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Helen Todd is co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared and the human behind Creativity Squared.
Creativity Squared Episode Cover Art Featuring Janice Liebenberg
Through her position as Vice President of Equitable Arts Advancement at ArtsWave, Janice Liebenberg is helping to make diversity, equity, inclusion, and access a hallmark of Greater Cincinnati’s arts and culture sector.

Ep9. Janice Liebenberg: Art Bridges Cultural Divides

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Ep9. Art Bridges Cultural Divides: Discover the Power of Art as a Great Unifier with Janice Liebenberg, VP of Equitable Arts Advancement at ArtsWave 

On the ninth episode of Creativity Squared, we delve into how the country’s oldest and largest community arts campaign is bridging cultural divides, expanding the audience for BIPOC artists, and investing in the future of Cincinnati by breaking down barriers for creators and audiences. 

Creativity Squared guest, Janice Liebenberg, is Vice President of Equitable Arts Advancement at ArtsWave. She joined ArtsWave in 2014, and has helped the organization grow relationships with BIPOC artists, audiences, and donors. This includes establishing the region’s largest annual grants program for Black and Brown arts organizations; developing ArtsWave’s quarterly African American arts series called Flow; and leading its Black and Brown Artist Program with nearly 70 artists commissions to date. 

Because it’s important to support artists, 10% of all revenue Creativity Squared generates goes to ArtsWave and is earmarked for its Black and Brown Artist Program that Janice champions.

“Everything we do and invest in is to create a more vibrant economy and a more connected community. Those are the two things that drive everything.” 

Janice Liebenberg

Janice Liebenberg at the Cincinnati Art Museum

As a multiracial person born in South Africa during the Apartheid government’s policy of legalized racism, Janice understands the ways that art, community, and equity are so interconnected.   

“What I bring to my job at ArtsWave is this lived experience of dealing with a system that discriminates against certain groups of people. And it is important to me today, in my job, that we make opportunities available to everyone in our community.”

Janice Liebenberg

Janice tells us how ArtsWave seeks to create opportunities both real and intangible. ArtsWave provides financial opportunities like direct grants to independent artists and opportunities for the local economy to benefit from art events as well as opportunities for communities to connect deeper within themselves and with each other. 

Asha Daniels, Black and Brown Grant Recipient

The Black and Brown Artists Program  

ArtsWave’s Black and Brown Artist Program provides grant funding directly to independent artists of color to help get their endeavors off the ground. Since its founding in 2020 over the past three years, the program has distributed almost $750,000 to artists of every discipline and commissioned nearly 70 new works of art. 

“No matter what divides us outside of the arts, the arts can bring us together. I bring to my job at ArtsWave is this lived experience of dealing with a system that discriminates against certain groups of people. And it is important to me today, in my job, that we make opportunities available to everyone in our community.”

Janice Liebenberg

ArtsWaves doesn’t just provide opportunities for BIPOC artists to create art. The non-profit also strives to expand audiences for the work they support. The program puts on an annual showcase. This year, 18 artists will exhibit works that speak to the theme of “Truth and Healing” at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center July 14-16 and July 30, with the visual arts exhibition in place through September 10. Learn more about the artists on our blog and stay tuned as Creativity Squared will be interviewing all of the artists during the event and bringing them onto the podcast!

Janice says the program was a critical lifeline for the art community during the initial shock of the pandemic.

“We were so fortunate that we could meet the moment with funding, specifically for Black and Brown artists who didn’t have that safety net. All the [CARES Act] dollars that were distributed for organizations, and independent artists didn’t have that.”

Funding from ArtsWave helped support independent artists when lockdowns and financial distress drove many in the arts to seek a steady paycheck instead of artistic inspiration. 

Creating a ‘Culturally Curious’ Audience

In supporting artists seeking to share their truth and working to bridge cultural divides through art, Janice says that one of the big challenges she and artists face is audience diversification which is also important to ArtsWave’s approach to their diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) initiatives. How do you get people to leave their comfort zone to attend a show that doesn’t reflect, or maybe even contradicts, their lived experience? 

