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Americans for the Arts Conference: Takeaways from Minneapolis 2019

Approximately 1,000 participants converged on Minneapolis, MN for the 2019 Annual Americans for the Arts Convention. From June 13-16 attendees had the opportunity to listen to inspiring keynote speakers, network with colleagues, and attend break out sessions on a multitude of topics, from Creative Economy in Rural Places, to Incorporating Mindfulness in Your Organization, to Racial Equity in Local Arts Agencies. There was something for everyone in the break out sessions.

Americans for the Arts (AFTA) is a national organization with the mission to build recognition and support for the extraordinary and dynamic value of the arts and to lead, serve, and advance the diverse networks of organizations and individuals to cultivate the arts in America. They are best known for their accessible resources, research, and advocacy work.

For the past five years I have had the privilege of serving on the Arts Education Advisory Council. Together with fifteen colleagues from across the country, we work with AFTA staff on projects specific to the arts education sector. Because I serve on the Council, I have attended conventions over the years. What AFTA does really well is 1. provide local artists who perform for and engage with conference attendees, and 2. invite spectacular keynote speakers, many who inspire and motivate the audience to keep doing the important work – advocacy, engagement, education, etc. - in our respective communities.

For me, the most impactful speaker this year was Chandrika Tandon. She shared her personal story of her journey from India to the United States as a young adult and her pursuit of studying world music. Chandrika is a humanitarian, a highly successful business leader, as well as a Grammy-nominated artist (Soul Call). Her message was simple and inspiring. While it’s impossible to sum up her message in a few sentences, I’ll do my best. Chandrika’s mantra is love, light and laughter. The arts are the life-blood, not dessert. The arts build whole human beings and they help us bring out our best selves. We need to feel the light inside and make our corners of the world better places.

Resources and Toolkits are an important part of AFTA’s work. Over the past two years the Arts Education Program at AFTA engaged in a series of field-wide research initiatives to discover how the arts education field regarded leadership in their work. The result of that work is the creation of this framework – “The 12 Core Competencies of an Arts Education Leader”. The framework outlines the aptitudes, skills, practices, and commitments which drive professional learning for leaders in the field of arts education.

Another new tool is the Arts & Social Impact Explorer. The arts can impact every part of your community to make it healthier, more vibrant, and more equitable. This interactive tool tells the story of the arts in your community across 25 sectors through more than 1,000 data points, example projects, support organizations, and research reports. Sometimes it’s hard to see how the arts intersect with our day-to-day lives, but this tool helps spell it out for you. Take it for a spin!

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