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Guest Blog: Americans for the Arts Convention Recap

by Anne Bothwell 23 Jun 2011 10:03 AM

Guest blogger Katherine Wagner shares her take on the recent Americans for the Arts convention.


Katherine Wagner

Guest blogger Katherine Wagner is the CEO of Business Council for the Arts. She recently attended the Americans for the Arts convention in San Diego and shares this report:

This past week, I attended the Americans for the Arts (AFTA) convention in San Diego with more than 1,000 others nationwide working in art advocacy, art education, visual and performing arts, arts management, and government arts councils.

Business Council for the Arts is an affiliate of AFTA, the largest arts advancement nonprofit in the nation. (Note: The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent agency of the federal government.)

I went a day early for a meeting with my colleagues on the Private Sector Council, a group of organizations similar to my own organization, Business Council for the Arts, who create partnerships between business and the arts in other cities and regions around the country.

Throughout I ran into colleagues and old friends there, who work in both the public and private sector. (Constance Smith, formerly of the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs now heads up San Diego’s Public Art Program!) It’s great to reconnect with those you know, especially with such abundant material to discuss. The convention also offers multitudes of opportunities to meet with – and learn from – colleagues you wouldn’t otherwise come across. The staff of AFTA planned well for clusters that formatted in various ways. In addition to attending some very rich presentations and panels, we were given the opportunity to meet around specific organizational concerns or interests, meet in formal and informal scenarios, and meet with those in the same fields. That provided for lots of peer-group learning as well as information gained from the presentations.

The convention keynote speaker was Bobby Shriver, founder of (RED), a high-profile nonprofit “Designed to Eliminate Aids.” Art, music and design have given (RED) recognition and funding from the start. That’s what steered Bobby Shriver away from a successful law career into an arts-supported not-for-profit, despite coming from a family that eschewed art and culture for sports and competition. (He told the story of his mother, Eunice, bursting the bubble of his ten-year-old brother who came home and told the family he’d won a class race. Eunice challenged him to her own race, and of course, she won.)

With a bag of well-designed (RED) products from companies like Nike, Shriver drew a compelling connection between art, business and the greater good. He sometimes spoke in a manner reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s rapid-fire mental connections – like the convention itself, it was fast and full of information and linkages.

Next June, the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention will be much closer to home – in San Antonio, in fact. I recommend attending. I found this year’s very well organized, rich in information, and highly conducive to meeting others working in support of the arts.

If you’d like to see more about AFTA and last week’s convention, go here.  To learn more about Business Council for the Arts and get involved locally, please contact us at 972-991-8300 or through our website.  My direct e-mail is [email protected]