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Americans for the Arts

June 20, 2017

Annual convention

Frank Stella – Hess Collection

I traveled to California last week for the Americans for the Arts (AFTA) Arts Education Advisory Council meeting and the national conference. It was an exciting first trip for me to San Francisco. I was impressed with the city for many reasons. There is so much to see and do, much of it in walking distance. I arrived a couple days early to visit with a friend, a retired art teacher, who I had met during our trip to Japan in 2000 with the Fulbright program. It was great to catch up with her while visiting shops in China Town (the largest out of Asia), breathing in the smells of Little Italy, eating fish tacos in the waterfront area, sampling chocolate at Ghirardelli’s chocolate shop, and riding on the famous San Francisco trolley. We also visited the amazing Hess Collection of art in Napa Valley.

Downtown San Francisco

During the council meeting we were briefed on the advocacy work of AFTA and provided feedback on the priority education issues for AFTA. At the top of the list is programming on equity, diversity and inclusion. When we consider these topics they are very different for our rural state of Maine as compared to other parts of the country. I’m glad to be at the table sharing Maine’s ideas. AFTA is doing an amazing job of reaching out across the nation and providing face to face information as well as online resources.

The Arts Education Council walked to a school in the original downtown filled with amazing buildings that house the opera, symphony, theater, and city hall. The school was built in the 1800’s and will be the future site of an arts focused school. It is a beautiful old facility owned by the San Francisco Public Schools. We met with an energized veteran educator who is leading the work.

Chinatown

We spent some time with the other AFTA advisory panels and networks including Local Arts, Emerging Leaders, Private Sector, Public Art, and State Arts Action networks to work on AFTAs Strategic Plan. Interesting people from many organizations, large and small – all committed to the arts.

The conference was full of opportunities to learn and network. I was seeking information on Teaching Artist and community arts education programs so anything and anyone that was speaking that language, I reached out to. I attended a session called “The History of Arts-Cased Community Development” which provided a picture through the people – all giants – and their stories. The session was led by Maryo Ewell who has written a book that tells the story as well.

Bryan Stevenson

The highlight of the conference were two plenary sessions. The opening session keynote was provided by Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Stevenson is a lawyer who is committed to fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. He has been presented many awards for his work. He was an incredibly engaging speaker and emotionally moved the over 1000 audience members. Bryan’s TED Talk provides a picture of the clarity this man has on the topic of injustice.

Nancy Pelosi with Bob Lynch

The second session was with House Democratic Leader, US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. She and Bob Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, had a conversation/question and answer period on the place for the arts in America at this time. She firmly believes that the arts provide the movement for what is right in our country. She is funny, articulate, and a very good story teller.

I returned to Maine from the long and energy filled focused arts days and nights with wonderful memories and a head full of new ideas to follow up with. When I think of San Francisco the image that I will remember clearly is a walk onto the Golden Gate Bridge with the light at the end of the day. I was fortunate to share the walk, filled with laughter and conversation, with colleagues from The Pablove Foundation in California, the Turnaround Arts program from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and from the High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia. I was humbled by these amazing people doing thoughtful arts education work, impacting thousands.

Golden Gate Bridge with colleagues from across the country.

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