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Arts leaders gather in St. Louis to plan for social change

Provided by the arts organization US Department of Arts and Culture
Poster created for the USDAC

Arts leaders from around the country will gather in St. Louis this weekend to discuss new strategies for better integrating arts and social justice practices.

The Regional Arts Commission is working with a private arts organization that calls itself U.S. Department of Arts and Culture to produce the event titled Culture/Shift, which aims to help artists help promote arts and culture as a human right.

“It’s there in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Yet that right is only as real as we make it," said Adam Horowitz, chief instigator of the arts and culture group. "It’s only as real as the resources we put to it and the way that we stand for it.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Roseann Weiss, the RAC's director of artist and community Initiatives.

“In our country we believe that we have a right to celebrate a particular culture, that the arts and culture are intrinsic to our identities as human beings,” Weiss said. 

The program is part of a series of conferences RAC launched in 2010 with “Art at the Crossroads,” and continued with “Rust Belt to Artist Belt” and other events  The conferences aim to forge new arts and community-based networks through  collaboration, strategy development, and addressing the relationship between policy and arts production.

This weekend's conference is organized by sessions that fall under the headings #PEOPLE, #POLICY, #PLAY, #ARTS&.  Each session is intended to address one of these themes. They range from “Artist on the Frontlines: A Conversation with Artist and Activist Damon Davis; and “Art, Truth, and Healing: Practicing Radical Love” with Carlton Turner; to sessions on inequity in funding and how to engage with hyper-local policy. The conference is sold out but certain sessions can be accessed via livestream.

Credit Provided by RAC
Participants engage with presenters at an earlier RAC event on community arts building.

Turner, a spoken word artist, performer, is the executive director of Alternate Roots — a Southern nonprofit aimed at supporting artists working to address social justice issues. He’s bringing his organizing knowledge from Mississippi and views the conference as a chance to push artists to recognize themselves as engaged citizens.

“It’s important to be asking all of us to examine our processes and understand what the intentions behind those practices are and what they are supporting in terms of long-term structural change,” he said.

Turner also views the conference as a chance to seriously address how artists relate to policy issues. He believes the biggest policy concern in the arts world is that people impacted by policy don’t have a say in how policy is developed institutionally.

Artists, he said, can work to give people a voice.

“To me that is the best example of democracy that I can give, is people who are being impacted by decisions are part of the decision making process and their voices are heard,” Turner said.

Such concerns ring loud among artists in a political climate where many artists and organizations fear losing financial and cultural support under the administration of President-elect Donald trump. But Weiss said conferences on on the arts can set up support networks in advance.

“Arts can be influential in how government happens. Arts can be influential in how we relate to each other across divisions,” Weiss said. “What we really want is for people to forge these connections, to bring those connections back home, and for them to stay connected with us in St. Louis.”

If you go

What: Culture/Shift conference

Where: Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Blvd, St. Louis

When: Nov. 17.-Nov. 19

Admission: Sold Out

Follow Willis Arnold on Twitter: @WillisRArnold