. As we slowed, a pole-mounted camera took photos of us. No questions, just a motion to keep going. Getting back was a different story. Nearly everyone was rerouted 30 miles out of the way, but somehow we squeaked through (I’m a white guy in my 40’s and told the officer we’d just been out getting ice cream cones….)

The ACLU and Amnesty International called the roadblock a civil rights violation, demanding that it be removed: "The U.S. government is obligated under international law to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of Indigenous people, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly….Public assemblies should not be considered as the 'enemy.'”

Nicholas and Amber: The 11-hour drive home offers headspace for much reflection. The people we met are custodians and stewards with a long view of the ecological and spiritual health of this land. Considering the competing visions put forth by the tribes and the oil companies, it’s easy to choose who we’d want as upstream neighbors.

We take with us an unwavering confidence that those we have met are operating on an ecological altruism backed by prophecy and a deep sense of community pride that is growing stronger each day. In some ways, the protectors have already won.

We are humbled to be in the presence of so many people of all ages working together to create this multicultural community infused with the spirit of protection and resistance. On our journey home, we plan how to carry the experiences of our time at Sacred Stone back to our communities, standing in solidarity with the water protectors.

Dave: Our last night in the camp, most people and horses made their way north to the site where destruction had been halted and the dogs were unleashed. Our half mile-long procession spread across the road. At the site, we crossed the fence and with a blessing entered sacred land. We formed a large circle on the prairie filled with sage and wild flowers. Elders sang. We all prayed.

I was nearly overwhelmed by mixed feelings of loss, joy, and a sense of purpose. This was not only a denunciation of something bad and destructive, it was and is also a clarion call to the world, reaffirming the values of interdependence, gratitude, and love, acknowledging the incredible gift (and responsibility) of being able to share the earth with its creatures, waters, and peoples for a brief moment.

As the waxing crescent moon rose in the south, the northern sky started to flash, then rumble. Our Lawrence friends shared s’mores by the fire before a sideways rain forced us into our tents. We awoke to a calm, cool and overcast morning. Although our hearts would stay, we headed south towards home with the Missouri as our guide. 

For up-to-date information about the continuing opposition and background on the proposed pipeline, visit the Camp of Sacred Stones website and Facebook page. 

Suburban Living and Civic Ritual: An Interview with Citizen Artist jesikah maria ross

Last month, Chief Policy Wonk Arlene Goldbard talked with Citizen Artist jesikah maria ross, a longtime community media activist and documentary producer based in Davis, California. It’s been ten months since jesikah and her neighbors took part in the USDAC’s #DareToImagine national action last October. She wanted to share the impact that arts-based organizing has had in her community and talk about some of the larger questions it raises.

jesikah maria ross: I moved to a neighborhood called Davis Manor in 1998. My husband and I bought our first house here. There were some very big issues rocking the neighborhood, and as an artist-activist I immediately organized a neighborhood association.  Over the next 15 or 20 years we have done an amazing amount of projects from redeveloping our shopping center to planting new street trees and labeling storm drains, installing a traffic circle, all sorts of things.

Over the last few years we’ve not been as active. It occurred to me that we always come together when there’s a problem, and I thought maybe we should do something differently to build our connections and relationships. So two years ago I started these neighborhood happy hours once a month, first Friday. Hanging out with neighbors, we started talking about our shared desire to do some neighborhood projects. We had all these ideas, a lot of them having to do with art and beautification.

We started calling ourselves the Creative Action Team, the CATs. I was getting emails from the USDAC talking about the #DareToImagine event in October, 2015. At the eleventh hour—it was like mid-September for an October event—I came back to the CATs and said, “What do you think if we have this #DareToImagine event?” There was a Neighbors Night Out event planned then for the city of Davis, inviting neighbors to come together and share a meal. The CATs said “Sure, let’s do it for the city event.”

Arlene Goldbard: It sounds as if it was fairly catalytic for you.

jesikah: Yes. This is the first time that I’ve done a participatory art project in my own neighborhood. I’ve spent the past 25 years doing civic storytelling projects all over the world, but never in my own backyard. And I’d also not done a project that wasn’t in response to a problem. Most of my projects are issue-based, a lot of them social-justice oriented.

This is not like some spectacular neighborhood. This is the first suburb of Davis, built in the ‘50s with cookie cutter tract homes, it doesn’t have amenities like the rest of Davis. But we think it’s fabulous and so our frame was “how do we make it more fabulous?”

I also realized the sheer power of doing something delightful. I was invested in a very different way. We basically put it together in three weeks. We all pulled it off and had a good time. There was some aspect of joy and delight and like “let’s put on a show!” That has really captured my own imagination: how do I do that more?

Arlene: Describe some of what happened.

jesikah: We transformed a street into a festival space. From 4-8 pm greeters welcomed people and invited them to roam through five Imagination Stations. The first was a giant neighborhood map, where they could add their names and some skills or interests. There was Curious Corner, where people could talk about how we might improve our neighborhood. We had an Intersection Imagination Station where we printed out copies of the different intersections in our neighborhood and invited people to draw what they’d like to see in those spaces. The one people loved the most was the Time Travel Cabana, a guided journey to the future to see how we had made the Davis Manor this amazing place. We had a circle of hay bales with a Moroccan tea table in the middle, a parklet with a giant seesaw. Then we had a big potluck and let people know that we were going to gather all of the information and have a community meeting as a next step, report back and figure out what we wanted to do. Most people came early and stayed the whole time—about 100 at the peak.

Davis Manor Imagination Station layout

Davis Manor Imagination Station layout

Arlene: What emerged from that?

jesikah: the CATs got very energized. We all kept looking around and thinking “We did this!” And it gave us that lift to say, “Okay, we can carry this forward.” We took the massive amount of data that was generated and compiled and distilled it. About 60 neighbors came to the follow-up meeting. We presented what we’d learned, asked for any clarifications and additions, and then got into affinity groups by different categories, like social events: people wanted to do yoga in the driveway and salsa lessons and a samba parade and movie night.

A lot of people wanted to do something with our very challenged minipark—in terms of who uses it and how they use it and not being a safe place. So there was category about parks and trees and green infrastructure. There was one about a beautification project of some sort like a mural, maybe a street mural, because we don’t have any available walls. We formed workgroups with point people and made plans to call everybody back in a couple months.

In the interim, we found out that there was a grant from our city’s Civic Arts Commission for public art and there was a lot of interest in a street mural. So we wrote a grant and got that.

We’ve continued the monthly happy hours and have been moving towards some of the social events and other workgroup ideas. But our main focus is the street mural—the community designing and painting a mural on asphalt.

We did a whole community design process, an online survey of our neighbors to see what intersections they would prefer, a walking tour to evaluate the sites. In the end, it was the place we had the #DareToImagine event, which had better infrastructure around it for things like a parklet and benches to make it more of a plaza.

#DareToImagine follow-up meeting in Davis Manor.

#DareToImagine follow-up meeting in Davis Manor.

Arlene: You told me you find yourself feeling some unease about how agreeable and supportive this has been. Can you say more?

jesikah: I recognize that it’s a luxury to bring people together absent a problem, for the sake of just making your place better. And I realize it’s a luxury to have such a great group to work with. It’s just I come from a background of working on issues of inequity and justice with diverse groups who are pretty challenged who have pretty immediate needs, and this project has none of that. The work I’ve done in the past feels hard, sometimes unsustainable, often slow. And this went fast. It was a total success. It feels great and we just want to do more.

