Animating Democracy mounts periodic convenings focusing on arts for change that support the exchange of knowledge, examination of practices, and discussion of arts for change work within and across sectors.


Major past convenings include:

National Exchange on Art & Civic Dialogue, October 2003
Exemplar Program Convenings, 2005-2007


National Exchange on Art & Civic Dialogue, October 2003 

Americans for the Arts held the Animating Democracy National Exchange on Art & Civic Dialogue in October 2003 in Flint, Michigan. Called “one of the signal arts events of the last decade" by Linda Frye Burnham of the Community Arts Network, this national conference shared the learning and findings of the four-year initiative phase of Animating Democracy. Over 200 people attended from across the United States as well as from Japan, Paraguay, and Australia. The Exchange offered a multifaceted exploration of the philosophical, practical, and aesthetic aspects of arts and humanities activity that intends to stimulate civic dialogue on important contemporary issues. It did this through:

  • 24 sessions [hot link] highlighting Animating Democracy and other projects; notes are available for selected sessions;
  • an inspiring presentation (PDF) by featured speaker Grace Lee Boggs, activist, philosopher, and cultural worker from Detroit;
  • a captivating groupspeak (PDF) poem by writer and activist Alice Lovelace, presented at the closing session
  • two full-evening art experiences featuring Flint Youth Theatre’s production of Alien Soil (with related dialogue opportunity) and a Hair Party by Urban Bush Women;
  • showings and discussions in the Video Space, featuring work from Animating Democracy projects;
  • opening and closing sessions that framed the weekend around concepts of civically engaged arts and humanities, democracy, and what has been and should be Animating Democracy’s story.

The National Exchange on Art & Civic Dialogue was brought to fruition October 9-12, 2003 in Flint, Michigan. Animating Democracy, has always seen its place as part of a continuum of work, a rich history, and simultaneously learning from as well as contributing to both arts and civic discourse. So this conference intended to look forward as well as back at the work of its first four years. Many pioneering artists, cultural leaders, activists, and, dialogue professionals joined us to share the roots of this work as well as their current work. Many young artists joined us as well. Both these veterans and new voices helped to challenge, deepen, and advance the discourse. By all reports, the meeting succeeded in leading participating artists, cultural organizers, community and civic leaders, dialogue practitioners, and scholars, individually and collectively, to some motivating ideas and actions. A full account of the event by Linda Burnham has been posted on the Community Arts Network.

We were extremely honored to welcome Grace Lee Boggs as our featured presenter. She was an inspiration for all throughout the conference. Her sixty years of political involvement encompass the major U.S. social movements of this past century: Labor, Civil Rights, Black Power, Asian American, Women's and Environmental Justice. In Detroit, she and her late husband, auto worker, labor activist, and writer James Boggs, forged social action and cultural interest to found Detroit Summer and the Boggs Center. Through their efforts, they have brought generations together, reclaimed city spaces, and enabled the creative and political voices of Detroit to be heard. To view her plenary speech, These are the times that try our souls, and the groupspeak piece, Answering the Call of the Drums presented by Alice Lovelace on the final day of the Exchange, visit Deepening the Discourse.

Flint, Michigan has faced many civic, social, and economic challenges. But, the city is taking its future seriously, “creating a new story,” and multiple movements are afoot to foster community change. Arts and culture are active players and leaders in these community transformation efforts. The Flint-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ruth Mott Foundation, and Community Foundation of Greater Flint embraced the National Exchange as an opportunity to reflect upon their own efforts in a national context as well as to highlight them. Through their generous support to of the Exchange, Animating Democracy worked to link artists, dialogue practitioners, and cultural leaders attending the Exchange with Flint cultural planning, race relations, and other civic and cultural activity. These focused in-the-community exchanges happened before, during, and after the conference. Many Flint civic, cultural, education, and philanthropic leaders who engage at the crossroads of art and civic life joined the conference as active participants throughout the National Exchange.

During the Exchange, multiple sessions were offered concurrently in addition to plenary sessions and special evening events. Participants chose between case study, issues, practice, art focus, or perspectives sessions or used the Animating Democracy Café and the Video Space for informal and impromptu sessions. Notes from selected sessions are available here

Americans for the Arts presented the National Exchange on Art and Civic Dialogue, with support from the Ford Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Ruth Mott Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.

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Exemplar Program Convenings & Reports

The Exemplar Program provided two years of support (2005-2007), totaling $150,000 to each of 12 small to midsized arts and cultural organizations nationwide. These organizations were recognized for outstanding cultural work in their communities and in the field, based on their participation in the Animating Democracy program of Americans for the Arts and the Working Capital Fund. Supported by the Ford Foundation, the two-year Exemplar Program aimed to foster a holistic and integrated approach to organizational health, institutional growth, civic engagement, and aesthetic investigation. The Exemplar Program also supported the learning interests of Exemplar participants and facilitated collective and collaborative learning that included and benefited the broader field.


Report on the Animating Democracy/Working Capital Fund Exemplars Convening [PDF]
December 7 – 9, 2005

Representatives from the 12 small and mid-sized organizations participating in the Exemplar Program convened for the first time in December 2005 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Recognized for outstanding cultural work in their communities and in the field based on their participation in Animating Democracy and the Working Capital Fund, the groups explored topic areas related to aesthetic investigation, institutional health and capacity, and civic engagement.  From the convening, a report was compiled by Caron Atlas.  With implications for the entire field, it summarizes key topics areas in relation to challenges and opportunities among cohort members.

Shaping a Critical Discourse: A Report on the Joint Convening of Artography: Arts in a Changing America and the Animating Democracy/ Working Capital Fund Exemplar Program [PDF]
by Caron Atlas

In May 2007, grantees from the Animating Democracy/Working Capital Fund Exemplar programs and the Artography program, both supported by The Ford Foundation, met together in Chicago to share their experiences and consider ways they might draw on the collective power of their work.  The resulting report, Shaping a Critical Discourse, written by Caron Atlas, explores the topics of aesthetics, new ways of working, and leadership taken up at the cohort-designed gathering. The convening revealed and embraced the creative tensions and contradictions of working in the context of changing demographics, engaging generational shifts and new approaches to collaborative community practices, having diverse value-based structures, and being a cultural agent of change. Session-by-session summaries and resources from the meetings are posted along with the report.

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