NASAA Notes: December 2016


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Pam Breaux

December issue
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December 9, 2016

SAAs and Trauma Response

As our country experiences a heightened divide, many of us who work in the arts seek opportunities to inspire the compassion and empathy that will be needed for our communities to find pathways to healing and peace. Many of us also seek opportunities provided by the arts to assist communities in expressing and wrestling with the tough issues that lie before Americans. As our country continues to experience civic discord, unrest, acts of violence and other social traumas, it is difficult for many to focus on our common humanity and the important characteristics that bind us to each other. Certainly this is a time when the arts are most needed to move us toward productive discourse, understanding, hope and the vision of a united and inclusive America that is just for all.

As members of the state arts agency community, we work to serve all citizens, and at this time in particular, we’re keenly interested in addressing the widespread trauma our citizens now face. At the recent NASAA Assembly, ArtsReady Director Mollie Quinlan-Hayes and I cofacilitated a conversation about responding to community trauma. On an early Saturday morning in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a group of colleagues engaged in a discussion about current state arts agency practices in addressing trauma. In today’s post-election moment, it seems fitting to share some observations from that conversation. You won’t be surprised to read that several state arts agencies and constituent organizations provided a variety of resources and services, such as:

  • free outdoor concerts that allowed citizens to gather as communities to experience beauty and cohesiveness;
  • arts therapists visiting schools to help students process shock and trauma and begin to heal through art making;
  • new music and visual art created and shared as central components of community commemorations and vigils; and
  • connecting artists and arts organizations in need to recovery resources.

The group conversation confirmed that many state arts agency skill sets are especially important during times of crisis and trauma: connecting people to resources, listening, convening, grant making and serving as mediators. Yet certain activities that promote recovery specifically following mass trauma are crucial to bring to bear, such as those designed to promote a sense of safety and calm, a sense of being able to solve problems, connectedness to social support, and hope. Partnering with the professional mental health care community is advisable for agencies seeking to work in this realm. Community recovery and healing are complex issues, and multidisciplinary, integrated approaches to this work will likely lead to the most productive outcomes.

Our colleagues at the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness and Emergency Response (NCAPER) will soon publish an on-line tool that promises to be helpful to the arts service community responding to trauma and emergencies. Its cultural place-keeping guide will lead observers through the development of a communications and response network that is designed to help you respond to any type of community crisis. NASAA will let you know when that new resource is available. On the crisis and trauma grant-making front, NCAPER offers practical guidance when designing grants programs to meet the needs of community in trauma:

  • Your grants should be responsive to the needs expressed by the field.
  • Assessment is a critical process for understanding community needs and issues, and accordingly planning your response.
  • Help artists and arts organizations in parity, if possible. This principle has proved especially meaningful when arts agencies respond to the aftermath of emergencies with broad community impacts, where artists are often underserved in contrast to other sectors of the community.
  • Make grants according to need and potential impact (don’t make artistic merit the leading criterion).
  • Lighten up on earned income or matching requirements whenever possible. This will help you not add to community trauma already being experienced.

(The above recommendations were adapted from NCAPER’s Essential Guidelines for Arts Responders Organizing in the Aftermath of Disaster; the complete text is helpful when responding to both emergencies and trauma.)

Our colleagues at ArtPlace America recently worked with the Urban Institute to explore intersections between arts and public safety. Their observations are not only instructive for arts based placemaking, but for agencies seeking to serve citizens by enhancing community well-being; their ideas are adaptable for dealing with community trauma. They lift up five categories of programming where the arts can contribute to public safety:

  • projects that promote empathy and understanding
  • projects that influence law and policy
  • projects that provide career opportunities
  • projects that support well-being
  • projects that advance quality of place

Learn more in Exploring the Ways Arts and Culture Intersect with Public Safety.

As additional resources that appear most helpful for state arts agency responses to community trauma come to our attention, we’ll be pleased to share them with you.

In this Issue

State to State

Legislative Update

More Notes from NASAA

From the CEO

Research on Demand




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