I think, “Wow, I want to work with fun people who have energy and motivation and are smart in my own backyard to do non-issue-based creative place making.” It’s hard to reconcile that new impulse with my core values and work history.

Arlene: Yet I see what you are doing as trying to create social fabric in response to a real problem: what is life like when social fabric doesn’t really exist and every relationship is ad hoc? You go next door to complain about the noise or discuss where to put your garbage cans on trash collection day. But we have this big dilemma of weaving social fabric in this nation.

Most neighborhoods—especially like where you are, small apartment buildings, single-family houses—are pretty culturally homogeneous usually unless they’re on the cutting edge of gentrification. So those experiences are potentially transferable to different ethnicities, age groups, income levels, and so forth.

They can also build a foundation. This multi-year process of weaving social fabric can create a ground you can come to and layer on other conversations which may not be so congenial and convivial but which people in the neighborhood need to have. Right now in the United States of America it’s really good for white people to talk about what white supremacy is and what we can do to disrupt that. Mostly we don’t sit down with our neighbors and start that conversation. But what would happen if you did? What if you said we’re having a discussion group after happy hour about what’s happening in society right now and how we each feel about it, how we feel implicated and if there’s anything constructive we can do and do you want to come to that too?

jesikah: My personal hope for the whole #DareToImagine event that segued into this amazing community design process is for us to be building our sense of community so that we can have whatever conversations people want to have and see each other as allies, even if we don’t agree or even like each other. It’s about fellowship and complicity.

We had Mark Lakeman from The City Repair Project in Portland who does these street murals come down and do a kickoff party to show examples to get our ideas flowing for our first community design meeting. He used the term re-village. How do you re-village your neighborhood? How do you create a shared sense of terrain and history and a shared future? Not just know your neighbors but come do things with your neighbors. I hope that as we go forward we scaffold these levels of neighborliness.

There’s another term the USDAC introduced me to, the idea of a civic ritual. If I had to draw a through-line from the work I did to form the Davis Manor Neighborhood Council and the work of the CATs to do creative placemaking projects, I feel like it’s about making space for civic ritual. I hadn’t really framed up the problem addressed by that activity. And I think you’re right: it addresses the isolation in suburban living.

Shift Happens: Make The Future at CULTURE/SHIFT 2016

By Arlene Goldbard, Chief Policy Wonk

We’re excited. Really excited. In a little over three months, Citizen Artists from across the U.S. will be converging on St. Louis for the USDAC’s first-ever national convening, CULTURE/SHIFT 2016. Registration is now open and space is limited, so sign up today at the early bird price.

The USDAC is working in partnership with the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission—the RAC’s Community Arts Training Institute is justly admired for the quality and longevity of its work—to produce this November 17-19 event. Our aim has been to design a gathering that offers deep learning, real connection, tons of fun, and enough inspiration to bring home to last you all year. Here are just a few highlights:

  • An opening ritual that honors the land, the ancestors, the assembled, and our overall intention of achieving the nth degree of serious play in pursuit of cultural democracy.
  • A first-person guide to the region and culture, from Ferguson to both sides of the Delmar Loop, created by local artists and activists.
  • Hands-on artmaking experiences that invite you to add your own voice and vision to collective creation.
  • The launch of the USDAC’s full Cultural Policy Platform, inaugurating the national culture-shifting conversation that needs to underpin real change.
  • A remarkable mix of workshops, design labs, presentations, and interactive learning offered by USDAC National Cabinet members such as T. Lulani Arquette, Catalyst for Native Creative Potential, Lily Yeh, Urban Alchemist, Roberto Bedoya, Secretary of Belonging, and Makani Themba, Minister of Revolutionary Imagination; plus folks like Antoinette Carroll of St. Louis’ Creative Reaction Lab and Cultural Agent Sarah Boddy!

We’re using a structure that tags sessions four ways: People, Policy, Play, and Art&. Every participant is free to choose whether to stick with one theme or skip around.

Register today!

Register today!

Personally, I’m really excited about the policy series (we’re calling it the Wonk Institute) dedicated to creating policies and programs that make cultural democracy real. It starts with foundational wonk lore—definitions, formative ideas, brief history, and elements that make up cultural policy here and around the world—then drills down into experiences such as:

  • designing a 21st Century Culture Corps with Chief Instigator Adam Horowitz;
  • looking at cultural equity from all angles with Carlton Turner, Minister of Creative Southern Strategies; and
  • exploring practical ways to put culture on city agendas with Caron Atlas, Minister of Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts.

Meeting less than two weeks after the Presidential election, the timing couldn’t be more opportune. No matter what happens at the ballot-box, we’ll be together, turning our energy to all the ways we can join forces to generate and amplify creative strategies for change. If you’ve taken part in USDAC activities so far, you know that meeting online is a mainstay: user-friendly and cost-efficient, to be sure. But here are some of the things you can’t do online:

  • Finally meet those great people you’ve connected with in Citizen Artist Salons or as Cultural Agents in the flesh! Hug like you’re long-lost buddies, hang out together knowing you don’t have to log off in a few minutes, dream and scheme at leisure.
  • Sign up to present an 18-minute FRED Talk (stay tuned for details).
  • Take the time to ponder the big questions: How can we galvanize support for culture that cultivates empathy, equity, and social imagination? What are the leverage points for shifting from a consumer culture rooted in isolation and inequality to a creator culture rooted in community and equity? How does shift happen and what can we do to help it along?
  • Sing your heart out with Citizen Artists from across the U.S.

Register today! We’ll be keeping you updated regularly. We’re all looking forward to seeing you in St. Louis!

Cultural Democracy Now: Urge Democrats to Invest in Artists & Community Cultural Development

Political party platforms stake claims to the policies and positions voters are asked to endorse in electing a party’s nominee. A platform that can galvanize voters has to point to a future we actually want. The USDAC is all about envisioning a future animated by empathy, equity, and social imagination. Let’s dream together of a platform that actually captures that vision: would you vote for a candidate who supported this plank?

“It's time for a new public service jobs program, putting artists and others to work repairing physical and cultural infrastructure.”

Then please sign and share the USDAC’s petition to ensure that arts and culture are embedded in all efforts to strengthen our communities and address our social, environmental, and economic problems! If you're part of an organization with a website, newsletter, or social media platform, please spread the word.

It’s not that candidates, once elected, always follow their parties’ platforms. But some historians have concluded that the wider candidates’ margin of victory, the more likely they are to pursue the planks they ran on—and vice versa, a narrow margin equals a watered-down platform. At this writing, Republicans are trailing by quite a bit in the polls. What if the following plank were part of the Democratic platform the next President ran on?

“Democrats support cultural equity—a fair share of resources and power for all communities regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, orientation, geography, or other characteristics—in programs affecting America's cultural life.”

If you like that prospect, please sign and share the USDAC’s petition to bring us one step closer to true cultural democracy and cultural equity!

The Democratic Party has been calling for input on its platform. (We’d be glad to offer our two cents to the Republicans as well, but they aren’t asking.) You can watch hours of Platform Committee hearings and debates on C-SPAN if you’d like to see how it works. It's a negotiation, open till the convention. The party’s account of the first platform draft omits details on some key controversies: a vote to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement failed, climate activists want much stronger language and aggressive policies, and so on. Across the spectrum of issues, activists and policy wonks are working hard to affect the next two rounds of deliberation: a full Platform Committee meeting in Orlando on July 8-9, and a final vote of the entire convention in Philadelphia July 25-28.

