Americans for the arts final report
Julia Vallera – Arts, Entertainment, and Cultural Districts Preconference scholarship recipient.

Americans for The Arts Annual Convention exceeded my expectations. I was very honored to be invited as a pre-conference scholarship participant. The presenters, attendees and keynote speakers were all very engaging, friendly and informative. I mostly participated in conference topics related to arts administration, urban planning and cultural district development. As an artist, this experience introduced me to a perspective of arts planning that I am not often involved with. This perspective is one that I am familiar with, but learned a lot more about because of the pre-conference. Many of the people I met at the conference were interested in developing Maker spaces in their organizations. With experience in this area I was able to contribute to interesting conversations about what Maker Spaces are and why they are beneficial to engaging the public through art. Pittsburgh was a great city to host the conference in. It’s art and culture district seems to be thriving and I enjoyed learning about its history and future plans.

On Thursday, Kevin McMahon from The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust opened the conference with a wonderful introduction to arts and cultural districts. I enjoyed hearing about the statistics and history of the area. His insight and experience in various arts districts was a great way to kick off the morning. Following his introduction I went to “An Artists View”. In this session four presenters discussed the advantages and downfalls of working in arts districts. I enjoyed hearing the story of each presenter’s path leading up to the current successes of their art organization. It was nice to have a diverse set of topics such as photography, theater, public art and graphic design.

Following “An Artists View” I proceeded to a “Networking Break”, which gave me a chance to meet some of the other participants. We had a very nice conversation about local arts initiatives in our home cities. Following the break I went to the session, “Programming your District”. In this session 5 presenters discussed examples of strategies they use to add arts programs to their local districts. They shared great examples of art projects and program. It was nice to see a variety of images and current projects.

During lunch, I continued to network with a few participants from Cleveland, Ohio and Detroit, MI. We had interesting conversations about “Maker Spaces” and how to go about starting them. We talked about what they were, how they can vary and how to get the public to participate in them. During lunch, Mark Davy from Futurecity gave a wonderful Keynote talk. He showed many projects all over the world that demonstrate how art becomes what he called “the architecture” of a city. One story he shared was especially memorable. The story described one time when he was working with a city planner on the design for a new bridge. Mark explained that some of the funds were for an art instillation to happen on the bridge, but the funds for the artist were not enough for the project the artist had in mind. His solution to this problem was to ask the city planners one question, which was “If we forget about the art project, and have the artist design the bridge itself, can we pay them what they are asking for?” The answer was yes, the project was fully funded, and the bridge was built.

At the end of the day I participated in a Guided walking tour of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. This was a highlight of the pre-conference for me. I really enjoyed visiting the theater and various small businesses in the area. I also found it very inspiring how the business we visited were so knowledgeable about the cultural district’s involvement in art funding. This also gave me a chance to chat with new people and get to know them a little more.

On Friday, my last day at the pre-conference, I participated in “Wedding of Public art and Cultural Districts”. This was a panel of five people from various cities that help plan public art installations. They shared interesting projects and anecdotes about their work. It was nice to see such a variety of projects and to hear from such a diverse group of people. Each one had a different approach and shared different experiences.

My experience at Americans For the Arts Pre-Conference is lasting. The new knowledge I gained will help me with my work as an artist, a teacher and a digital media arts consultant. I feel now I have an array of examples and strategies to reference while approaching new jobs and new work. Seeing the infrastructure of a cultural district was very informative. I am inspired and look forward to applying what I have learned to my professional development.