I got up at 6:00 AM on the final day of the conference to attend a 7:30 AM session (ouch!) on Impact Investing in the Creative Economy. For most of us in the room, impacting investing was a newer concept. We were eager to learn about the diversity of resources available to build and sustain art-making endeavors through both philanthropic and investment opportunities.
Lara Davis's Blog
Today’s post focuses primarily on young people and the arts, and artists, with a little bit of, well, everything that’s inspiring me. First, I want to take a moment to share some sage advice I received at breakfast as I was making choices about what sessions to attend. There’s not always congruence between what I should attend based on the work I do, and what I may want to attend. In the end, I decide to lean into inspiration, trusting what moves me. I thank Dr. Anh Thang Dao-Shah (Senior Racial Equity and Policy Analyst, San Francisco Arts Commission) for reminding me to:
Well, I’m not actually in Oakland at the moment but am writing this blog from the International House Library on the University of California, Berkeley campus where I’m staying as a guest in the Ambassador Suite. That’s right, friends. I went to the 2018 GIA Conference in Oakland and ended up reliving my college days at a school I would love to have attended. My first visit to UC Berkley was in 2011, accompanying the Seattle Youth Speaks team to Brave New Voices, the annual youth international poetry slam competition – a monumental event filled with creative expression, arts, education, civic discourse and social justice pedagogy. During that trip, I witnessed Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense speak on campus to an eager intergenerational crowd of students, artists and community.
Day 2. The scene: A passionate conversation with fellow conference attendees over breakfast. We are grateful for this time together to eat free food, consume coffee, hear from more local artist activists and cultural workers, and begin reflecting on some of the learning that defines our conference experiences over the last few days. We exchange information on sessions that have challenged us due to either an unwillingness to go deep enough, or their readiness to move us so profoundly that we’re already changed. The latter by far represents the collective experience of my table mate colleagues, and soon to be friends.
The Detroit Idea Lab, Though… If you didn’t already know, the IDEA LAB is hands down my favorite thing about GIA Conferences. (If there’s any doubt, just see my previous conference blog posts.) No shade to the sessions, which undoubtedly convene a stellar array of peoples and perspectives, creating space for needed critical learning and dialog. The morning blessing that is the Idea Lab, though, situates us all in an artist-centered, artist-led ecology.
“Nothing about us without us is for us.” This proverb, popularized by South African disability and youth activists, served as the introductory frame for the daylong precon, Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy. These words were presented by facilitators as a challenge to the ways in which institutions may approach racial equity. (Think, colonialism. Think, the opposite of liberatory practices.) It set the tone outright for a conversation and exploration of racial inequity in art philanthropy that is at once structural and foundational to how a nation built upon racialized capitalism, i.e., genocide and slavery, operates.
It’s been a week since the GIA Conference ended, and I’m already gearing up for arts conference number three of the season. Next week, I’ll be heading to Chicago for the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s Annual Conference. My barometer for what makes a conference good is informed, in part, by the conference; it has a strong focus on power and privilege at the intersection of grantmaking. There are a lot of suits, but the dialog and introspection crack the veneer of professionalism, creating space for real talk, and accountability. “A Confluence of People, Cultures, and Ideas” is apt subtitling for this year’s conference.
The GIA Conference is the best convening you’ve likely never heard of, unless of course, you work in grantmaking – which is a lot of people. I became aware of GIA and the conference when I began working for the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture in 2013. We are an office that in addition to public art programming and arts education, provides public funding for individual artists, community organizations, and cultural institutions. Our cultural partnerships programs – grants and more, have been a catalyst for stewarding racial equity in the office, as both internal practice and community engagement.
This year, I began my GIA Conference as co-facilitator for the “Access to a Lifetime of Arts Education: Every Child, Every Adult” preconference. My pal and co-conspirator in the work of racial justice, consultant and theatre teaching artist Tina LaPadula, joined me to lead a session on Social Justice Essentials for Arts Funders. We kicked off this day of learning and dialogue centered on arts education, data, and creative aging with an engaged crew of thirty plus grantmakers from across the nation, representing family foundations, government, and corporate giving.
Reflecting on last week’s conference, I’m still moved by the depth of conversation and reflection from some of my peers in the philanthropic arts sector.
This year’s theme, Experience the Unexpected, situated the arts as a vehicle for transformation. From community development and cultural equity, to tools for public voice and advocacy, funders were called to center their work in supporting artists and organizations as key to these efforts.