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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Janice Liebenberg: My CEO Alecia Kintner always says, show me a problem that there is not an art solution for. And so we believe first and foremost that the arts is such a great unifier and bringing people together of all races, religion, you know, age groups, And for us, you know, bridging cultural divides through the arts is actually a pillar.
And we have, you know, four other pillars that we have as part of our blueprint for collective action. And those include, you know, the arts can move the needle by putting Cincinnati on the map, deepening the roots for people who are already here. The arts can enliven neighborhoods, which restores a sense of pride into people living in that specific community.
It, you know, it increased property values for people. And then the arts also has the power to touch our youth and create meaningful arts educational opportunities for our kids in schools that will develop them and get them ready for the jobs of tomorrow, right?
And so a blueprint for collective action includes that the arts bridge, cultural divides and that is, you know, so key for us as we, we invest in the arts and, and how we schedule our programming and how we just feel that the arts can bring people together. No matter what divides us outside of the arts, the arts can bring us together.
Helen Todd: Janice Liebenberg is the Vice President of Equitable Arts Advancement at ArtsWave, a nonprofit with the first and largest community arts campaign in the country. You’ll learn why Creativity Squared is a proud partner of the amazing work they do supporting over 150 arts organizations, projects, and independent artists.
Janice 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 quarterly African-American art series called Flow, and leading its Black and Brown artists 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.
Janice was promoted to her newly created position to help make diversity, equity, inclusion, and access a hallmark of greater Cincinnati’s arts and culture sector.
Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, Janice earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Northern Kentucky University. She serves on the Cincinnati Opera’s Board of Directors and is the proud alumnus of We Lead, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Leadership program.
Since I met Janice and partnered with ArtsWave for Creativity Squared, I continue to be impressed and inspired by what she and ArtsWave does to create a more vibrant and connected community through the arts.
Today, I hope you’ll fall in love with ArtsWave as well, especially after learning about their approach to art, to bridge cultural divides and help build a more inclusive, equitable community. You’ll also learn about their upcoming Truth and Healing Artist Showcase at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center taking place this July 14th, 15th, and 16th.
I’ll also be interviewing all of the artists for the show, so this will be a nice preview. Enjoy.
Theme: But have you ever thought, what if this is all just a dream?
Helen Todd: Welcome to Creativity Squared. Discover how creatives are collaborating with artificial intelligence in your inbox, on YouTube, and on your preferred podcast platform. Hi, I’m Helen Todd, your host, and I’m so excited to have you join the weekly conversations I’m having with amazing pioneers in this space.
The intention of these conversations is to ignite our collective imagination at the intersection of AI and creativity to envision a world where artists thrive.
Janice, it is so good to have you on Creativity Squared. Welcome.
Janice Liebenberg: Thank you, Helen. It’s my pleasure to be here.
Helen Todd: Well, I know today’s episode is a little bit off from what we normally talk about, which is AI, but all of our listeners and viewers have heard about ArtsWave because we’re committed 10% of all revenue from Creativity Squared to go to ArtsWave.
And I’m so excited for the opportunity for our listeners and viewers and community to really understand the amazing organization you’re a part of and yeah. And why we support you and all the amazing work that you’re doing.
But before we dive into that,I wanted to kind of start off with why it’s so important to you and the work that you do as the Equitable Arts Advancement Vice President for ArtsWave.
Janice Liebenberg: Well, thank you, Helen. You know, first and foremost, you know, we appreciate your partnership. It came as quite a lovely surprise, and I just wanna thank you. And we welcome, you know, being part of your story and.
But yeah, so, I was born and raised in South Africa and I grew up, you know, under the apartheid rule. And, you know, not everybody’s story from South Africa is the same. It’s really where you were living, at the time.
You know, South Africa has provinces and so I grew up on the Western Cape and it really is, you know, what your background was and, you know, I’ve shared this with a lot of people, but I am multiracial, and I was born to, you know, parents who were already multiracial and then they got married.
It wasn’t like my mom was Black and my father was white and they had us as kids. No, it’s like they have already been pushed into a group population called, which at the time was called Colored. And they had me. And so, you know, I’m one of eight kids.
You grow up in South Africa, you see all the signs, that says whites only. And, coloreds go here and blacks go here. And, you know, you read and you watch the news about the devastation that happens all around the country.
You know, I, my story isn’t unique, you know. You know these things happen all over the world.
