29th Annual Alliance of Artists Communities Conference Proves its Relevance in Offering Timely Program

Julia Tolo, institutional giving manager - November 13, 2019

AAC conference participants pose together for a group photo. (Alliance of Artists Communities photo)

More than 300 participants including representatives from at least 150 artist communities gathered in St. Paul, MN, at the end of October for the Alliance of Artist Communities’ (AAC) Annual Conference. I had the opportunity to attend this year’s summit, which was designed around the theme of Fair Practice, to explore how “programs that engage artists are evolving their processes and practices to be stable yet responsive.” As a founding member of the alliance, The MacDowell Colony is committed to the alliance’s mission to “advocate for and support artist communities, to advance the endeavors of artists.” It’s a consortium that has grown from an original 18 arts organizations in 1991 to more than 400 organizations and individuals today. Resident Director David Macy served on its board of directors and former Executive Director Cheryl Young served two terms as chair. Our Fellows, staff, and board all participate in the community that the alliance supports.

Sessions like “Equitable Capacity Ramp-Up,” which was led by AAC Executive Director Lisa Funderburke Hoffman, along with “International Cultural Exchange, Mobility, and The Future of U.S. Civil Society” and “Centering Staff Well-Being” offered much valuable information. There was also a well-attended session called “Ask-a-Funder,” where participants could chat with representatives from foundations like the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Knight Foundation to learn about their funding priorities and interests. It became clear from the sessions I attended that the AAC is more relevant today than ever and that MacDowell is not alone in facing challenges of sustainability, equity, staff well-being, and increasing international exchange. Clearly, the Alliance’s leadership is acutely aware of these issues and is addressing them head on through its conference programming.

Finally, I appreciated that the 2019 conference put artists at the center of the conversation with daily artist spotlights, including performances by actor, dancer, and playwright Sun Mee Chomet, guzheng player Jarrelle Barton, and others, as well as visits to local art hubs including the Minnesota Museum of American Art, Juxtaposition Arts, and Frogtown Farm. As Lisa Funderburke Hoffman said during one of her introductions, “lead with the artists!”

As a first-time attendee, it became clear that those who work in the residency field do so out of love for the arts and artists who make that art. This year’s conference served as a reminder of that and of the value that work holds in the wider world.