Sometimes you need a change in perspective. As I fly to California this week to celebrate a major family milestone, I am struck by the view of our country from 30,000 feet.  At this distance, the boundaries between communities blur and disappear. Everything seems green and peaceful and a continuous whole.  This week, that view from the sky seems like a stark contrast to the experience on the ground with sobering news of violence in our community and our nation. The situation on the ground provides the urgency to act.  The view from above provides inspiration.

Each year, the Americans for the Arts convention offers me an opportunity to get the 30,000 foot view of the role of arts in our nation. Three things stood out for me this year at the annual gathering of more than a thousand local, state and national arts administrators, organizers, policy-makers, educators and advocates. In one of those shocking “how did I get to be so old” moments, I realize I’ve been attending this gathering since 1997. I’ve watched my share of trends and been inspired time and again by my peers.  Here are my 2015 take-aways:

First, the role of artist-as-advocate is nothing new, but it is taking on an increasing urgency in cities across the country that are confronting serious social, civic and cultural issues. Artists and arts organizations are serving unique functions in healing and repairing broken bonds within communities. Chicago-based keynote speaker Theaster Gates, a clay artist and accidental neighborhood builder, said that in our complex and divided world, “art no longer has the freedom to not do something more than itself.”  Though his own craft is one that at its core involves fashioning pots and decorative objects out of wet earth, he described “the burden of art as a gesture that ripples throughout the world and effects as many people as possible in our communities.”

ArtsWave’s arts community impact agenda, developed more than five years ago, is right in line with an increasing number of cities and is in fact echoed in Americans for the Arts’ own agenda to maximize the impact of the arts in our nation. 

Second, big cities are intentionally linking their tech and arts industries. The Arts & Business Council of Miami manned a booth at the recent Emerge Americas technology convention, and it hosts an annual Arts & Tech Breakfast for professionals in both groups. Philadelphia just finished a “TechniCulture” conference tied to Philly Tech Week. Why?  Because “Philadelphia is rapidly becoming known for its dynamic tech scene and its rich arts community.”  Collaborations between tech and cultural institutions of varying sizes were spotlighted and industry leaders had a chance to network and explore other possible synergies. 

I’m glad we have taken a step in this direction in Cincinnati, with ArtsWave working with #StartUpCincy to be sure there are a number of arts organizations on the roster of NewCo Cincinnati next month.

Finally, arts councils in cities large and small are getting very deliberate about telling the story of their arts community beyond their local newspaper coverage, in order to drive awareness and support economic growth in the form of employee attraction, business development, and cultural tourism. Chatanooga is developing a curated website of fully developed arts stories, ready for use and placement by national media. Miami is in year two of hosting an online media hub, which also serves as a consumer site of information about what’s happening in the arts in Miami Dade County.  

The arts have a bigger role to play in our city and our world. Where do you see opportunities for the arts to strengthen our community? Tell us at #ArtsRipple.