Wednesday, June 20, 2012

7 Highlights from the Americans for the Arts Convention

The Americans for the Arts is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America. Each year Americans for the Arts holds an annual convention for the professional development of over 1000 arts administrators.

Last week I attended the Americans for the Arts Convention in San Antonio, Texas and met people from across the nation, representing a variety of arts disciplines. I heard speeches, and attended workshops, presentations, and small group networking events, and left feeling inspired and invigorated. As I’ve reflected on the conference, seven concepts or ideas have continued to resonate with me this past week:

1. The Arts Mean Business

Arts and Economic Prosperity IV is a new study of the economic impact of the arts in America. The study found that arts industries generate $135.2 billion dollars of economic activity every year. This economic activity has a significant impact on the nation's economy. Nonprofit arts and culture organizations spend $61.1 billion, while their audiences/patrons are responsible for an additional $74.1 billion in spending. The arts industry supports 4.2 million full-time jobs, and generates $23 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year. Additionally, the non-profit arts and culture industry supports for-profit businesses including the food industry, transportation, tourism, and more. I am so impressed by these astronomical statistics and am proud to be a part of an industry that both contributes to this country's economy and has a priceless impact on people's lives.

2. Advocacy: The More We Know, The More We Can Play Our Part

Robert L. Lynch, President and CEO, and Nina Ozlu Tunceli, Executive Director, both of Americans for the Arts, gave a briefing on the Arts Action Fund. A comprehensive advocacy movement, the Arts Action Fund aims to “ensure that public and private resources are maximized and that arts-friendly public policies are adopted at the federal, state, and local levels.” Arts Action Fund is working with people like Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, and Kerry Washington to address the relationship between creativity, the arts and economics across various media outlets. However, if you are a parent, teacher, artist, arts administrator, or even a kid, we all have the power and responsibility to tell our stories and to let our political leaders know that the arts are important to us. I have renewed my membership and am also introducing my colleagues, family, and friends to this important movement. Membership to the Arts Action Fund is free and I would encourage everyone to check it out.

3. The Art of Politics

ArtsVote 2012: A Bold Vision for the Creative Sector is a 10-point plan supporting the arts and arts education for political candidates. This bi-partisan policy proposal has been submitted to all Democrat and Republican candidates (including the presidential candidates) in the 2012 election cycle—as Ms. Ozlu Tunceli said, “We never write anyone off.” The plan focuses on Arts and Economic Development, Arts Education, Healthcare through the Arts, National, and Community Service, and is intended to increase access to the arts for all Americans. Americans for the Arts and Arts Action Fund plan to have events at both Political Party Conventions and have created an Arts Report Card based on our Senators’ support, or lack of support, for the arts in 2010. This platform speaks for the citizens of this country in a comprehensive manner and encourages our politicians to use their voices to represent their constituents in government. Isn't that what this country was built on? Be on the lookout for the Arts Voting report card in July 2012.

4. Arts Education Should Not Be Left Behind
In January 2001, George W. Bush introduced No Child Left Behind (NCLB), an education bill emphasizing accountability and testing in Math and English Language Arts. Though it was intended to be a 5 year bill, it has been federal policy for the last 10 years with disastrous results: there are more failing schools in America than ever before and the arts continue to be cut, pushed to the side or marginalized to make time for test preparation. The National Center for Education Statistics conducted a comprehensive research project on Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools during the 1999–2000 school year and compared their findings with a survey ten years later (2009-10). The findings are distressing, and they make me ask: what can we do as an arts organization to yield different results within the next decade?

5. Arts Education Develops Creativity and Innovation

The first set of National Arts Standards was created in 1994 and The National Coalition For Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) is currently in the process of writing new Arts Standards in dance, media, music, theater and visual arts. These new Arts Standards will be rolled out in the 2013-14 school year. The NCCAS is focused on creating a strong framework based in 21st Century skills and inquiry-based learning, and to assess progress through process and active demonstration of learning. The goal for these new standards is that they be as comprehensive and clear as the Common Core Standards in math and English language arts. I am interested to see how we can incorporate these new standards in our work at The New Victory and am very much looking forward to seeing how this huge undertaking evolves over the next few years.

6. Professional Networking Is Worth the Effort

No matter your field, I believe that convening to talk about the industry and your colleagues’ approach to the work is invaluable—but this is particularly true for the arts due to the collaborative nature of so many of our art forms. Many of the sessions not only presented best practices but also provided vital time for participants to hear each others’ stories and make connections between their work. There were also networking opportunities during meals and evening events for convention attendees to continue conversations and gather resources to bring back to their respective institutions. At the evening reception of the opening day, I had the chance to speak with Nina Ozlu Tunceli directly. After her presentation earlier in the day, I was compelled to talk to her about the work of the Arts Action Fund. Her incredible passion and conviction inspires me to advocate for the arts as vigorously as she does.

7. The Arts Change Lives

Naomi Shihab Nye, Award-winning poet, writer, and educator gave inspiring closing remarks as she thanked arts administrators for their work across the nation. She called us “Arts Illuminators” and stated, “You are lifting the shadow every time you expose kids to the arts.” As I listened to Naomi, I considered everything that has led me to where I am today. I do what I do because I love it. I love being able to see kids—many of who have never seen a live performance before—sitting at the edge of their seat while watching a production at the New Vic. It is amazing to engage students’ creativity in their classroom by exploring juggling, partner acrobatics or a dance move. What we bring to kids, teachers, and families as arts administrators and teaching artists has a lasting impact far beyond those moments of direct interaction. We don’t always see how it manifests, but it is always worth it. I truly believe that the arts changes lives!

This blog was written by Courtney J. Boddie, Director of Education / School Engagement. Courtney has worked for New York City’s only theater for kids and families for 9 seasons and oversees the New Vic Education Partnership Program. She also serves as a Co-Chair of the NYC Arts-in-Education Roundtable TA Affairs Committee and teaches graduate courses at both New York University and City College of New York. Courtney has a Masters degree in Educational Theatre from New York University. You can learn more about her and her work on Twitter: @courtneyjboddie

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