Why? A platform can trigger far-reaching action: in 1860, 100 Southern Democrats walked out of their convention when it failed to pass a plank extending slavery, while the Republicans’ 1860 platform anti-slavery language was remarkably strong, establishing clear lines of conflict that ended in Civil War.

Why? Even a scrap of language in a party platform can seed future possibility. In 1872, the Republican Party platform referred to “the loyal women of America,” declaring that “their demands for additional rights” deserved “respectful consideration.” There was a tremendous amount of activism and perseverance to back up that assertion, and by 1920, three quarters of all state legislatures ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, ensuring women the right to vote. 

Suffragists asserting their rights in 1872 with a quote from Susan B. Anthony: "No self -respecting woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex."

Suffragists asserting their rights in 1872 with a quote from Susan B. Anthony: "No self -respecting woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex."

Cultural issues are vitally important to a future shaped by creativity, equity, and belonging, but right now, few aspects of culture are even part of the platform conversation. The Democratic Platform Committee’s first draft asserts “moral and legal responsibility to honor the sovereignty of and relationship to Indigenous tribes—and acknowledge previous failures to live up to that responsibility,” which is good news. Now it’s up to us to get other essential aspects of cultural democracy on the agenda. Imagine a platform that includes this core commitment:

“Democrats commit to invest in community cultural development as part of all public social programs.”

Adopting this plank would ensure that “Funding for community cultural infrastructure—for local spaces, skills, and materials—and for the work of artists as an integral part of all public programs related to social well-being—policing, education, health care, environment, and other essential social programs—must be priorities.” Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Everything created must first be imagined, including social policy. We have to start with a bold, vibrant, and far-reaching vision to inspire each other to take the steps that will make it real.

Citizen Artists and allies, please put your energy on the side of social imagination by signing and sharing the USDAC’s petition today! 

The Possibilities of Parks: Thoughts After a Creative Placemaking Colloquium

by Yolanda Wisher, USDAC Chief Rhapsodist of Wherewithal

On Thursday, June 2, 2016, I attended the Nature of Communities: Parks and Creative Placemaking Colloquium at FringeArts in my hometown of Philadelphia, PA. The colloquium was part of an NEA/Our Town funded project led by The Trust for Public Land and City Parks Alliance. One of the major goals of the project is to “advance the practice of creative placemaking in creating and sustaining parks for people and strong communities.” The Trust for Public Land defines creative placemaking as “a cooperative, community-based process that leads to new and rejuvenated parks and open spaces reflecting local identity through arts and culture.” (For another take, see “Human Rights and Property Rights: Placemaking and Placekeeping.”

The colloquium, the first of its kind held in Philadelphia, gathered locally and nationally known experts and practitioners in the fields of art, culture, design, creative placemaking, city planning, transportation, and parks and recreation to share knowledge and best practices through five breakout group tracks: Partnerships & Communication, Community, Big Ideas/Advancing the Field, Process & Governance, and Funding. Lily Yeh, Urban Alchemist on the USDAC National Cabinet was in the house! The collective wisdom from the breakout groups as well as the learnings from an earlier disseminated Creative Placemaking Awareness & Experience Survey will be compiled into a field guide on parks and creative placemaking to be published next summer. Artists, cultural workers, park leaders, and community organizers are the target audiences for the toolkit which promises to be a treasure trove of both emerging and tried-and-tested strategies for envisioning, initiating, stewarding, and sustaining creative placemaking in parks.

The kick-off of the colloquium involved a panel of folks already doing this work around the country: Jennifer Toy of Kounkuey Design Initiative, Toody Maher of Pogo Park, Mitchell Silver of New York City Parks & Recreation, and Seitu Jones, an independent artist. I was reminded by this extraordinary panel that good parks have always been the best chill spots, the gathering grounds for family reunions, the nostalgic landscape of music festivals, the impromptu battleground of the masses, and the breeding grounds for artistic innovations like hip hop. Mitchell Silver, a city planner turned park big boss, said that for many who didn’t grow up with backyards or decks, parks were an “outdoor living room” where one learned to play ball or had a first date or that first sloppy kiss. He encouraged the design of a “seamless” city full of “parks without borders” (like those high fences that seem to hold the trees hostage), parks that are unique to their neighborhood culture, parks that are designed with future generations in mind, our descendants who are bound to experience public space in different ways than we do now.

Elm Playlot, a pilot project of Pogo Park in Richmond, CA.

Elm Playlot, a pilot project of Pogo Park in Richmond, CA.

All of the panelists affirmed that this democratic and visionary planning can’t happen without community participation, buy-in, and leadership. As Toody Maher said, “parks have to be built from the inside out.” Maher, in full force with community members in Central Richmond, California, founded Pogo Park in what is known as the “Iron Triangle,” a neighborhood with a reputation for being a high-crime “warzone.” Once a place avoided by children and families, the park has been transformed into “a green oasis,” where family and community events flourish. Maher, an entrepreneur and inventor, assisted members of the neighborhood in building real architectural models of their plans for the park rather than having an outside planner come in to interpret their ideas. They also built and installed park fixtures and equipment themselves. Maher said that the process “made everyone an expert” and later led to a truly unique and collaborative park design, which the community continues to take pride in and preserve.

This feeling and reality of community ownership and investment is critical to sustaining parks, and artists and cultural workers can be part of the spark that lights this fire, working with, in, and around community alliances and divisions to help unlock individual and group creative potential. In my breakout group on Partnerships & Communication, we talked a great deal about the training and credentials artists need to do this work of inclusive community building and engagement that brings all of the local demographics to the table, understands the strengths, expertise and knowledge of a community, and helps to guide an emergent, flexible, ethical project process.

Garden beds being installed in St. Anthony PPS, a project led by Kounkuey Design Initiative in Coachella, CA. 

Garden beds being installed in St. Anthony PPS, a project led by Kounkuey Design Initiative in Coachella, CA. 

Here in Philly we have the big diva Fairmount Park, one of the largest parks in the country. Fairmount Park started out of the estate of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the park system includes such landmark sites as Boathouse Row, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, and Bartram’s Garden. The park is legendary for the way it’s been preserved despite the city’s infrastructural development and community boundaries. It’s a model of urban planning in which it would seem the park won more than it lost. There’s a little piece of the park in every neighborhood. But it’s the not the only park in Philly. There are lots of other smaller regional and neighborhood parks that get varying amounts of love and attention. Last week, I made a visit to both the Morris and Awbury Arboretums here in Philadelphia and reflected on the incredibly beautiful and pristine sanctuary of these protected and curated spaces. They remind me of the garden stroll scenes in Masterpiece Theater movies. They also remind me that not everyone was and is permitted such beauty. Parks have been contested spaces. Parks haven’t always been for everyone, and there’s still plenty of policing of parks around the country, whether it’s close to home with Philly musicians being booted out of Rittenhouse Square or next door in New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Park, where a basketball court is the site of neighborhood conflict and illustrative of a larger narrative of gentrification and displacement.

