Riva Lehrer and the Complex World of Art and Disability Advocacy
Riva Lehrer is no stranger to difficult times. Growing up with spina bifida in the 1950s and ’60s, Riva experienced a very ableist world where children with disabilities were often hidden from public view. She very quickly had to learn to mask her own disability or acquire other identities to overshadow her “differentness.” She didn’t learn how to advocate or vocalize her needs as a disabled person until later in life. It was through her art and writing, and joining the Disabled Artists Collective, that gave Riva a way to portray and publicly amplify the humanness of those with impairments as people like everyone else, including herself. Riva stands squarely at the intersection of so many identities: advocate, disabled, queer, artist, writer, professor, public speaker, Jewish, and a woman. But the one she gets asked to weigh in on the most is disability, as if the mere fact that she has a disability makes her an expert in the field: “When I present my portrait work with people with impairments and who deal with stigma I can’t just talk about the art or some other aspect of the art. I’ll start talking about working with some trans or queer subjects and most of the time people just want to bring it back to disability. It often feels like a lot of me is left outside the door.”
Member Spotlight: David Ross
As creative placemaking coordinator for The Arts Commission in Toledo, Ohio, David Ross is a community artist turned advocate for youth and creativity. An alum of The Arts Commission’s Young Artist at Work program, he has been a member of the creative placemaking team since 2020, working to connect visual art and social issues. Ross also chairs the City of Toledo Human Relation Commission’s Stop the Violence Committee, co-chairs the Toledo Racial Equity & Inclusion Council, and is the founder of a local celebrity basketball charity contest, Dunkin 4 Donations. “Creative placemaking is the answer to social justice artistically filling in the gaps and barriers in equality and opportunity. Not knowing how to express yourself or not having pride will make you not see the value of the land or opportunity to flourish. Creative placemaking directly addresses those issues with a creative and sustainable approach.”
The Language of Equity
In recent years, there has been greater intentional focus on equitable language and communication. That focus has led to noticeable, positive change. The arts and culture field is uniquely positioned to help reinforce and advance this movement, particularly through the literary work of playwrights, novelists, poets, journalists, dramaturgs, editors, scholars, and critics. Equitable language opens dialogue and invites more people to the conversation. The words we use and the way we approach language can be the difference between diverse storytelling and empowered representation, or failed attempts to establish equity. The ripple effect of creating and adopting equitable language is limitless. That’s why language banks and similar tools are so crucial to navigating conversations, communications, and storytelling, and why these tools are essential to how we move forward together. Inside Americans for the Arts, we began dissecting and crafting how we could leverage our reach and resources in support of the work happening in communities across the county. We know that every organization, every individual, is on their own journey with equity and while we can’t bring everyone to the same level in one swoop, we could build tools to assist the work.
Painting By Numbers: How Cities Can Use Data to Support the Arts
Although cities increasingly rely on data to help shape policy and identify service gaps, there is often skepticism from both the creative sector and government about whether metrics can meaningfully capture the impact of the arts. In a field where variety of creative expression is fundamental, how do you count what really counts? For cities that recognize their artists and cultural institutions as a critical part of the economy and essential to quality of life for residents, arts data can be a powerful tool to advocate for culture alongside other city services. Data can also help city leaders understand who is and isn’t being served by government arts dollars and expand access to arts experiences in every community. Through best practices and case studies, Arts Data in the Public Sector: Strategies for Local Arts Agencies aims to help arts agencies and city leaders show measurable impact, identify priority policy areas, and establish more equitable and inclusive practices to promote access to the arts across communities.
