What an amazing first day of the conference! From the compelling opening plenary on the role of philanthropy in rebuilding communities to the terrific dance party with Ozomatli during the evening reception, there is a palpable feeling of excitement for what still remains to come at the conference.
The opening plenary effectively used a multiple-perspective lens on city/regions at varying stages of recovery from the effects of crisis: Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Detroit. As an Angeleno, I’ve been deluged lately with all the “20th anniversary of the riots” local media pieces. It was nice to hear from moderator Manuel Pastor, a professor at USC, and the three great panelists who so capably described the community reaction to the riots: Marqueece Harris-Dawson, my longtime buddy Stewart Kwoh, and Antonia Hernández.
The two other cities/regions that were discussed prompted me to think about the crucial role that creativity, arts and culture, entrepreneurial spirit, and collaborations play in a place that desperately needs a new beginning. They’re effective tools that are used by people trying to rebuild and reimagine their communities, providing hope and vision for those who stay and face the devastating effects of abandonment.
Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures prompted New Orleans’ regrowth in extraordinary ways. There are more entrepreneurs than elsewhere in the nation, and, not surprisingly, a phenomenal increase in arts organizations. The people of New Orleans clearly know and believe in the power of local arts and culture to create and rebuild “home” and I think the city’s comeback will continue at a quicker pace because of this. With formidable resiliency, Detroit is also using the power of arts, culture, and design to come up with creative solutions to severe urban issues. There is tremendous work being done there by the creative community, transforming spaces via collaborative, entrepreneurial work.
At the Irvine Foundation, we have a long history of supporting arts organizations
because we believe in their power to transform communities by creating connections. That’s why it is so nice to see that arts groups are playing a central role in rebuilding these communities. And the commonly heard theme of crisis creating opportunities really struck me as I danced with so many of my foundation peers to the music of Ozomatli, a band that was born after the Los Angeles riots when its members met through their affiliation with the Peace and Justice Center of Los Angeles. What a fitting way to end a terrific and thought-provoking day at the conference.
Josephine Ramirez is program director at The James Irvine Foundation, a member of the Council on Foundations.