That’s one of the driving forces behind ArtsWaves ‘Flow Series’ Initiative, which features quarterly performances from renowned Black artists and ensembles from around the country whose work is unique and exciting. 

“The goal of the series was to grow the appreciation for Black arts and culture. And we are hoping to create that culturally curious audience in the process. So not only do we want to invite Black artists to Cincinnati, we want an audience that wants to go see what it is we’re bringing to a theater or stage.”

Janice Liebenberg

Janice shares that if the arts sector together doesn’t do it, they become obsolete. Audiences are ever-changing and we need to create programming that is relevant. And the way you do that is you get people in the room, on your staff, on your board, and on your volunteer base as it pertains to the makeup of the population.

In many ways, ArtsWave’s attempts to attract wide audiences have been a great success. Janice says that their work in that regard is benefitting the Cincinnati community far beyond its art scene. 

City-Wide Immersive Light Art with BLINK 

BLINK is a large-scale, immersive art event that takes over downtown Cincinnati for four nights every two years with dazzling light shows, multi-story murals, large-scale projection mapping, synchronized drone flights, and music performances. The most recent BLINK, in October 2022, brought in over 2 million attendees and generated an estimated economic impact of $126 million for the Cincinnati area. Approximately $1.5 million dollars went directly to artists through commissions, honorariums, and art fees. 
As a major sponsor and partner of BLINK, Janice says that ArtsWave is accomplishing both of their missions to create a vibrant economy and foster community connection. 

“It’s the most inclusive way to bring people together, because there is art for everyone. There is a point of the event to include local, diverse artists, and also recruit national and international artists. So it’s a wonderful event for the Cincinnati region. People come stay in our hotels, they eat at our restaurants. That is the vibrant economy I talked about. And then you bring in a community and how connected they become around one event and it’s all arts inspired.”

Janice Liebenberg

Behind the bright lights, the exhibitions, and the events, Janice says that ArtsWave works just as hard to push for diversity, equity, inclusion, and access as a normal part of doing business. 

Lifting As We Learn

ArtsWave’s 2023 fundraising campaign was their most successful since 2019, blowing past the organization’s goal and raising $11.85 million dollars! But once you’ve raised the money, how do you decide where it will go? More importantly: how do you ensure that funding is supporting the programs it’s intended to? 

ArtsWave answers that question with their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access Strategy. It’s a rubric of sorts, outlining 24 metrics that ArtsWave uses to assess both its own policies/practices as well as the organizations they support. 

“We are committed to accelerating and expanding programs and investments that will support the elimination of systemic racism and, more importantly, bridge cultural divides in our community.” 

Janice Liebenberg

Metrics include evidence of increased funding for Black and Brown Arts, but also the diversification of staff, boards, vendors, and the diversification of all audiences across the art sector. In order to receive funding from ArtsWave, organizations also need to demonstrate DEIA efforts, amplifying ArtsWave’s approach to truly uplift the entire region to become a more inclusive, equitable community.

“We are trying to lay the foundation for what’s to come for the next 100 years.”

Janice Liebenberg

It all comes back to the Blueprint for Collective Action, ArtsWave’s 10-year master plan for invigorating the Cincinnati region through the Arts. It rests on five assertions: arts put Cincinnati on the map, arts deepen roots in the region through community engagement, arts bridge cultural divides by celebrating diversity, arts enliven neighborhoods by building civic pride, and arts fuel creativity and learning. Janice hopes that their work now will have benefits far beyond the scope of their 10-year plan. 

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Thank you, Janice, for being our guest on Creativity Squared.

This show is produced and made possible by the team at PLAY Audio Agency: https://playaudioagency.com.  

Creativity Squared is brought to you by Sociality Squared, a social media agency who understands the magic of bringing people together around what they value and love: http://socialitysquared.com.

Because it’s important to support artists, 10% of all revenue Creativity Squared generates will go to ArtsWave, a nationally recognized non-profit that supports over 150 arts organizations, projects, and independent artists.

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