Despite being one of the “experts” who were well-fed and air-conditioned in exchange for my infinite wisdom, I left the colloquium determined to spend more time with my family and do more work as an artist around the corner in my own local parks and open spaces. Something of the DNA and the raison d'etre of cities lives in these beautiful nooks and crannies that we all create and maintain with our goodwill. They could be some of the most unsegregated, authentic and liberating spaces that exist in our cities. They could be free and accessible meditation rooms and gyms for our spirits to be renewed and our health improved. These efforts to activate parks with art and culture shouldn’t be considered lightly and must involve the voices of many. It’s about time for all of our parks to become truly open spaces, where local culture and creativity not only survive but thrive.

Visit the Trust for Public Land to find out about local park campaigns near you and subscribe to its blog to find out when the field guide is published next summer.

Super PAC Prototype Projects Are Off and Running! Meet the Micro-grant Winners.

Less than two months ago, we announced the creation of the USDAC Super PAC (Super Participatory Arts Coalition) and invited anyone who had a prototype Super PAC project to apply for a micro-grant. From among an impressive array of exciting applications—thanks again to all who applied!—we’ve awarded $300 grants to 11 projects that promise in surprisingly different and intriguing ways to demonstrate through culture what real democracy looks like.

Our goal was to find projects that use arts and culture to answer these questions:

In the midst of this volatile election cycle, what kinds of participatory projects can activate agency and remind us what democracy actually looks like—both within and beyond the context of electoral politics?

With the airwaves full of polarizing rhetoric, what creative public interventions can disrupt narratives of hate, uplifting love, connection, and equity? 

And expressed these aims:

  •  stir meaningful connection and conversation in this polarized moment
  • disrupt narratives of hate, uplifting love, connection, and equity
  • activate a sense of agency and encourage democratic participation (within and/or beyond electoral politics)
  • remind us that those who came before us fought for our rights (including voting)—rights many don’t use
  • embody what democracy actually looks like, reminding us that democracy depends on our voices being heard.

Below you’ll find the winners, including a brief summary of each project and the name of each lead applicant. Where we have it, we’ve also included something more about each project’s aims from our kick-off conversation earlier this month.

Stay tuned for more later this summer, when we launch the full-on USDAC Super PAC with videos from prototype projects and a free downloadable Super PACket with intervention ideas (including how-tos for the prototype projects) and other helpful tips to spur creative public participation leading up to and during this fall’s presidential debates (between September 26 and October 19). At that point, everyone will be invited to take part as an ExtraSuperDelegate, creating a Super Public Act of Compassion or Super Participatory Act of Culture that fosters dialogue and connection, activates civic agency, and encourages full democratic participation. In the meantime, we’re excited to announce micro-grants to these wonderful projects.

SUPER PAC PROTOTYPE PROJECTS:

Make America Crate: the soapbox, reinvented. Don Wilkison, Kansas City, MO.  

Don described his process of turning a large found crate into an “oversized public speaking platform—a plywood painted structure that mimics a small wrestling ring, decorated with American flags.” He prompts people with questions about what makes America, then videos their responses for sharing.

LawnCare: repurposing political yard signs for community expression. Sarah Berhnardt, St. Louis, MO.

You Deserve a Decolonized Democracy: guerilla sticker art campaign and town hall dialogue on the democracy we dream of. Jamilah Bradshaw, Richmond, CA.

“The project,” Jamilah told us, “Invites people to think about how democracy can feel to them. You deserve a democracy that allows you to feel free and allows you to feel your power. The campaign is around both our beloved Prince and the election of local officials, asking ‘Who is the mayor of Erotic City?’ It invites people to look at our identities as citizens and our identities as sensual people, spiritual people, to see that those aren’t mutually exclusive. We invite dialogue through this art: how can democracy feel for you? How freeing can democracy be?”

Pop-Up Projection: sparking dialogue with a portable projection screen in public space. Khamall Howard, Oakland, CA.

Kamall told us, “I’m constructing an arch and screen from scratch with canvas and wood. I’ve been going around communities under the moniker Blackbuster, showcasing digital works for and about communities of African descent. For this project, we’ll showcase a movie, maybe Do The Right Thing. We have a screening and the screening leads to a discussion. It’s really democratic because everybody can voice their opinion about what they’ve experienced…They come for fun, have fun, and also leave thinking.”

A Blackbuster screening in Oakland in November 2015.

A Blackbuster screening in Oakland in November 2015.

BYOV—Bring Your Own Voice: reading aloud and speaking up in public space. Josh Adler, Brooklyn, NY.

Josh explained that he hopes “BYOV will help create a more robust language about dialogue around the issues that are important to us, using literature, the things we are reading. We’ll create a popup reading series that is easily replicable as a model for people to share what they’re reading that’s inspiring them about particular topics.”

Buffalo Commons Un-Voting Fair: playful pop-up fair with messages for public officials, historic reenactments, hugs, zines, and more. Sara Taliaferro: Lawrence, KS.

Sara explained that the fair will include “a lot of things that seem to be traditional elements,” but with a twist. She listed an “un-voting booth where you can talk, write, or make art about why you do or don’t vote, with questions to prompt you. There will be an area for one-on-one conversations called ‘Let’s Keep Caucusing.’ Plus a nonpartisan hugging booth, and much more.”

Signs of Respect: repurposing yard signs to create interactive local narratives and celebrate local heroes. Danny Spitzberg, Oakland, CA.

Pop-Up Story Booth: oral history on the go, collecting stories of displacement and resistance in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Ali Toxtli, Ridgewood, NY.

Maria "Gaby" Caicedo joined our kickoff call to explain how “gentrification impacts communities of color. Bushwick is undergoing a housing rezoning plan, with the community invited into the project. We want to enhance the participation of the ordinary citizens who walk down the street. How do people see the change? We’re creating a portable story booth to take to different sites and collect neighborhood narratives. This is just happening under our noses and we don’t really know what it is. We’ll deliver the stories to council members and talk about how people can get more involved in these decisions.”

History in the Making: Papel Picado Now: lifting up this traditional Mexican craft as a means of community-building and communicating important messages. Karina Puente, Philadelphia, PA.

Karina explained that the project references “the Mexican folk art called papel picado.  It’s cut tissue paper, traditionally seen in Mexico in sacred celebrations like weddings and Days of the Dead. I’m creating PDF illustrations with traditional designs and messages like ‘we vote,’ ‘we’re important,’ ‘we matter.’ The aim is amplify visibility for Latino communities and people of color, coming together to create beautiful and fun artwork that has deep meaning and opens dialogue. I’d love to collect the pieces that are made and build a beautiful mural or wall, countering Trump’s idea of a wall with a different vision.”

Karina Puente with one of her papel picado pieces.

Karina Puente with one of her papel picado pieces.

Democracy Uncut: A Hearable Dialogue on Race and Social Justice: piloting an innovative filmmaking technique to create meaningful dialogue/media around traditionally polarizing topics. John Sankofa, Baltimore, MD.

John explained that this video project is “built on the idea that democracy works best with conversation, which is preferable to armored tanks and riots. We’re trying to take some of the toughest topics and find ways to bridge the gap between two starkly opposing groups.” They’ve adapted a technique called Question Bridge, “posing questions and videoing one group at a time and then letting the opposing group view those questions and reply on video. You take out the noise, the clutter that happens when you get two opposing groups at the same time, ending up with a hearable dialogue….I can’t hear you when you are screaming at me.” 

Les Agents Provocateurs: choreographed flash-mobs to challenge consumerism and reclaim public space. Les Agents Provocateurs, Everywhere.

