Final thoughts from GIA 2015

Lara Davis with Bumblebee

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.

As a first-timer, I was not quite sure what to expect. I attend and present at a fair share of conferences, but primarily within the youth development and arts education sector. Participating in this convening has been really beneficial and eye opening. More than anything, the personal connections and relationship building have had the deepest impact on me.

A couple highlights that continue to resonate include:

Speaking with a fellow conference goer about Black and Native American communities (groups to which we respectively belong) coming together across lines of imposed difference. From Red and Black Power movements that overlapped in the 60s and 70s to Black Lives Matter, we are seeking opportunities thru arts and culture to re-connect across struggle, build solidarity, and name our differences as strength. Issues of sovereignty, education, violence, police brutality, environmental racism and economic disparity are real and present threats to the health and well being of our communities. These external societal forces, and the internal malaise from it, are what we consider in our roles as arts administrators and funders of color. We are working to shift the conditions of our communities thru arts and culture, while honoring the rich and varied elements already present in them.

Women of color at different points in our careers discussing the need for joyful, resilient practices, relevant learning experiences, and affinity spaces. I spoke with a handful of women who are creating space for cultural practice and dialog to inform their work as gatekeepers, accountable to community. This is so critical, especially when you’re the only leader of color in the room.

In the future, I think the conference could benefit from having more featured perspectives from culturally specific communities, including immigrant communities, and more hybrid presentations with granters/grantees. Include more creative and experiential formats like the gaming session, which was very hands-on. As arts educators often say, use the form to teach the form. That would be really interesting – using/creating/experimenting with art as way to explore philanthropy.

And keep up the necessary work of centering racial and social justice. This is still the beginning. There’s so much deeper to go.