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Arts & Social Change Symposium: Arts Organizations as Puzzle Pieces

A diverse cross-section of our region’s arts and cultural leaders gathered at Seattle Center on Oct. 12 and 13 for the 2012 Arts & Social Change Symposium. Many thanks go to the Symposium’s organizers and our co-sponsors 4Culture, The Association of American Cultures, the Seattle Office of Civil Rights, the city of Seattle’s Race & Social Justice Initiative, Seattle Center/Next 50, ArtsWA (Washington State Arts Commission), and Boeing for sparking this important dialogue. It was a great opportunity to explore some of the challenges we face and to learn new ways to take them on.

In the opening keynote, University of Southern California’s Dr. Manuel Pastor spoke to the unique role the arts plays in addressing differences and bringing diverse people and interests together. The only viable and sustainable means to that end is a values-based, transformational organizing approach, as opposed to the interest-based, transactional model we’ve historically relied upon. Dr. Pastor compared these approaches to building a jigsaw puzzle vs. playing chess. In chess each piece is an expendable resource used to take away resources from an adversary. In a jigsaw puzzle, each piece is as critical to achieving the vision of the whole as any other, and without every piece, the work will never be complete.

The workshops throughout the symposium each illuminated different pieces of that puzzle. In session after session, we learned from our peers how new approaches have more effectively advanced their missions, broadened their audiences and communities served, and increased their impact. Listening, collaborating, taking risks, and inviting everyone to the table were themes that came up repeatedly.

In the closing session, all-star arts consultant Donna Walker-Kuhne stressed that making the arts more inclusive and relevant is hard work, but that work builds muscles and makes us better warriors. Moving the thinking of arts work from building individuals and individual organizations to creating a healthy ecosystem is quite a workout. It’s my hope that all of us in the arts can leverage the strength we’re building in this process to ensure that our region’s cultural jigsaw puzzle is complete.

Images: Arts & Social Change Symposium. Photos by Robert Wade.

-Tim Lennon, Events & Cultural Space Coordinator