Monday, June 15th, 2009

White House Briefing On Arts Policy

The strangest delegation of folks to be invited to the White House in recent memory. (…Yes that’s our man Wendell “Bunk” Pierce!)

As some of yall know, I was part of a delegation of social justice-oriented artists, arts activists and advocates invited to meet last month with Obama administration staff to be briefed on their efforts around arts policy. It was an amazing group, an amazing briefing, and an amazing day.

What seems important to say first is that hip-hop and a breathtaking front of other underdog arts movements got all of us there. And they let us in the front door.

The delegation included so many luminaries and s/heroes it’s impossible to do the group justice without coming off like a name-dropping Hollywood agent, albeit a very cool one. Check the pic above if you don’t believe…

Marc Schiller of Wooster Collective, I think, really accurately captured the vibe of the group in this post:

So last month when we received an invitation to attend a briefing at The White House (yes, that one), we were at first a bit shocked, definitely skeptical, and finally, after giving it a lot of thought – absolutely delighted. To be included in the conversation at the level of The White House, we felt, was a huge testament that our voice (meaning our collective voice) was being heard…

We know that a lot of people will hate us for going to The White House. But for us, the goal of attending the meetings yesterday was not to attempt to “partner” with government on anything. Or to ask for their acceptance. The power of street art is that you don’t ask for, nor need, permission. At best, it’s about tolerance and understanding.

For us, we felt the issues related to the disappearance of common access to our public space and the need for a deeper understanding of what is and what is not “art” should not be limited to those who read blogs – especially ours. Talking solely to “the converted” will get you only so far. We learned a while back that when you have a chance to sit at the table you take it. Even if those around the table are not people you fully trust.

After the briefing, the delegation broke down into smaller groups at a later meeting to best plot follow-up on all of the areas we most want to change. Best believe ideas and sparks flew.

Meghan McDermott of Global Action Project has put together a blow-by-blow on the entire meeting. You can download that report here:

White House Briefing Summary

For my part, I’ll be working on issues of arts and cultural policy, in short what we’re calling “the creativity stimulus”. It’s been a growing interest of mine in the past year, really damn near an obsession in the past several months.

If hip-hop taught me anything, it’s that creativity has never been the thing just of elite classes, it’s the thing that moves all our communities forward in myriad ways at once.

So our hope in the coming months is to move the national dialogue around the importance of creativity in building and rebuilding healthy communities, and to secure a new understanding of the importance of arts and culture.

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