Arts and cul­ture serve as com­mu­nity builders

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Robert L. Lynch Guest Com­men­tary Robert L. Lynch is the pres­i­dent and CEO of Amer­i­cans for the Arts, based in Wash­ing­ton, DC.

When I ar­rive in a city on a busi­ness trip, the first thing my hosts usu­ally show me is the work of a lo­cal artist. Think­ing back on all of these cher­ished lo­cal spots in Denver I have vis­ited over my years of com­ing here — from Big Blue Bear to the River North Art District — I’m re­minded that art and artists are in­te­grated into ev­ery­thing. The arts of­ten em­body the most iconic and mem­o­rable sights of our cities and com­mu­ni­ties, and are the very ex­pres­sion of who we are. My vis­its to Denver show me that com­mu­nity is a core value — there is a strong sense of be­long­ing, of wel­com­ing oth­ers, of stand­ing by your neigh­bor, col­leagues, and friends.

Over the past few years how­ever, na­tional dis­course and po­lit­i­cal events have made many peo­ple feel that per­haps their com­mu­ni­ties are more frag­ile than pre­vi­ously thought. Our coun­try needs help to heal division, to in­spire im­por­tant di­a­logues, and to carry our com­mu­ni­ties to­ward their dreams of health, vi­brancy, and eq­uity. These chal­lenges re­quire the creative so­lu­tions and ideas of an artist’s mind, be­cause the arts wield the bold power to af­fect pos­i­tive change in our com­mu­ni­ties.

This week, Amer­i­cans for the Arts, the na­tion’s non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion for ad­vanc­ing the arts and arts ed­u­ca­tion, is bring­ing its an­nual Con­ven­tion to Denver. From across the coun­try, more than 1,000 arts lead­ers and their part­ners in creative busi­ness, ed­u­ca­tion, and gov­ern­ment will gather Thurs­day through Sun­day and ex­plore how the fu­ture of cul­ture and cre­ativ­ity rely on the on­go­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion and en­gage­ment of the en­tire com­mu­nity. Denver is holy ground for Amer­i­cans for the Arts, the site of its first con­ven­tion for lo­cal arts agen­cies al­most forty years ago, again twenty years ago, and now this week. Plan on us be­ing back here in 2038.

As an or­ga­ni­za­tion, we are pay­ing close at­ten­tion to artists as agents of change, and want to en­cour­age this work na­tion­wide. The Red­line Con­tem­po­rary Art Cen­ter’s Arts in So­ci­ety grant pro­gram is an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of this work, an­nu­ally fund­ing projects that use art to ad­dress so­cial is­sues and com­mu­nity needs across Colorado. They have funded projects rang­ing from a mul­ti­me­dia piece to high­light im­mi­gra­tion is­sues and the di­ver­sity of life ex­pe­ri­ences in Mon­tezuma County, to Colorado Black Arts Move­ment’s devel­op­ment of a per­for­mance piece fo­cus­ing on the rit­u­als of din­ner in house­holds in Denver’s Mon­te­bello neigh­bor­hood.

Many great ex­am­ples of com­mit­ment to com­mu­nity build­ing through the arts can be seen all over Denver. Like Su Teatro, a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary cul­tural arts cen­ter that de­vel­ops and pre­serves the cul­tural arts, her­itage, and tra­di­tions of the Chi­cano/ Latino com­mu­nity, and Won­der­bound, a pro­fes­sional theater of the com­mu­nity and for the com­mu­nity, which hosts a weekly dance party at Saint Fran­cis Cen­ter for peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness. And one of our con­ven­tion key­note speak­ers, Denver-based en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist and record­ing artist Ietef Vita, aka DJ Cavem, pro­motes healthy eat­ing through hip-hop — a pow­er­ful plat­form and cat­a­lyst for pos­i­tive change for a com­mu­nity suf­fer­ing an epi­demic of obe­sity and di­a­betes.

Vis­i­tors like me see the real power of cre­ativ­ity in Denver’s neigh­bor­hoods. Arts and cul­ture are not just part of a sto­ried past, but are at the heart of the city’s con­tem­po­rary iden­tity, pow­er­fully ex­press­ing who Den­verites have been, who they are, and who they hope to be.

It is im­por­tant to point out this con­nec­tion be­tween the arts and other com­mu­nity im­pacts so that artists, com­mu­nity mem­bers, ad­vo­cates, leg­is­la­tors, and cor­po­rate lead­ers all rec­og­nize and can­not deny this power and value. The arts drive progress–they cre­ate con­nec­tion, drive the econ­omy, and im­prove the so­cial well-be­ing of the places we call home.

Joe Amon, The Denver Post

Pat Mil­bery, artist work­ing with DPS on the Denver Pub­lic Schools Down­town Mu­ral Project paints along­side fourth grader Zach Kelsey, 10, from the Down­town Denver Ex­pe­di­tionary School on May 4.

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