On our call, a lead Agent Provocateur told us, “We want to create the same flash-mob performance simultaneously in 20 different cities worldwide. The performance is dancing riot police, which is recognized globally. Imagine them assembling in a public space in riot formation and breaking into a kind of Chorus Line movement, Broadway meets the official use of force. It’s a way of competing with commercial spectacle by using public space.” 

Artists’ Jobs for the Public Good

by Arlene Goldbard, Chief Policy Wonk

On May 26th, the USDAC presented a Citizen Artist Salon entitled “Time for a Culture Corps! Artists’ Jobs for the Public Good, Then & Now.” (You can watch the video here.) Our idea was to learn from the history of public-interest jobs for artists, preparing the ground for new ideas and possibilities, then share some of them.  

This is more than a brainstorm: on November 17-19, the USDAC will hold our first-ever national convening in St. Louis. On the final day of CULTURE/SHIFT 2016, we’ll launch the full cultural policy platform we foreshadowed back in September with An Act of Collective Imagination.

Calling for artists jobs in the public interest is certain to be part of the platform, so here’s our question: how do you envision that?

Our May Citizen Artist Salon started with history (I presented that segment); then continued with Cultural Agent Michael Schwartz—muralist,  community activist, and founder of the Tucson Arts Brigade—describing the long-term efforts to get this subject on Tucson’s agenda which led (among other things) to his being hired as manager of the City of Tucson Mural Program; then moved on to a presentation by Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz—media-maker, Columbia University Visiting Scholar, and Aspen Institute Franklin Project fellow—who is developing a program on the Americorps model.

To imagine most powerfully what may come, it helps to know a bit about the past. For instance, I find it inspiring that both times—the 1930s and 1970s—this country’s response to an economic crisis has led to public service jobs, small human factors were catalytic in connecting those jobs programs to the public interest in art. See what I mean:

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the smaller programs that preceded it were sparked by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s friend George Biddle, who had studied in Mexico with muralist Diego Rivera. He put the notion of a publicly supported mural program into FDR’s head. Based on that success, when the WPA was created to address massive unemployment, one of its most important parts was Federal One, with major programs in visual arts, music, theater, writing, and history. Add up all the artists supported via Federal One and you get 40,000 jobs (the equivalent of 100,000 in today’s population) at a cost of $27 million (adjusted for inflation, the equivalent of $471 million today, more than three times the current National Endowment for the Arts budget). It all started with Biddle whispering in FDR’s ear, which led to the Public Works of Art Program being established in 1933.

"Security of the Family," WPA mural for the  Health and Human Services Building, Washington D.C., by Seymour Fogel, an apprentice to Diego Rivera on his Rockefeller Center mural. 

"Security of the Family," WPA mural for the  Health and Human Services Building, Washington D.C., by Seymour Fogel, an apprentice to Diego Rivera on his Rockefeller Center mural. 

The Federal Theatre Project was one of the most innovative and far-reaching Federal One initiatives, headed by Hallie Flanagan (who got that job courtesy of WPA head Harry Hopkins, one of FDR’s closest advisers, who’d known her from Grinnell College). Under Flanagan’s leadership, the FTP’s “Living Newspaper” productions treated such controversial and urgent topics as the spread of syphilis (Spirochete) and pervasive poverty and exploitation (One-Third of A Nation). The Negro Theatre Unit supported Black theaters in 15 different cities. And that’s just a sample of what was accomplished in multiple art forms.

If Biddle sounds like a fluke, consider this: when the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) was passed in 1973, it was intended as a way to create jobs in a time of high unemployment. But a man called John Kreidler, who had worked at the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, saw its potential for artist’s employment. The project he designed with the San Francisco Neighborhood Arts Program provided the first 125 CETA arts jobs (with recipients chosen from among a thousand applicants, working as muralists, circus performers, poets, workshop leaders, and in a slew of other arts jobs). The idea spread across the nation: the Department of Labor estimated that CETA arts jobs amounted to $200 million in 1979 alone.

These stories make me think about the way accident and serendipity sometimes determine the course of events, taking us to destinations we could never achieve by tiptoeing cautiously through the proper channels obtaining permission to innovate.

Who’s out there now who could connect us to the next WPA or CETA?

The thirties and seventies programs were very different: Federal One was national, with projects in every state and many localities, coordinated from the top; CETA was based on local governments and nonprofits (“prime sponsors”) applying for job funds to be used locally. (If you want to learn more about either of them, we’ve compiled a few suggested references here.) But they had one critical thing in common: both were created to address unemployment in many fields, so they were widely supported by those advocating public intervention to balance the deficits of the commercial marketplace. They weren’t special-interest programs created only for artists, a hard sell at the best of times.

So what’s next? What are the best ways to pursue broad public benefit so the work of artists for the public good is integral, valued, and supported?

I advocate a “thousand flowers” approach. I don’t think there’s anyone in Washington right now who will jump at the chance to champion a new WPA (although you never know: hopeful energy does rise at every presidential election; you’ll note that several of the essays linked in our compilation of references were written in 2008-9, early days for President Obama). But I also don’t think we should stop advocating for a full nationwide jobs initiative. Each time the people who want that back off because their hopes don’t seem “realistic,” the bar of possibility gets set a little higher, the prospect of fruition gets a little more distant, the compromises grow weaker.

During the Citizen Artist Salon, Michael Schwartz pointed to one type of local alternative: he detailed how he and Tucson Arts Brigade colleagues had been attentive to public-sector social aims and the ways participatory public art can address them. For instance, they carried out research that demonstrated that unwanted graffiti appeared far less frequently where community murals were present in Tucson, and that helped to make a powerful argument for a city-sponsored public art program which is now responding to community needs and as a result, channeling fees to artists.

“Within every government agency,” Michael said, “there are dollars that anybody on this teleconference could access with our skillsets. They need our skills, and it’s a matter of matching up those bids with our skills. Every single day there are thousands of these bids that go online looking for people to offer programs. Federal government, local government, tribal governments are all in great need of our services.” Click around the Tucson Arts Brigade website to learn exactly how Michael and his colleagues have succeeded.

Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz—herself an Americorps veteran—described how she is developing “Community Artist Year,” a pilot effort in Santa Fe, NM, whereby young artists and administrators can be placed in yearlong posts in cooperating nonprofits. She pointed to the fact that applications for service jobs through Americorps range from five to 13 for each available post, so demand hugely outstrips supply; and it’s especially hard to sustain a service year when you have to rely on the small stipend offered, especially in communities where rentals costs are high. She is looking to make “room for young adults who are interested in bringing creative service to a service year opportunity,” and devising interventions that can make that feasible.

Mi’Jan’s pilot idea is grounded in the principle of reciprocity: “Make it a mutually reciprocal positive relationship, an opportunity for everybody. What if cultural institutions, community-based organizations, and participants designed this program together for everyone’s benefit?” In her vision, the design includes residential support, a dedicated mentorship circles, professional development support, and more.

One of my favorite ideas is simply repurposing funds allocated to organizations and agencies to pay for their public information—especially where the brochures, PSAs, and public meetings they produce are the kind everyone ignores—to employ artists to create visual images, theater, or moving image media that actually engage and connect people to positive social goals the agencies were created to pursue.

