Aspen Institute Arts Program

2012: New York

In October 2012, over 30 arts leaders from around the nation assembled in New York City for the inaugural strategy group. Led by Aspen Institute Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel, this gathering convened artists, policymakers and arts administrators including Yo-Yo Ma (Cellist & Artistic Director of the Silk Road Project), Rocco Landesman (Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts) and Joseph Polisi (President of the Juilliard School), along with other influential arts innovators, as part of a year-long effort to shine a light on the Citizen Artists initiative, define the value of artist engagement in a wide array of civic roles, and begin building templates for engagement, collaboration and coordination amongst artists, institutions and administrators. Sessions taking place over two days included “Funding Citizen Artist Efforts: Creating New Models,” “Artist Representation: Empowering Artist Activism,” and “Education and the Arts: Artists in the Classroom.

L-R: New 42nd Street President Cora Cahan, Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel, NYC Cultural Commissioner Kate Levin, and Dance Theater of Harlem Artistic Director Virginia Johnson. Photo by Erin Baiano.

Following the success of this initial gathering, the Aspen Institute Arts Program will curate several Strategy Groups around the country, in an effort to bring this national dialogue to strategic convenings in other cities – where discussion will be shaped by issues and leadership specific to those communities. In accordance with these regionally-based sessions, select participants from previous sessions will be invited to join local leaders representing various sectors; together, this group will undertake a substantive national conversation about the public value of the arts. Though the inaugural Strategy Group model will continue to develop, it will always include a leadership roundtable, opportunities for informal conversations amongst participants, and a public discussion and demonstration of Citizen Artist activities, with the participation of Strategy Group leaders and other guests.


Inaugural Participants: Aspen Arts Strategy Group New York

Lin Arison, Founder, YoungArts

Cristin Bagnall, Director of Strategic Planning, Sound Postings

Melody C. Barnes, Chair, Aspen Institute, Forum For Community Solutions

Jamie Bennett, Chief of Staff and Director of Public Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts

Robert F. Berretta, Vice President, Opus 3 Artists

Jim Bildner, Senior Research Fellow, Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organizations, Harvard University

Arthur Bloom, Founder & Director, Renovation In Music Education (RIME)

Cora Cahan, President, The New 42nd Street

Sarah Calderon, Executive Director, Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education

Mary Schmidt Campbell, Dean, Tisch School of the Arts at NYU

Mario Garcia Durham, President & CEO, Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP)

Carla Espana, Literacy Staff Developer, Teacher’s College, Columbia University

Kiff Gallagher, CEO & Founder, MusicianCorps

Olga Garay-English, Executive Director, Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs

Rachel Goslins, Executive Director, President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities

Charlie Grode, Vice President of Education, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Agnes Gund, Founder, Studio in a School

Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director, Dance Theater of Harlem

Rocco Landesman, Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts

Paul T. Lehr, Executive Director, YoungArts

Kate Levin, Commissioner, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs

Robert L. Lynch, President & CEO, Americans for the Arts

Yo-Yo Ma, Cellist & Artistic Director, Silk Road Project

Kara Medoff Barnett, Director, Executive Strategy & Business, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

Anne Parsons, President & CEO, Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Joseph W. Polisi, President, Juilliard School

Pamela Price, Principal, PS/MS 161, Pedro Albizu Campos School in West Harlem

Deborah F. Rutter, President, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Dennis Scholl, Vice President / Arts, Knight Foundation

Deirdre Scott, Executive Director, Bronx Council on the Arts

Thor Steingraber, Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning, The Music Center of Los Angeles County

Gary P. Steuer, Chief Cultural Officer, City of Philadelphia

Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, Executive Director, THE POINT CDC

Damian Woetzel, Director, Aspen Institute Arts Program; former Principal Dancer, New York City Ballet

Yuan-Qing Yu, Assistant Concertmaster, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Laura Zabel, Executive Director, Springboard for the Arts 


Notes from the Inaugural Aspen Arts Strategy Group

October 2012, New York City

Compiled below, a selection of thoughts from our inaugural convening…

The 21st century recipe for success in the arts is changing the paradigm from “needing” to “giving.” The arts tend to be seen as always seeking more money and more support; instead, we must ask, how are the arts giving to society? How do the arts work to enhance communities, education, and all manner of development and progress in this country?

  - Damian Woetzel

The trickle-down effect: artists must permeate the eco-system more effectively

Collaboration and impact is difficult to achieve when artists see their art as the end of their responsibilities. Artists must begin to perceive themselves as a powerful and important constituency, who can be an immensely strong political force and can make a different as citizens, not only as artists.

Artists often perceive that integration with the community can be a threat to their work and being; often this is a fear that they will lose a sense of identity with full integration.

Artist communities lack communication infrastructures

“The people in a community must know how to request and invite artists into a community; right now that can be a very distant and foreign idea. How would I find them, and where would they be?”

- Laura Zabel, Founder, Springboard for the Arts

Should we incentivize Citizen Artist work through institutional infrastructures?

Institutions need to take responsibility for turning the great ideas of its artists into actionable programs; there are several potential models for this, including embedding Citizen Artist activities into contracts, creating matching funds for service, and fundraising to allow artists to pursue this kind of work with total independence.

The most highly valued systems are designed to understand and solve problems, and provide a relatively reliable deliverable.

-  Kate Levin, Commissioner, NYC Dept. of Cultural Affairs

Replicable playbooks

We need to identify the models that work and effectively demonstrate how to replicate them with existing resources.

We need ideas which are scalable and replicable with a playbook, i.e. through a document that can be created and easily disseminated…It’s the idea of creating virtuous cycles.

Dennis Scholl, VP/Arts, Knight Foundation

Training and Recruiting

We should be deliberate in introducing the idea of the artist as citizen as part of the fabric of an academic or artistic upbringing; students must be offered opportunities to interface and interact with parts of the public from a young age.