I’m just grateful that I’m alive to tell a little bit about my story, cuz that is not the case for everybody affected by apartheid.
But yes. Born and raised in South Africa where there was legalized racism for a very long time until we had our very first democratic election in ‘94. And I left South Africa quite frankly because I was in pursuit of higher education and it wasn’t gonna happen for me.
Growing up in South Africa, I have seven siblings and so, you know, what was important to my family was just to, you know, get us through high school, which they did.
And, but I had this desire to go to college and, you know, do a little bit more, you know, reach a higher, and, and that’s why I came to the United States in the summer of 1999 and just eventually stayed.
So what I bring to my job at ArtsWave is this lived experience of, you know, dealing with a system where it just 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.
Helen Todd: I love that. And for the people listening, just on the podcast version or audio version, Janice has a Nelson Mandela photo behind her, onscreen, just to, I guess punctuate and remind us, you know, 1994 wasn’t really that long ago in, in the big scheme of things.
And here in Cincinnati where we’re based, there’s still a lot of inequality. And one of the things that I really love about ArtsWave is the mission of like how arts can help build a more inclusive, equitable community. So this might be a great dovetail to like introduce ArtsWave and all the amazing work that you all do.
Janice Liebenberg: Yes, so ArtsWave has been around nearly a hundred years and, you know, we got our start in 1927 by two individuals, Anna Sinton Taft and Charles Phelps Taft, who at the time really wanted to see if the people of Cincinnati, at that time, and believed in the arts, enjoyed the arts, wanted the arts to be around for generations to come.
And what they did was they challenged the community to come together and raise two and a half million dollars in which the Tafts then matched, you know, the people’s contributions with a million dollars of their own money. And they raised that in a very short period of time, which, you know, was evident that the arts was important to the people of Cincinnati in 1927.
So they came together, people came together, raised two and a half million. The, the Tafts gave a million of their own money to create this endowment or savings account for the arts so that it is everything at that time – the assets, the art, the programs – would be around, four generations to come.
The Tafts also bequeathed their home and their entire art collection to the people of Cincinnati. That home today is the Taft Museum of Art. And so all of their personal collection is still there for everybody to enjoy.
So that’s a little bit about, you know, why ArtsWave exists. But, you know, everything we do as we are today, you know, we see ourselves as the engine for the arts in our community. And 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 we do at ArtsWave.
Helen Todd: And you’re a nationally recognized, but, if I understand correctly, like the largest national campaign to support the arts. Is that correct?
Janice Liebenberg: That is correct. So not only are we the first, again, we got our start in 1927, we are the largest in terms of number of donors that come together every year to give what they can so that, you know, we invest for our entire community to kind of, you know, rise together.
We also raise the most money just this year, actually just last week we announced that we raised 11.83 million that we now will turn right back around to invest in more than 150 arts organizations, and projects and independent artists that, you know, will do just what I said, which is, create that vibrant economy and that more connected community for all of us.
Helen Todd: That’s amazing. And congratulations. I know, when I emailed you last week, you all were celebrating on the accomplishment because it surpassed your goal. So congratulations.
Janice Liebenberg: Well, thank you. It hadn’t happened for us in a while, right? We had a pandemic and people changed how they see philanthropic endeavors. And, you know, for some that meant, they were sitting out a few years and couldn’t contribute.
You know, the pandemic hit everyone in a different way. And, but it is the first time that we could say that we have exceeded our goal, you know, since 2019.
Helen Todd: Amazing. And every year you have a different theme, right? And this year’s theme is, healing? Is that correct?
Janice Liebenberg: Well, for the campaign, the theme is created to grow. As we are looking back on, almost the past 100 years and what we have accomplished, you know, we are trying to lay the foundation for what’s to come for the next hundred years.
So ArtsWaves theme for this year is that we are created to grow and what can we grow today so that it is around for generations a hundred years from now? The healing component comes in more closely for one of the initiatives we are doing, which is directly related to our diversity, equity, inclusion and access strategy.
And that program for us is the Black and Brown Artists program, which is now in its third year. And, I can proudly say that,you know, after almost three years of doing this, ArtsWave has invested,more than $750,000 into this Black and Brown artists program, and we have commissioned nearly 70 new works as part of the program.
Now this program, as I said, three years old, is a brand new concept for ArtsWave because our investment is in independent artists. And ArtsWave has always been an organization that support other nonprofit arts organizations, right? And here we are investing in independent artists. And this program came about, you know, we have been in planning with the city of Cincinnati of doing something for independent artists for a long time.