Cast your mind forward a few years. Let’s endow you with magical policy powers, with the capacity to craft generative visions and to ensure they are enacted. What is your dream of artists’ jobs for the public good? Help us propose the most creative ideas by sharing yours at hello@usdac.us

Many Thanks! Part Three of Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change

by Lora Jost, Sara Taliaferro, Thad Holcombe, Juda Lewis, and Amanda Monaghan

NOTE from the USDAC: This is the third of three blogs on Heating Up. We want to share all that went into this impressive series of events cosponsored by the USDAC Lawrence Field Office. Part One detailed the wide range of activities working in unison. Part Two was be an interview with planning committee member Sara Taliaferro, focusing on how the series was organized and the impacts it has already had. Part Three, below, lists all of the people and groups who helped make it possible, and what they did.

The exhibit Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change and related events contributed to an important conversation in our community about climate change and demonstrated our deep commitment to the people and creatures of this earth. Through our efforts we forged friendships and sowed the seeds for what we hope will be future collaborations on this and other important social justice and environmental issues.

The exhibit and event series was an all-volunteer effort and a huge undertaking. It was led by a joint planning committee of the USDAC-Lawrence Field Office and LETUS (Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability, a coalition of faith-based ecology teams in Lawrence.) The planning committee wants to acknowledge and thank all of the individuals and groups who helped make this project possible.

The seeds for this project grew out of a 2014-event in Lawrence, KS, called The People’s Climate March Maker/Speaker Party (see more here), a project in solidarity with The People’s Climate March in New York City. The Maker/Speaker Party was the first USDAC Lawrence Field Office and LETUS collaboration, and the kind of project that the national USDAC leadership and LETUS were encouraging at the time. The USDAC/LETUS group later partnered with Gary Dorr, a KeystoneXL “pipeline fighter” from Oyate Wahacanka Woecun, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe's “Shield the People” project. Dorr brought the USDAC/LETUS event together with an event that was in the works at Haskell Indian Nations University (HINU), and our joint event took place at South Park in Lawrence, KS.

Joan Stone dances to the poetry of Elizabeth Schultz during their performance Mrs. Noah in Poetry and Dance.

Joan Stone dances to the poetry of Elizabeth Schultz during their performance Mrs. Noah in Poetry and Dance.

The Maker/Speaker Party inspired members of the USDAC-Lawrence Field Office and LETUS to work together again, kicking off a year of informal idea sharing and discussion before more concrete plans were made for a new project. Additional brainstorming occurred through a LETUS-led discussion series on climate change, and at a meeting sponsored by the Kansas Area Watershed Council.

The USDAC/LETUS planning committee began intensive work on the exhibit and event series in the summer of 2015, towards project completion the following spring. Thank you to committee members Thad Holcombe, Lora Jost, Juda Lewis, Amanda Monaghan and Sara Taliaferro for driving the project over the course of many months, and for taking the lead on coordination and implementation. Pablo Cerca, Jill Ensley, and Ariday Guerrero also helped with committee work. They and committee members wrote proposals; coordinated outreach to environmental groups, art organizations, artists, and speakers through meetings, phone calls, email letters, and office visits; fronted money for the project and requested donations; chose event dates and coordinated plans with multiple groups, performers, and venues; wrote and emailed press releases and community calendar announcements to numerous newsletters and media outlets; did an extensive radio interview and spoke to the press; regularly updated our parent organizations; created and maintained Facebook pages for each event; created a project webpage; designed, printed and distributed posters and flyers; took on the roles of panel facilitator, emcee, and “carnival barker” at three events; installed the art exhibit that also included our own artwork; coordinated food and beverages for receptions; set up, attended, participated in, and photographed events; and hosted a thank-you party. Whew!

Many others from the broader USDAC-Lawrence Field Office and LETUS groups were involved, too. We especially appreciate the support of Dave Loewenstein, Jill Ensley, Nick Ward, KT Walsh, Amber Hansen, and Michael Bradley. Thanks to Theresa Wilke of LETUS, for reaching out to the Spencer Museum of Art’s “Art Cart” towards their involvement. Thanks to Chuck Magerl for helping with outreach to HINU professor Daniel Wildcat, and for event advertising at his popular restaurant The Free State Brewery. An important meeting early in the planning process included representatives from Lawrence-based arts and environmental groups and the University of Kansas (KU), who provided feedback on our early project proposal and suggested artists to involve. Representatives from HINU provided feedback on the project, too. Kirsten Bosnak was an important consultant on media outreach, and the Lawrence Journal World, Topeka Capital Journal, Indian Leader, and KKFI’s EcoRadio KC, covered our events.

Thanks to the following groups and individuals whose direct involvement in project events made each one possible. A big thank-you to HINU professor Daniel Wildcat for consulting with us on the panel discussion How Can We Work Together on Climate Change and for making connections for us on the Haskell campus. Dr. Wildcat welcomed us into his office for many impromptu meetings and arranged the use of a lecture hall at HINU for the panel event. We also appreciate the help of his student assistants Alexander Rodriguez, Barb Wolfin, and Lori Hasselman. Thanks to the panelists Thad Holcombe, Eileen Horn, Jay T. Johnson, Saralyn Reece Hardy, and Daniel Wildcat; to singers Ron Brave and Alex Williams; to HINU student artists for their work displayed at the panel reception; and to LETUS members who provided cookies and drink for the reception. Thanks, too, to woodworker Mark Jakubauskas for building artistic wooden boxes as gifts for the panelists and singers.

Thanks to poet Elizabeth Schultz and dancer Joan Stone for their beautiful collaborative performance, Mrs. Noah in Poetry and Dance. Thanks to Caryn Miriam-Goldberg and Ken Lassman for their careful planning and caring facilitation of the writing workshop, A Change in the Weather: Writing From Climate Change Art. Thanks to Kristina Walker for coordinating the Spencer Museum of Art’s “Art Cart” event, Landscape Transformations. Thanks to Neal Barbour, Director of Youth Education at the Lawrence Art Center, for putting us in touch with the student curatorial team Hang12. Hang12 coordinated the teen exhibit Effecting Change, and Will Hickox of the Watkins Museum of History arranged for the museum to exhibit their work. A big thank you to the HINU student group Eco Ambassadors, who coordinated Haskell’s 1st Annual Wetland Restoration Day, a workday that involved many community volunteers, and was an important affiliated event in our series.

A big thank-you to the board of the Lawrence Percolator for their support of our project and for the use of their space, with special thanks to Bobbi Rahder, Matt Lord, Sean Sullivan, and Eric Farnsworth. We love you Lawrence Percolator! Thank you to HINU professor Joshua Falleaf for connecting us with HINU art teachers David Titterington and Rachel Van Wagoner, who reached out to HINU art students to participate in the Heating Up-exhibit and helped them develop their art and deliver it to the Lawrence Percolator.

Daniel Wildcat makes a point during the panel discussion How Can We Work Together on Climate Change, with panelists Jay T. Johnson, Eileen Horn, Saralyn Reece Hardy, and Thad Holcombe.

Daniel Wildcat makes a point during the panel discussion How Can We Work Together on Climate Change, with panelists Jay T. Johnson, Eileen Horn, Saralyn Reece Hardy, and Thad Holcombe.

We wish to thank all of the artists, poets, and performers whose work appeared in the exhibit Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change on opening night. Special thanks to Robert Baker, Josh Connor, and Roger Holden of The Delta Blues, and Amber Hansen, Johni Lacore, Monica George, and Cheyenne Hansen of Ovaries-eez, who collaborated on a musical adaptation of Langston Hughes’s I've Known Rivers. Thanks to Dennis Etzel, Sandy Hazlett, Nancy Hubble, Denise Low, Topher Enneking, and Mary Wharff for their poems and poetry reading; to Maureen Carol and Sara Taliaferro for helping with the reading; and to Doug Hitt for sharing about his coauthored book, A Kansas Bestiary.

