Before and #AFTA13 – A look back on 4 days at a convention in Pittsburgh

Today I am downloading my experiences from the Americans for the Arts 2013 conference in Pittsburgh.  It was 4 days of focusing, discussing, and brainstorming about how we as arts advocates, agencies, administrators and emerging leaders, can bring arts to the forefront of American thinking.  All in all, I thought they did a fairly good job of creating a conference with relevant and innovative speakers with topics that are common considerations to many of us.  Pittsburgh was a fun city too!  I enjoyed the hometown atmosphere with the plethora of culture.

You can read a full story of the conference via our tweets here!

There were only a few suggestions for next year I would like to get out of the way before launching into all the positives.

  • I needed more food.  There was not enough protein to keep me going, and what was offered was very miniscule in comparison to other conferences. I would pay a small extra fee if I could get a little more food geared towards a balanced diet.
  • There were not enough sessions and panelists that spoke to and for the small organizations.  The smaller organizations outweigh the bigger ones, so it would be helpful to broaden the perspective for this group of organizations, agencies and administrators.
  • We could use a pre-conference for local arts agencies.  The sessions were great, yet we could use more time to get into the nitty gritty of our challenges and to share our ideas and solutions.
  • More sessions for visual arts organizations would be good, and more representation of the visual arts at the conference in general would add some color!
  • I love the sessions that have case studies presented.  Would it be possible to have follow up sessions to get more of the “how to” process?
  • “Emerging Leaders” would be better if not about an age or demographic group set.  There could be a leader that comes out of the older demographic too.  We are all in this together!

Now it is time for the positives.  There were a great deal of positives!  I feel on the whole, we established some common themes that are worth exploring, brainstorming and implementing.

  • Hosting at cities that are truly inspiring is a plus – Pittsburgh’s culture rocks! Incorporating the local culture for our enjoyment made the conference come alive!
  • The theme about telling your story in more personal ways to reach people, of listening to their stories, of creating connections, collaborations and community through your stories, was awesome!  I hope we all take this message back with us and do something about it!
  • Funding is a little skewed towards bigger organizations.  What can we do about this?  The smaller to mid-size organizations are at a more intimate relationship with local people of communities, and it is incredibly important to fund these organizations to create arts for (and from) all.
  • We need to ask in order to get funding. The feedback is that most organizations and people do not fund simply because they are not asked.
  • Building relationships is key!  An audience development mentality is needed now. Many people will not fund or go to the arts without these relationships.
  • Collaborating can reap major benefits, as long as each party benefits from the partnership.
  • Diversity can start with a dialogue and with immersing ourselves in another’s culture.  Through the arts we can create a bridge to understanding one another.  We can create awareness of cultures past, invisible cultures, and vanishing cultures so we can remember, reflect, and reconnect with the full aspects of our (human) being.  I once read that the DNA that creates the physical racial differences is less than 1%.  The fact that we are melting more quickly into the same pot needs to be taken into consideration.  The shifting demographics prove that we are becoming “all minority all of the time” (Manuel Pastor).  It’s time to be open to having open conversations and be open to change so we can create arts for all.
  • Arts advocacy should be a main focus now.  We are all in an arts bubble, and we understand why funding, supporting, and promoting the arts is crucial.  Let’s figure out an arts campaign that not only will speak for us, but will speak to the regular populace.
  • With that said, we can bridge the gap by becoming the solution to our world’s challenges.  Martin Luther King, Jr. did not say, “I have an issue, ” he said, “I have a dream!”  We can bring the dream of the arts as a creative solution to our communities’ challenges, which will in turn shed awareness for how vital the arts are to our society.  Projects like “STEAM” and the National Arts and Technology Centers can inspire people to know at the core level of their lives what the arts can do for them.
  • Lastly, it would be good to evolve our audiences into the role of partner to help us be relevant to them.  We can accomplish this through surveys, focus groups, and a good old fashion conversations with individuals.  The younger generations want to be more hands on; they want to participate.  As I have attached to my email for over 5 years now, a quote by James Stewart says it best: “Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”

I still have yet to download my notes, to fully process the entire experience.  In the future I aspire to write a few individual blog posts on the aforementioned.  I will also be giving a presentation for my city in September so we can on a local level consider how to implement these fantastic ideas – something I recommend you do in your own cities and regions too.

I also encourage you to keep in touch with the people that you have met and continue to build the relationships.  You never know what can brew from these connections!  I myself was excited to meet up with people I have met before, and the new people I have been introduced to are equally amazing, a bunch of talented, thoughtful people that truly care about the arts.

Thank you to the Americans for the Arts and the city of Pittsburgh for another great opportunity to get more intimate with the arts.  It was a fabulous conference that served to stir our minds, build our connections, and get the creative juices flowing for new possibilities.  Now it’s time for some action!

If I missed any of the main points or themes, fellow attendees, please reply! 

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists


“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
~James Stewart

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1 Comment

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One response to “Before and #AFTA13 – A look back on 4 days at a convention in Pittsburgh

  1. Pingback: In your face arts advocacy! | Audience Development Specialists Blog!

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