But we were so fortunate that when the pandemic hit in 2020, you know, we could meet the moment with funding specifically for Black and Brown artists who didn’t have that safety net. As we think about all the CARES Act dollars that were distributed for organizations, independent artists didn’t have that safety net and we could meet the moment, in that time for these artists.
And so yeah, it’s been a wonderful, wonderful program. Not only do we invest dollars in these artists, you know, we showcase collectively their work in the summer every year. And we lean heavily on our arts partners, like the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Cincinnati Art Museum, you know, other institutions where, any given time, these individual artists or these independent artists would not have access to. And so we showcase them collectively, and we in a way, promote and invite the community in to come enjoy their work.
Helen Todd: Amazing. Thank you for sharing that. And for our listeners and viewers, the 10% of revenue that Creativity Squared, contributes to ArtsWave is actually earmarked for the Black and Brown grant, and directly supports these artists.
And the other very cool thing is the showcase is coming up in July, which we’ll dive more into and we’ll actually be interviewing the artists, so you’ll all will get to hear from them directly. And Creativity Squared will be another platform for them to share their artwork, which I am so excited about.
So why don’t we talk about some of the artists and the program that you have, coming in July. So anyone in the region who’s listening can participate and then everyone outside of Cincinnati will get a good tease for the interviews and some other stuff and how they can follow along online.
Janice Liebenberg: Absolutely. So it’s all very exciting. So in December we announced funding for 18 artists. And these artists for us not only have you know, African-American heritage or experience around, you know, Black Cincinnati, but they also bring to us experiences with Guatemalan heritage, Lebanese heritage, Zimbabwean, Somali.
So, you know, the Cincinnati region is such a welcoming region for immigrants. We actually get to work with these immigrant artists and they are part of the cohort this year. So we have 18 artists that are hard at work at the moment. And what you can expect, during the showcase, which is July 14th, 15th, 16th at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is of course a visual component.
So we have painters. We have a fashion designer, we have a sculptor, and then we have many filmmakers and composers and we even have a playwright, so there will be a table reading of a newly commissioned play. And the list goes on and on of the experiences that you can expect during that showcase weekend.
Luckily for us, the visual component will be around until the second weekend in September at the Freedom Center. So, that the visual component has a longer live, but then we’ll again activate some of the live performances, and films on July 30th in the Tubman Theater at the Freedom Center.
But yes, that’s just a little bit of what you can expect from this cohort as they are hard at work finishing their project, and getting ready for the showcase in July.
Helen Todd: That’s amazing. Well, I can’t wait to be there and meet the artists and then get to speak to them and share that out with our Creativity Squared community here too.
Janice Liebenberg: Thank you.
Helen Todd: One thing that in talking with you about our partnership that really stands out about ArtsWave is not only how you have your own DEIA program, but that you bake it into the how you award grants to the community as an amplifier effect of making sure that it’s not siloed just to ArtsWave.
So I’d really love for you to kind of talk about that cuz I know that this, you know, it’s specific to Cincinnati, but it’s in this region. But it’s such a beautiful template that other people who are listening, maybe it’s a seed for other cities and other organizations to think about too. So, how do you, how do you all, you mentioned your DEIA efforts and I think you have a blueprint for that, but can you expand on how you think about that and how you implement it?
Janice Liebenberg: Yes. So our diversity, equity, inclusion and access strategy, we call it lifting as we learn. And we first publicly shared the strategy in March of 2020. So we have developed 24 KPIs to hold ourselves at ArtsWave. And all of our arts partners who receive funding from the annual campaign that we run, we hold ourselves and our arts partners accountable around strategies which calls for increased sources for Black and Brown arts, but also the diversification of staff boards, vendors, and the diversification of all audiences across the arts sector.
So those are the things that we wanna touch on around our strategy. Yes, we have our strategy in mind when we do make available the grants to our arts partners. And I can share with you that 50 of our largest arts partners have their own board-approved diversity, equity, inclusion, and access strategies.
And that helps them, you know, and then it helps us as we make those grants available to our partners. But more than how the dollars are, you know, distributed to the partners, and into the community, you know, we feel that if the arts sector together doesn’t do it, you know, we become obsolete, right?
