The USDAC Announces Founding Cultural Agents

On Saturday, April 26th, the USDAC released the names of its 17 Cultural Agents during a live announcement at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC. Chief Dot Connector Liz Maxwell and Under-Over Secretary of Poetic License Bob Holman gave remarks and poetic invocations. Deputy Secretary Norman Beckett then gave a speech and announced the USDAC's founding Cultural Agents. Watch the recorded livestream announcement here and see the full transcript of the Deputy Secretary's remarks below.

NB: Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman. Thank you for coming out to join us at the Bowery Poetry Club for this important announcement. And to those joining us from across the country as we livestream this event: welcome!

I am not the only person you’ve heard in recent weeks to suggest that this is an era of broken systems. From energy to education to the way our entire economy is structured—we inhabit a planet on the verge. The problems are complex and the solutions uncertain, but there is one truth we can hold onto: if we are going to keep our society and planet healthy, all people must be empowered to imagine and enact alternatives for a better world. In order to do this, to cultivate effective co-creators of new systems better aligned with equity and sustainability – we must deepen our investment in the tools and tactics that grow empathy, imagination, and the capacity to collaborate. In order to tell a new story of our common humanity—to shift our collective culture from one of consumption to one of creation, one of competition to one of compassion, one of isolation to one of interdependence—we must encourage creative thinking and risk-taking. We must nourish the artist in us all.

And that is why, just under 7 months ago we launched the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture at a press conference in Syracuse, NY. With little more than a handful of buttons and a Statement of Values we imagined this new people-powered department into existence, asking: how might we shift art and culture from the margins to the center of civil society, given their true value and full support as catalysts for social transformation? We set out to find new ways of thinking about community cultural development and arts engagement that could catalyze local action, connect that action across sites, and ignite a bold national rethinking about the power of arts and culture.

Since launching, the department has been met with great enthusiasm from artists, cultural workers, and educators across the country and with occasional antagonism from those worried about the ways in which robust cultural participation and creative expression can challenge the status quo.

Now, the USDAC is meant to live in the world not just as a button or an idea but as a community of practice taking action together to create a more vibrant and equitable society. Today, we are marking a truly historical moment for the fledgling department. A moment of landing, and of take off. A moment in which this act of collective imagination extends from language and ideas to real on-the-ground action.  

Less than two months ago we put out a call for founding Cultural Agents from across the country. Founding Cultural Agents are charged with bringing the USDAC to life where they are by hosting Imaginings, arts-infused events that bring together a diverse cross-section of neighbors to imagine their communities in the year 2034. We were searching for artists, civic leaders, and intrepid changemakers of all sorts, looking to both deepen their local work and to be a part of something bigger. 

We were awed by what we uncovered.

Nearly one hundred imaginative, experienced, deeply thoughtful and passionate folks from across the country stepped up, eager to spark creative conversations in their communities about our shared future. From bustling metropolises to rural towns we heard from students, filmmakers, professors, security guards, gallery owners, retirees, performers, parents, photographers, dancers, community organizers, state health officials, and so many others eager to see the arts transformative power fully infused into the fabric of society. It has been a great honor to read through their stories and hear their visions for the world. And it has been a real challenge to figure out what to do with this abundance of potential. 

Though we wish we could take in all applicants right now, we see the need to build solid foundations in this pilot round, to grow with care, so as to be able to feed the hunger that we now know is out there. In the next few months we’ll learn through trial and error and build the base for much greater participation. 

So, to everyone who applied to be a Cultural Agent, thank you for your dedication and your vision and for the culture-shifting work you’re already doing. We ask for your patience as we create the infrastructure to support meaningful engagement in our shared act of imagination. Know that we are looking forward to working together very soon.

And now without further ado, it is a great honor and privilege to announce the founding Cultural Agents of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture:

Krystal Banzon of Queens, New York
Carole Brzozowski of Syracuse, New York
Hayden Gilbert of Cleveland, Ohio
Beth Grossman of Brisbane, California
Lynden Harris of Cedar Grove, North Carolina
Patricia Hicks of Seaside, CA
David Kimball of Marlborough, MA
Teresa Konechne of Minneapolis, MN
Dave Loewenstein of Lawrence, KS
Michael Premo of Brooklyn, NY
Kara Roschi of Phoenix, AZ
Carissa Samaniego of Shafer, MN
Michael B. Schwartz of Tucson, AZ
Jess Solomon of Washington D.C.
Fabiola Torralba of San Antonio, TX
Amy Walsh of Providence, RI
Roseann Weiss of St. Louis, MO
Yolanda Wisher of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Please join me in welcoming all of our Cultural Agents to the Department. And get ready to cheer them on and support them in the months ahead, for their first mission with the USDAC is a tall order indeed. In just over two months, each Cultural Agent will be hosting a local “Imagining.” Taken together, these 18 Imaginings will help us understand what’s needed and what’s possible at a larger level, leading the USDAC to imagine new policies and programs that could make for a more creative, just, and culturally vibrant country. We can’t wait to see what our Cultural Agents come up with. 

And, what you too come up with. Because everyone is invited to step up as a Citizen Artist with the new Department. (You don’t have to be a citizen in the legal sense of the word, or an artist to do so!) Indeed, this Department is itself a collaborative work of art that asks you to play your part by deploying the resilience, resourcefulness, and imagination of artists at their best. Of the world’s many limited resources, creativity is not one. We have it in abundant supply and can harness it together, as artists of society, working to widen our collective circle of care. 

Thank you for joining us here today. We look forward to the journey ahead.