CERF+ — The Artist’s Safety Net: Providing Emergency Relief for the Cultural Sector
The work of CERF+ is vital within the larger context of the complex challenges cultural organizations and individual artists have managing—and surviving—disasters and emergencies. As emergency planning has become an ever-higher priority for cultural facilities throughout the country, CERF+ puts key strategic questions on the table: How do local cultural communities prepare for the enormous challenges of floods, fires, earthquakes, and storms? How do we meet the economic and human costs of such life-changing circumstances? With major support from foundations and other funders, local arts agencies across the country have developed programs to provide grants to individual artists. Though much of this support is earmarked for creative work, there is a growing recognition of what is required to sustain creative careers over many years or a lifetime. CERF+ is committed to helping artists sustain their careers and develop the tools and support to protect and preserve their livelihoods, studios, and creative output.
Simone Eccleston Celebrates Black Genius
I see Black genius as the soulful expression of the extraordinary creativity, intellect, and ingenuity of African Diaspora people. It is about how we incite the imagination, move the crowd, and stir the soul. There’s a spirit to Black genius that needs to be awarded. It’s not solely the moments of inspiration, but also the deep dedication and commitment to craft, the ways in which we locate ourselves within a tradition and traditions. The Black Genius Foundation is committed to transforming the conversation around genius by placing Black artists and the Black Creative Ecosystem at the center. The Black Genius Foundation is our opportunity to sing a praise song for new generations and advance the legacy that our ancestors and elders have so boldly created for us to carry forward.
Cultural Asset Identification & Building Inclusive Creative Economies
In early 2021, we published an outline of the goals and commitments Americans for the Arts is making towards supporting the development of an inclusive creative economy nationally and in local communities. This work in 2022 will focus on helping communities build awareness of their cultural assets and how to equitably strengthen, value, and utilize them. In partnership with and under the guidance of Cézanne Charles and John Marshall, principals of rootoftwo, LLC, we will embark on a year-long process to devise a set of tools, guides, evaluations, and trainings—with ample opportunities for participation from the field in the development of these tools—that will support local arts leaders in their efforts to identify and define their unique creative economies, and help communities to identify cultural assets and understand the health of those assets.
Member Spotlight: Priscilla Hopkins-Smith
Priscilla Hopkins-Smith is the Programs and Communications manager for Arts Ed NJ (previously the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership), the unifying organization and central resource for arts education information, policy, and advocacy in New Jersey. Hopkins-Smith is also the Director of the NJ Governor’s Awards in Arts Education, which is the highest honor that can be received in arts education in New Jersey. With over 15 years of experience in nonprofit communications and administration, Hopkins-Smith’s expertise lies in social media, events, outreach, and community engagement. As programs and communications manager, she works to propel arts education initiatives forward through the #ArtsEdNow campaign, strategic plans, programming, and collaboration.
Champions of Change Makers: Follow Your Leader
Read on for takeaways from the November Arts Marketing Coffee Chat “Champions of Change Makers: Follow Your Leader,” where senior marketing leaders explored how to reaffirm purpose and passion for their work as leaders of change-making in the arts.
Member Spotlight: Ariani Huguenin
As Program Manager, Ariani Huguenin provides support for Cathedral Arts Project’s (CAP) direct service programs by ensuring Northeast Florida’s teaching artists and students receive the resources and support they need. Since joining CAP in 2017, Huguenin’s portfolio of work has included volunteer engagement, family communication, logistics coordination, and teaching artist support. “Arts education starts with technical skills and leads to life skills that empower students to know their worth and think creatively to problem-solve. At CAP, we have been able to track ‘Why The Arts’ matter through student attendance, behavior, and grade improvement. Quantifiable measures are wonderful, but the greatest impact of arts education is seen in the students that wanted to give up, but persevered and learned something new.”
Member Spotlight: Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix
Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix is the Dean of the College of Creative Arts and a professor of theater at Miami University in Ohio, where she teaches courses in world stages and American theater. As a theater historian, Mullenix writes about Antebellum culture/theater, cross-dressing, the American Civil War, first wave feminism, and gender/feminist theory. “I think theater has always been a great way to promote social change because it has the power to educate, raise consciousness, and emotionally impact audiences. The intimacy created by live theater affects people—audiences experience stories shared in real time by real people, stories about oppression and prejudice and how the world needs to change. Good theater can make people care and make them think.”