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“How do we take this really special moment to think about how this crisis and some of the [resulting] challenges can be utilized to be a catalyst for transformation?” -Panelist

On December 2nd and 3rd, members from ArtsFund’s Cultural Partners Network joined together for our first ever Virtual Summit around the theme of Reimagination. With generous support from Amazon, we sought to bring the network together to look beyond current operations and to collectively reimagine and co-create a vision of arts and culture in post-pandemic communities. Joined by staff of all levels and board members, participants represented a range of disciplines, budgets, and communities.

Guiding us through both days, Reese Tanimura, Managing Director at Northwest Folklife Festival, moderated the Virtual Summit. Tanimura set the tone for each day, kicking the session off with framing and key questions, and brought us back together to host a final panel discussion with key takeaways on day two. Our breakout sessions were facilitated by local arts leaders, hosting more intimate sessions focused on a particular topic. Session facilitators and topics included:

  • Vivian Hua, Executive Director at Northwest Film Forum hosted “Community Responses & Responsibility During COVID-19, Black Lives Matter & More” which explored community response and responsibility using examples from Northwest Film Forum
  • Keri Kellerman, Executive Director at Whim W’Him hosted “Transforming Space and Place” which sought to define and redefine the sector’s ideas of space and place as participants reimagined the arts sector.
  • Tim Lennon, Director at LANGSTON hosted “New Models and Partnerships to Activate Your Mission” which explored navigating the unknown and uncertainty the sector faced and how participants reimagined their missions including what was and wasn’t successful.
  • Daniel Pak, Co-Founder/Executive Director at Totem Star hosted “Engaging, Embracing, and Educating Audiences” which explored how participants create spaces for audiences and work to elevate and increase the value proposition of arts and culture and how participants seek to rebuild a better arts and cultural ecosystem.

On day two we welcomed accessibility expert, Elizabeth Ralston, founder of the Seattle Cultural Accessibility Consortium to discuss “Re-imagining Inclusion in the Arts Sector for People with Disabilities”, which provided participants with tangible strategies on becoming more accessible for audiences (You can check out her blog post with some of her suggestions here).

“My conversation in the breakout session was really fulfilling in sharing shared challenges, thinking of potential solutions, and meeting colleagues that I don’t normally come across in field-specific forums.” – Attendee

Multiple themes surfaced across sessions giving clearer shape to areas where the sector is seeking to reimagine. One of the most constant and reoccurring themes was equity. The group focus and interest around equity underscores the need and the urgency for resources for organizations to become more equitable now and moving into the future. Other common themes voiced among sessions were: mission assessment and reinvention, developing new skills, the necessity of partnerships, programming mix and pricing, removing barriers to access, and the value and desire for collaborative space with peers.

As common themes surfaced, so too did barriers around implementation. These challenges are related to: digital equity, access to technology, limited capacity, stakeholder buy-in, significant lack of funding, and exhaustion.

“[This is] a really great opportunity for all of us to connect around the creative act of nonprofit arts work cause we are all kinds of artists, alchemists, making the impossible happen, even in the best of times. And now we really need that magic.” – Panelist

Learning from both the common themes and barriers expressed at the Virtual Summit, we recognize there are critical ways to provide support and resources for the cultural sector. As we move forward in support of the vibrant cultural sector, we seek to encourage others to join us as we continue to:

  • Coordinate resources including trainings around topical issues that will provide participants with expertise and new skills.
  • Build connections amongst organizations as partnerships and knowledge sharing are key to adapting to challenges and strengthening the sector.
  • Advocate for the sector by sharing a collective message.
  • Champion for support of the sector through funding.

“This was a really valuable time of connection, resource and experience sharing, and encouragement. I especially appreciated the way that the summit empowered multiple voices to share their perspectives and knowledge.” – Attendee

We want to thank all our Cultural Partners who attended our first ever Virtual Summit and shared their tremendous expertise and experience openly and honestly with the network.

To learn more about the Cultural Partners Network, visit artsfund.org/CulturalPartners.

The 5th Avenue Theatre, “Bliss”, Photo by Mark Kitaoka (2020)