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Changing the World, One Ballroom at a Time

Hoong Yee, about to engage her superpowers in flip charting

It is a good thing to know what you are good at.

According to my wise thirteen-year-old son, I am good at lunch, sewing on buttons, and getting better at playing Action Potato on my phone. Oh, and hugs, lots of them.

My dear friend Barbara Schaffer Bacon who is the Co-Director of Animating Democracy at Americans for the Art thought I would be good as a discussion leader for a conference session at the Americans for the Arts 2011 Annual Convention earlier this month in San Diego.

I was thrilled to be joined by Josie Talamantez, Assistant Chief of Grant Programs for the California Arts Council, and Sioux Trujillo, Associate Director of Community + Public Arts DETROIT.

Actually, I was really very good at writing stuff on flip charts. I am a force to be reckoned with when I have a marker in my hand.

“Do you think anyone will show up? I don’t know why they stuck us in this out of the way room and scheduled this session at 4:30 pm on a Friday afternoon when everyone is out on field trips.”

Barbara looked at the scattered chairs and began pushing them together.

“If ten people show up, they will be the ones who really want to be here and we will have a great conversation.”

Barbara smiled and bobbed her head in agreement. “You’re right. It’ll be just fine.”

After the first ten people came, Barbara introduced the topic, “From Community Arts to Social Justice: Practicing and Supporting Arts for Change.”

We went around the room to hear what everyone was doing in this work. By this time, all the chairs were filled and more were being brought in. Some people decided to sit on the floor.

Much of what was valuable came from everyone’s attempt to answer the following three questions:

How do you name and frame this kind of work?

How is community arts investment different from and/or similar to supporting art making and presenting?

What outcomes are we seeking and what influences our definitions of success?

For me, this was an inspiring place to use one of my superpowers, my X-ray vision that allows me to see through words.

As I captured answers and thoughts on flip chart sheets from this extremely passionate group, my mind was racing. We are creating a field from the wild wild west of community building, youth development, civic engagement, artmaking, healing — all of the above and more. How?

By recognizing the need for our own language, an infrastructure to grow upon, and ways to measure our process and outcomes. This conversation was the genesis of defining who we are, what we need, and what we are doing.

Back at the Batcave, I synthesized the following from the session notes for all of you to think about and please, add to or challenge:

who are we?

cultural provocateur

creative translator

of culture

community organizer

not hub, but connector

groomers of expectations


tradition retriever


theater of the oppressed

theater in the rest of America

what do we need?

alternative structures for artmakers

language that is formalized, standardized and consistent in order to be translated

matrix and framework for evaluation. how do we measure this?

cultural access and education

art for social change and resistance

good vs. goods conversation

art is an answer

support for artists

cultural access

arts for social change

transformation of space, place and experiences

to give ourselves time to build trust


avoid drive by engagement

what are we doing?

recovering from trauma

healing through placemaking

generating joy, preventing crime

community engagement through story telling

helping the community heal, change itself

healing through altars




community dreaming

cultural placemaking

Next steps:

I look forward to being in the same space with you and talking more about how we can help each other give form and power to this field.

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