Report on White House Briefing On Art, Community, Social Justice, National Recovery

12 May 2009, Eisenhower Executive Office Building

On May 12th, more than 60 artists and creative organizers engaged in civic participation, community development, education, social justice activism, and philanthropy came together for a White House briefing on Art, Community, Social Justice, National Recovery.

This meeting combined the interests of several groups addressing intersecting issues. All are interested in the power of the arts to build communities and create change. Arlene Goldbard requested a meeting with community cultural development practitioners and thinkers to talk about how the remarkable mobilizing power of community arts can be used by the Obama administration as a tool and a pathway for national recovery.

Claudine Brown of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, arts organizer Billy Wimsatt and Caron Atlas working with the Pratt Center for Community Development and State Voices, requested a meeting with policy makers, artists and organizers. Their intent was to identify existing efforts within the cultural and social justice movements that are in alignment with the national agenda and to discuss our common pursuits and possibilities. This diverse group includes Hip Hop organizers, green designers, creative communicators, social networkers, and other visual, performing, and media artists committed to social justice from both the non-profit and for-profit sectors who are working on such issues as green jobs, health care and economic justice.

Each of the sponsors of this meeting had been in contact with Yosi Sergant who was then an Associate with the White House Office of Public Liaison (and is now Communications Director of the National Endowment for the Arts.) Once we understood that a larger meeting would enable us to access more advisers and policymakers, it made sense to combine forces and invitation lists.

The Washington DC meeting had three parts: 1) a meeting at the Kaiser Family Foundation to prepare for the briefing, 2) the two-hour White House briefing at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and 3) a post-briefing meeting at Bus Boys & Poets to interpret and respond to what we had learned and to engage in small-group strategy sessions including: cultural policy, green jobs, immigration, public/private space, healthcare reform, organizing power on behalf of community artists, and a department of alternative thinking.

This report includes notes from the White House briefing and from the post-briefing strategy session. The latter includes a summary of the small group discussions and the full notes submitted by each group, including contact information. Our intention in issuing this report is to ensure transparency for colleagues who were not at the meeting, so that they can weigh in on what was learned from the White House and respond to it. Thanks to Meghan McDermott for her extensive notes and great first draft.

As our White House hosts repeated throughout the briefing, this is the beginning of a conversation. We hope that this report extends the conversation throughout the field and that it continues and expands wherever people care about art, community, social justice and national recovery…

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