And finally, thanks to the amazing artists whose work provided the scaffolding for this entire project (you are amazing): Marin Abell, Angie Babbit, Samuel Balbuena, Georgia Kennidee Rikie Boyer, Matthew Burke, Ethan Candyfire, Pablo Cerca, Rena Detrixhe, Jill Ensley, Neil Goss, Lisa Grossman, Kyuss Hala, Oliver Hall, Lori Hasselman, Eleanor Heimbaugh, Nancy Hubble, Lora Jost, Kayla Kent, Cleta LaBrie, Dave Loewenstein, Amanda Maciuba, Katie Manuelito, Justin Marable, Nancy Marshall, Amanda Monaghan, Molly Murphy, Tim O’Brien, Hirsuta Pilosa, Cameron Pratte, Laura Ramberg, Michelle Rogne, Damia Smith, Kent Smith, Vi Stenzel, Sara Taliaferro, David Titterington, Garret Tufte, Alyx Stephenson, Geraldine Emily Walsey, KT Walsh, Nicholas Ward, Mary Wharff, and Cortney Wise.

Systematically Organic: An Interview with Sara Taliaferro—Part Two of Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change

NOTE from USDAC: This is the second of three blogs on Heating Up. We want to share all that went into this impressive series of events cosponsored by the USDAC Lawrence Field Office. Part One detailed the wide range of activities working in unison. Part Three, to come, lists all of the people and groups who helped make it possible, and what they did. Part Two, below, is based on an interview Chief Policy Wonk Arlene Goldbard conducted with planning committee member Sara Taliaferro, focusing on how such a series is organized and the impacts it has already had.

Arlene Goldbard: How did this impressive program evolve?

Sara Taliaferro: Climate change is such a big issue that one often feels a sense of being overwhelmed, not knowing where to start. But also the sense of urgency and that we can never do too much. Different groups were already having conversations about what can we do as an action on climate change. Somewhere during those early conversations the call went out through national USDAC to take part in the People’s Climate March in September 2014. That became the galvanizing action. It took it out of those smaller private conversations into a more public arena. 

We had a solidarity march and an artmaking event. Folks from Haskell Indian NationsUniversity got involved—that was where we held our first Imagining. Some of us were part of a book group who had read a book by Dan Wildcat, a professor at Haskell (Red Alert! Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge). So some of his students and others came together and joined the USDAC and Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability (LETUS) in making the events in Lawrence happen.

Volunteers receive instructions at Haskell’s 1st Annual Wetland Restoration Day.

Volunteers receive instructions at Haskell’s 1st Annual Wetland Restoration Day.

Arlene Goldbard: Part One of this blog series describes a year-long planning process. How did that build a foundation for people saying, “Okay, it’s time to make a plan?”

Sara: After the Climate March, the LETUS folks held a series of meetings. There was a series of lectures and focus groups. Lora and I ended up in a group with some other USDAC folks who were artists and creatives who wanted to bring that sensibility to climate change actions. A small core of us started meeting. Early on, we brainstormed all the possible things we could do; the list was much more ambitious than what we eventually did! Then we started talking about what’s our capacity: what can we do?

All these relational things happened. Lora had this conversation with a local business friend. The three of us walked over to Haskell and poked our heads into doors and said, “Hi, we’re here. We don’t want to take up your time now. Can we come back?” They invited us in, and we ended up talking with Professor Wildcat and his students. Haskell is very active on sustainability and climate change issues. They have a group and that was one of the events in our series, the Eco Ambassadors. 

And then the conversation started. The planning committee met almost every week for over a year. We were fairly systematic and organic about it at the same time.

Arlene: I like that pair of words systematic and organic. This is a real contrast with putting out an email and saying “You all come” rather than doing that time-consuming, sustained work of relationship-building that I hear you say was so essential here. How did it come to pass that you narrowed things down to the impressive range of events that were actually sponsored?

Sara: Well, it wasn’t a juried process. Someone said “curated process,” and that might be appropriate. We contacted artists who we knew or knew of who had already done climate change art. We always made sure that we had a core group of people who wanted to be involved. It was kind of organic. We came up with an initial list of people who we invited directly, and through conversations and connections in the community: “I have a friend who is a ceramist who did this really beautiful piece on climate change, please look at her work and see if it is something that you want.”

Arlene: Anything else to say about the process of organizing?

Sara: It was important to check in with each other early on. This is something that we do at our Field Office meetings too. We never cap the initial ideas or put the kibosh on anything. At some point we shift gear and ask what might you personally have capacity to do: “What does your life look like in the next year? Are you willing to be the champion for this piece?”

Each of us had core responsibilities and a commitment to show up to meetings. Sometimes it was incremental but we always carried the plan forward and had a very strong sense of where each other were on our capacity to make it happen. And the other part was that the richness of our relationships only deepened. We met for coffee: it was time we took that it didn’t feel like it was another meeting. And if we felt like it, we’d take a couple of weeks off. So having that intentionality and flexibility I think is important. Each of us had some homework to do and bring the next time. So, yes, having structure and flexibility.

Arlene: Talking earlier, you recounted how people said that the panel, for example, gave them a different experience, a more fully dimensional, embodied presence. What was that feeling, where did it come from? 

Sara: My experiences in helping facilitate different events for USDAC gave us a notion of how to structure things differently. We engaged with people as soon as they came in. We had Alex Williams performing instrumental music when people came in. Once people gathered and it was time to start we had Ron Brave, a Lakota singer, sing and drum. Before he did that, he explained to us a couple of words that his grandfather had taught him: a word that talks about the interrelationship of all things—plants, insects and everything on the ground, like the moving parts of a clock, that if they are in harmony everything functions as it should. And then he had another word which talks about those things not being in harmony. The song was about that, and that set a tone.

We had it fairly organized and formal for the first part and then we had a series of questions. Then we opened it up: the audience got up and the panel went out into the audience and we did “Burning Questions, Lightning Answers” [individuals wrote down burning questions, then picked someone near them they did not know and took two minutes to share quick answers to each]. The room just lit up. At first it was personal and quite reflective, then everyone was introducing themselves to someone they didn’t know, each listening and then telling something important.

We had people from all these different circles; none of them had all been in the room together. We talked about the role of art and stories and music and popular expression. People saw that as a real way to open a conversation and make an impact that is different than throwing words at something.

Poet Topher Enneking reads at the opening for Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change.

Poet Topher Enneking reads at the opening for Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change.

Arlene: You had a lot of partners in this. In particular, what does it say about the future work of the Field Office?

Sara: Every organization I’ve ever belonged to, there is always this core of workers and people who show up, and there are people who float in and out who are willing and very able to engage on a specific project or a specific action or event. You just capitalize on that—as long as you don’t wear out your core people.

You keep this extended mailing list. People who don’t show up for meetings come to events and get charged up. It’s like putting a little pebble in a pool and the ripples go out and you make connections. Accepting and embracing that idea of getting new champions for specific projects and then the core of us also show up. And have great potlucks. Celebrating is another big part of it.  Don’t forget to celebrate!

On a personal note, I did feel empowered by not thinking about these things alone in my home or my office but by reaching out and continuing to show up. It had a transformative effect on me and helped me to feel that my own capacity has expanded. Also as a group—I looked around the table as we were doing the post review and I said, “We did something amazing here. We are all amazing!” And of course, people are not in it for their own egos and they all just said, “Oh well, oh well..” And I said, "No, really, let yourself feel it! It's true!"

