My four days at the Alliance of Artist Communities was incredibly valuable. I met, listened to, spoke with, and witnessed a diverse range of people and organizations talk about their work, their organizational challenges and their victories. I returned home with pages of notes, ideas, new contacts and to-dos, but there were three workshops that were particularly illuminating.
The first was a discussion on Arts + Equity in the Neighborhood: The Role and Responsibility of Arts Organizations in Gentrifying Cities. As an organization serving many artists and based in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Highland Park, I had high hopes that this workshop would help lead us to an answer of “can art galleries / organizations sprout in new neighborhoods without causing collateral gentrification damage to incumbent residents? And what do we do now?” There was not a clear, simple answer to the problem provided. Instead, the facilitators first told us of a show they had partnered to do in Portland’s gentrifying neighborhood of St. John which spoke about displacement and colonialism. They then opened the room up to questions - the only rule being that everyone speak only in questions. The result was a slow symphony of thought-provoking inquiries from a variety of perspectives represented in the room. I wrote as many down as I could and think this “questions only” activity (and the resulting questions) can be the basis for many future discussions on how we choose to react, take responsibility for, and respond to gentrification in the art world. Although I left with more questions than answers, the activity supplied a dose of hope. It showed that many people were ready to look at the issue squarely and ready to have the (often tough) discussions with their neighbors that have been so often ignored.
The second was a workshop on Disability in the Arts led by Beth Prevor
of Hands On, a NYC organization that serves audiences that are deaf, blind, hard of hearing through interpretive services in the arts. Although this workshop could have lasted one week instead of one hour, the facilitator did an amazing job of packing in information. She opened by saying, “You have, before you, a person with a disability. Use this time to ask any questions you have. If I am offended, I will let you know.” She explained the difference between the Medical Model and the Social Model of disability and how differently those two perspectives change the way we treat people with disabilities. She shared her personal experience of attending theaters who claimed on their website to “be wheelchair and walker accessible”, only to realize that the walker entrance was in the trash alley and through the kitchen, while the handicapped bathroom was up an elevator and in a restaurant next door. I realized the privilege many of us don’t even realize we have while listening to her detail the extensive investigation someone with a disability must do before attending an event or a show. She reminded us all that “there has been exclusion for so long that you can’t just expect people with disabilities to show up. You have to actively invite them.” She also reiterated the importance of making information regarding entrances, seating and bathrooms readily available on your websites (with photos!) and known by all employees. I left with a list of to-dos in regards to our classroom requirements, website and outreach. It made me wonder how many organizations who are accessible to the extent they’re required by law are undermining that by making it feel like a bare minimum gesture instead of an active inclusion. I really hope to see more of these discussions and learning opportunities happen in Los Angeles.
Finally, there was a workshop on Archiving Your Organization’s Story, led by archivist Lexa Walsh. The first thing Lexa said was, “I’m sorry to break it to you - but digital archives aren’t enough” and you could see half the room deflate. But instead of spending the whole time striking fear into our hearts over all the things we haven’t archived, she re-framed archiving as an art form of its own. What has value? What correspondence will have value in the future? What objects, photographs and data must be kept? If you were planning an exhibit for your organization’s anniversary 50 years from now, what would you display? What creative ways could you display it? This was a session that left me with a long list of questions and to-dos, but with a framework and a jumping-off point.
I came home with a huge list of to-dos and questions. In the short term, I would like for Trade School LA to offer a session in North East LA that will offer the question activity that I experienced in the Gentrification panel. I have attended a number of events around the issue of gentrification but few have successfully fostered a group conversation as well as the activity that I experienced in the workshop. Knowing what a difficult issue this is in the neighborhoods that TSLA serves, I think this could serve our community well.
In addition, the disability workshop has opened up a number of ways Trade School LA could do a better job of actively inviting persons with disability into our programs. Prior to attending the AAC conference, I had a phone call with a TSLA student who uses a walker and asked for her help in improving our inclusion of students with limited mobility. The information, perspective and insight I gained in the disability workshop will help support this so much. A high priority for the website now is to offer photos of entrances and bathrooms of all of our class locations.
On top of the incredible learning and exploration that the conference offered, it also offered HOPE and ENCOURAGEMENT - two things that most Arts Administrators are in constant need of. I think it’s critical that we continue gathering together, hearing about other people’s success, learning from their failures, and celebrating our collective victories. I’m incredibly grateful to have attended the AAC conference and am already looking forward to next year.