GIA Conference D3: Final Thoughts (Arts Education IS Social Justice)

GIA Conference D3/Wrap Up

While this will be my final post as one of the three official conference bloggers, I have no doubt that so very much of what I encountered idea-wise will infiltrate not only my blogging on Dewey21C, but also my work for quite some time. That statement should tell you a lot about how I experienced the three days.

It was interesting and affirming, that a fair number of presenters made a stump speech for the importance of arts education. It was a refrain for the session on aging, the demographics session with Pastor, and the absolutely, freaking-fantastic, wonderful closing session with Eugene Rodriquez, Linda, Ronstadt, David Hildago, and all of Los Cenzontles. They delivered the message of art education, its importance, the gross, immoral inequity, and its overall fragility. (More on that last session in a moment.)

I don’t know how to say this without it coming out like a lecture, but I think that a lot of funders are missing a key meaning of arts education, while at the very same time the embrace arts and social justice. It’s impossible not to notice the growing mass of funders connected to social justice, while the arts education cohort appears to be getting smaller. I am not going to argue against social justice, I mean really, but rather for seeing arts education as social justice. I mean, REALLY!!

I know that there are people who are frustrated about arts education. There are many, for good reason, who feel that it is a sinkhole and that it is impossible to make real, lasting change.

But, if you are one of the growing number of funders looking at arts and social justice, think about this:

  1. The most important issue in arts education is equity. Children of color in underserved urban school districts are being denied access to engagement in the arts, engagement that is about learning, democracy, art making and experience, creativity, youth development, community building, and more. It is ENGAGEMENT, folks. It is equity. It is inherently SOCIAL JUSTICE.
  2. Arts Education blends the interests of arts and education, combined with larger issues related to demographic changes and equity in ways that are fundamentally aligned, but somehow many miss this point.
  3. There are organizations doing ground level work in community organizing, public policy, community engagement, capitalization, technology, and more, putting their institutional necks on the line in the name of equity. They put those necks on the line through coalition building, public rallies, legislative advocacy, media advocacy, and speaking of truth to power.
  4. I sometimes wonder how many who are so enamored of arts and social justice, that don’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to arts education, have ever stood on the steps of City Hall, shoe-horned an elected official, issued a public statement that challenged the civic elite, or had the pleasure of being labeled as hostile by those in power? I would wonder how many have seen the communities gathered, built, connected, and respected by arts education?
  5. While the key issues in arts education are equity oriented, the vast majority of funding in arts education goes to direct service, leaving those who want to advocate to survive on the razor’s edge, even in the good times.

Okay, I am frustrated. And the older I get, the less likely I am to filter. There you have it. To anyone who thinks this was a hostile missive, read the words again and think again about what Manuel Pastor, Marc Freedman, Linda Ronstadt, Janet Brown, Eugene Rodriquez, and others had to say about arts education. Take a moment to rethink. Be part of the velocity of change in your very own backyard.

One more time: Arts Education is Social Justice.

I don’t think the conference planners could have chosen a more perfect performance to illuminate the meaning of the conference than that of Los Cenzontles. It was the real deal. It was the complete package. The music could not have been better. It was traditional and new. It reflected the moving target of what it means to be Mexican American, particularly in how it drew from traditions, while being influenced by other streams of music and culture. The performances were fully committed, from the heart, soul, and tied to great technical abilities. The story of Los Cenzontles was about the building of community, embracing of tradition and change. They used video and very old instruments. They were sweet, funny, touching, and superbly honest. And, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I loved it.

I tip my hat to all concerned in the planning and execution of this conference. I take away so much about the nature of change, that must be reflected upon, and integrated into my own work in my own community. The shapes are indeed shifting, and we must not only shift with it, but do it in ways that make sense for those ready to come along and those not. Just like Los Cenzontles, the shapes must be old into new and the reverse. We must recognize that the pace of change is not static, and not mistake a snapshot for something more long-term. Ultimately I believe in what Sandy Gibson said at the Irvine Foundation session, that we must be savvy and intentional in how we pilot, how we try and fail, as well as succeed. We must all recognize that a commitment to the scientific method, as well as embracing organizational cultures that are based in learning and artistic practice, is not only who we are but what will enable us to evolve in healthy, productive, and essential ways.

Sorry for the speech-ifying. Thanks for indulging me.

Bye from San Francisco.