Arlene: Own it!  That’s part of the compensation: to see what the impact it made.

Sara: I have been part of so many different efforts—and I continue to be—where I put in a lot of time and in the end all you can get is a badge that says “you’ve participated.” But with this, I walked out of it thinking we are all stronger together and none of this felt like a waste of time. It felt like something more because we did it. So wow. 

Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change A series of cultural and educational events in Lawrence, Kansas, Part One

by Lora Jost, Sara Taliaferro, Thad Holcombe, Juda Lewis, and Amanda Monaghan (planning committee members)

NOTE from USDAC: This is the first of three blogs on Heating Up. We want to share all that went into this impressive series of events cosponsored by the USDAC Lawrence Field Office. Part One, below, details the wide range of activities working in unison. Part Two will be an interview with planning committee member Sara Taliaferro, focusing on how such a thing is organized and the impacts it has already had. Part Three lists all of the people and groups who helped make it possible, and what they did.

On a cool spring evening in March, a flood of people gathered for the opening of a community art exhibit called Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change. The Lawrence Percolator, a flourishing community art space located in a downtown alley, hosted the opening on a Final Friday, Lawrence’s monthly open-gallery night. The exhibit was the first in a series of related events on climate change that took place during the month-long exhibit. The series included a panel discussion, dance and poetry performance, writing workshop, children’s art workshop, teen art exhibit, and community workday to help restore the Haskell Wetlands.

The art exhibit and opening event included the work of over fifty artists, poets, presenters, musicians, and spoken-word performers whose work, showcased together, made a strong statement that climate change is an urgent concern in our community. The exhibit presented climate change through the lens of many makers with diverse viewpoints, bringing nuance to the issue beyond simplistic black-and-white portrayals often seen in mainstream media. Some of the art pieces concerned the roots of climate change and the effects of fossil fuel consumption on the weather, water, animals, and people. Some of the art conveyed despair. One piece was about creativity born from crisis. Additional art pieces offered hope, visualizing ways to work together toward solutions.

The exhibit opening reception for Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change.

The exhibit opening reception for Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change.

The exhibit opening highlighted poetry and music, including a musical/spoken word adaptation of Langston Hughes’s “I’ve Known Rivers” performed by musicians from two bands, The Delta Blues and Ovaries-eez. The event also included a reading of poems by seven Lawrence and Topeka-based poets, and a brief talk by Doug Hitt, co-author of the richly illustrated book A Kansas Bestiary that celebrates Kansas wildlife.

The event series was co-sponsored by the USDAC Lawrence Field Office and LETUS (Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability, a coalition of faith-based ecology teams), assisted by Haskell Indian Nations University (HINU) and the Lawrence Percolator. For photos and additional information about the exhibit visit the Facebook event page and LETUS webpage.

Music and spoken word performance by The Delta Blues and the Ovaries-eez (Cheyenne Hansen, Monica George, Johni Lacore, Amber Hansen, Josh Connor, Robert Baker, and Roger Holden) at the opening for Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change.

Music and spoken word performance by The Delta Blues and the Ovaries-eez (Cheyenne Hansen, Monica George, Johni Lacore, Amber Hansen, Josh Connor, Robert Baker, and Roger Holden) at the opening for Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change.

The second event in our series, How Can We Work Together on Climate Change, was a discussion with five panelists who spoke to a packed hall of seventy people at Haskell Indian Nations University. Lakota singer Ron Brave welcomed audience members to the event and sang. Moderator Sara Taliaferro introduced the panelists: Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of the University of Kansas’s (or KU’s) Spencer Museum of Art; Thad Holcombe, retired university campus minister and LETUS moderator; Eileen Horn, Sustainability Coordinator for Douglas County and the City of Lawrence; Jay T. Johnson, KU professor in the Department of Geography and Atmospheric Science; and Daniel Wildcat, HINU professor in the College of Natural and Social Sciences. Alex Williams, an HINU graduate and doctoral student at KU, performed a special song that she wrote to close the panel.

Unlike many presentations on climate change that focus on science, this panel addressed the cultural shifts and ways of being needed to address the climate crisis. Pastor Thad Holcombe invited us to become "sacred strangers,” moving beyond the predominant culture’s excessive individualism by participating in diverse “anticipatory communities” that support eco-justice, where people recast for the present ancient practices of asceticism, mysticism, and prophetic insight, affirm the sacred web of life, and gain wisdom through the arts.

Professor Daniel Wildcat shared from an indigenous perspective the importance of respect and relationships. It is not important only that we do something, but how we do something. He asked, what if resources were not viewed as resources but instead as relatives? What if the notion of individual autonomy were also balanced with an unalienable sense of responsibility? Saralyn Reece Hardy spoke of the role of the artist in this moment; artists must encounter what is happening in the world right now with courage, must perceive without rest, and find meaningful ways to incorporate issues and observations into their lives and work. We are in a “period of elegy,” she said, and must grieve the things we’ll never see again. For more information about the panel and photos visit the Facebook event page.

Mrs. Noah in Poetry and Dance, our third event, was a collaborative performance, performed twice at the Lawrence Percolator in the midst of the art exhibit, by poet Elizabeth Schultz and dancer Joan Stone, both retired professors from KU. The performance, as described in the program notes, included Stone’s “insightful dance interpretations of Schultz’s poems, reflecting on the relationships among humans and animals, examining how catastrophes disturb these relationships, how the resulting tremors connect us, and how we survive together, learning from one another.” For more information and photos visit the Facebook event page.

A Change in the Weather: Writing From Climate Change Art, our fourth event, was a free writing workshop open to the public, led by former Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Miriam-Goldberg and naturalist and writer Ken Lassman. The workshop included writing from prompts about our “internal and external weather” in relation to climate change. The workshop leaders oriented eight participants to write about their immediate experience of place at the Lawrence Percolator, and later to experience and respond to the art in Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change as a writing prompt, too. For more information about the workshop and photos, visit the Facebook event page

Three affiliated events sponsored by additional community organization completed the series. The Spencer Museum of Art’s “Art Cart” event, Landscape Transformations, and Hang12’s exhibit Effecting Change, involved art made about the environment by children and youth. The Spencer Museum’s drop-in children’s activity station, held at the Lawrence Public Library, invited children, families, and other groups, to learn how to create a landscape pencil drawing inspired by works in the Spencer’s Classroom Collection, and to “watch them transform with water.” Effecting Change was an exhibit by teens that ran concurrently with Heating Up, curated by the Lawrence Art Center’s youth curatorial board Hang12. Their exhibit statement reads, “Climate Change is an issue that impacts all of us. To bring awareness to this subject we asked artists to use repurposed materials within their artwork to take a stand on Climate Change and environmental issues.”

The final event in our series, Haskell’s First Annual Wetland Restoration Day, was coordinated and led by HINU’s student group Eco Ambassadors. Eco Ambassadors invited Lawrence community members to help seed and plant, remove weeds, plan paths, restore the Medicine Wheel, and remove an extensive barbed-wire fence, as initial steps in restoring the Haskell Wetland following the recent completion of a controversial highway through the wetlands. For more information and photos visit the Haskell Ambassador Facebook page and the event page.

For press coverage of our project visit:

Lawrence Journal World

Indian Leader

Topeka Capital Journal