In 2014, the Arts x Culture x Social Justice Network hired its first staff person, Interim Coordinator Judi Jennings, and presented its action areas and new ways of working to an enthusiastic gathering of arts funders and community members in Houston, Texas. A working group that evolved out of Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA), the network now strives to connect a wide range of philanthropists, artists, activists, culture bearers and allies across the country.
In August 2015, Alison Lin became network facilitator for ACSJN, furthering our mission to connect individuals and organizations to create a more equitable and creative world through advocacy, increased knowledge and more resources for arts-based social change. In this conversation, Judi and Alison reflect on ACSJN’s accomplishments and future directions.
AL: Judi, tell me about your primary focus as you helped grow ACSJN’s public connections.
JJ: I focused on increasing recognition of the power of art and culture to advance social justice. Through our Houston program, our website and social media, we invite people to experience this power. For example, in Houston we presented an excerpt from The Burnin’ by playwright, Cristal Chanelle Truscott, PhD. The play is a Neospiritual about the African American experience illustrated through original song that centers on two nightclub tragedies separated by 75 years and the resulting ripples and reflections of these communities. In addition, during the 2014 GIA meeting, ACSJN allies experimented with a Long Table Discussion that invited participants to take part in conversations about racial equity.
Since ACSJN’s beginning as a working group in the early 2000s, I have seen increasing recognition of the power of art and culture as a core means of advancing social justice. The importance of working at the intersections of art, culture, and social justice is more articulated in philanthropy, and more resources are starting to support this essential work. The real power is coming to fruition, although there is still much to be done. We invite people to join this intersectional work, through, for example, building strong collaborations or creating new ways of generating resources.
This has really been a year of learning and increased public interaction. We now have this website and an active facebook group. In addition, we’ve solidified our transition from a working group with coordinators to a network with a facilitator. As a network, we want to continue to reach out to folks who share our mission and values. The growing numbers of people who contact us through the website and the steady increase of participants on our facebook group demonstrates the expansion of our network.
JJ: Alison, what initially sparked your interest in becoming the network facilitator?
AL: A network is a powerful way to interconnect people who are already actively pursuing dynamic work. I am fascinated by how different networks can function best to increase the impact of collaborations. One of my network mentor’s, Eugene Kim, always says that networks are people and their relationships. I find this to be true. I’ve been having fun exploring a new online tool kit that Rockefeller Foundation developed to address “how funders can support and leverage networks for social impact”. Check it out here. With an understanding of networks and network mindsets we can move into action.
I’ve spent the majority of my career working for social justice, but this hasn’t included my identity as an artist. Recently, this changed when I had the opportunity to work with youth at the Chinese Progressive Association on a photography exhibit, you can see the results here on tumblr. I look forward to engaging my whole self as network facilitator and working closely with the Leadership Team who individually and together are a powerhouses in this field. I have so much to learn from them, including you. My role is to facilitate the leadership team in moving their strategy and vision forward. Speaking of which, can you tell me more about the strategy shield?
JJ: We developed our strategy shield early in our transition from working group to a network, around 2012. Maura Bairley, an amazing facilitator, helped us visualize these three areas of work and how they connect and reinforce each other. When we first started meeting more than a decade ago, all of us were funders; so our first priority was increasing resources to artists and cultural workers engaged in social justice. As we’ve expanded to include practitioners in our network and leadership, we’ve also expanded our purpose to include building knowledge, fostering an active network, and expanding philanthropic understanding and support of work at the intersection of arts, culture, and social justice. Learning, connections, and activism go hand in hand with why this intersectional work needs more funding. It all fits together!
When we developed this framework, Maura drew a circle around the three areas; and we all said, “hey that looks like a shield.” We realized a shield is a powerful metaphor for unity and strength in the network. We added our values and mission, and, together the serves as an introduction to our work. We use it in network gatherings to show people what our work is! (Read more about the strategy shield here)
And I want to give a big shout out to punkt digital who designed the shield and our website!
JJ: Alison, as you take on the role as our network facilitator what do you hope to accomplish?
AL: This is the work that is making change happen. Art and culture carry our individual and collective emotions and have the power to connect our movements. This work in support of practitioners and philanthropy in regards to evaluation, place, and race can continue to galvanize action for social justice. I want to use my skills in network activation, facilitation and leadership to usher in further strategic action and improve collaborations within the network.
As I’m learning about the rich history of the ACSJN, I’d love to hear from people who have been involved in various ways and learn about projects and people working at the intersection of art, culture and social justice. I invite you (our readers) to post examples of your work on our facebook group and feel free to contact me directly at alisonlinconsulting (at) gmail (dot) com.