Our audiences are changing ever, ever so evolving and, and we need to create programming that is relevant and what people wanna see. And the way you do that is that you get in your room, you get in the room, on your staff, and on your board and on your volunteer base, the people, as it pertains to the makeup of the population. That’s how you get the programming and, and what’s relevant to the people in our community on your stages, in your museums, in our theaters.
So yeah, so that’s just a little bit about, you know, ArtsWave’s, diversity, equity inclusion strategy, and the way we have developed the KPIs and how we will get there for all of the sector to be relevant and produce what people want in our community.
Helen Todd: I’m so excited that you have this program and are really lifting the entire community through art. And I’d love for you to kind of speak to how ArtsWave looks at art as bridging cultural divides and how important that is right now in this moment in time too.
Janice Liebenberg: Yes, yes, of course. So my CEO Alecia Kintner always says, show me a problem that there is not an art solution for. And so we believe, first and foremost that the arts is such a great unifier and bringing people together of all races, religion, you know, age groups. And for us, you know, bridging cultural divides through the arts is actually a pillar.
And we have, you know, four other pillars that we have as part of our blueprint for collective action. And those include, you know, the arts can move the needle by putting Cincinnati on the map, deepening the roots for people who are already here. The arts can enliven neighborhoods, which restores a sense of pride into people living in that specific community.
It, you know, increase property values for people and then the arts also has the power to touch our youth and create meaningful arts educational opportunities for our kids in schools that will develop them and get them ready for the jobs of tomorrow, right?
And so a blueprint for collective action includes that the arts bridge cultural divides, and that is, you know, so key for us as we invest in the arts and how we schedule our programming and how we just feel that the arts can bring people together. No matter what divides us outside of the arts. The arts can bring us together.
Helen Todd: That’s beautiful and one big event that’s really putting Cincinnati on the map is Blink. I know that it’s not taking place this year, but did have a big event last year. Can you share a little bit about Blink and what makes that special and hnd how that highlights the region.
Janice Liebenberg: Yes, absolutely. So ArtsWave is proud to be the illuminator of Blink. So we are very involved as an organization who makes Blink possible for our community. What we do know from last year’s experience is that Blink brought in almost 2 million people to our region for over four nights, in October of 2022.
And the economic impact alone is more than a hundred million dollars for our region. You know, we saw art from local artists, but also from national and even international artists. And the way it puts Cincinnati on the map is that people, you know from Australia, talks about this light and arts festival that is happening right here in Cincinnati.
It is a wonderful way, as we saw that bring people. It is just the most, it is the most inclusive way to bring people together because there is art for everyone, you know, in my experience.
And not only was there a point, in the creation of the event to include local, diverse artists, but also recruit, you know, national and international diverse artists, to be part of the experience. So it’s a wonderful event for Cincinnati region, not just because of how it brings people together.
But bigger picture, the economic impact. You know, those people come here, they stay in our hotels, they eat at our restaurants, you know, that is the vibrant economy I already talked about. And then you bring in a community and how they connect, how connected they become around one event. And it’s all arts inspired, and that is our mission out there in a nutshell that what Blink did, that is our mission.
Helen Todd: Amazing. And for those who don’t know Blink, can you actually explain what it is. The, because it’s an arts and lights festival and, and I will say having gone to Burning Man and experienced like all the crazy art in the desert, Blink really kind of brings that Burning Man immersive art into the city of Cincinnati in a really amazing way.
So I think anyone who’s been to Burning Man would really appreciate Blink, but I’ll let you explain actually what Blink is.
Janice Liebenberg: Well, thanks Ellen. So I have not been to Burning Man, so I’m gonna try to just imagine, you know, what that really means for people out there because if it’s the same as Blink, you know, it sounds amazing.
So, Blink is an arts and light festival that happens in Cincinnati every two years in October. It is a way for artists to create new art. So think big scale murals that is activated through projection mapping. So a lot of lights that light up these murals. You know, it’s essentially, you know, multiple communities that’s involved.
It’s Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati. It’s the downtown core. It is Covington in Northern Kentucky across the river. So it’s a regional effort, if you will.
It is that what you can, what you’ll, what you can expect for next year, from prior experience that not only is it visual art that is projection mapped, it is also music. It’s a little bit of a music festival with stages all around the region. And this past year, the way that the Blink group executed this were in clusters. So they used pockets of areas in a neighborhood. And they concentrated it with murals and projection mapping and, of course, music.
And then they create a lot of hospitality around it. And then you can, you know, migrate from place to place to place to experience this, with your friends and family. And literally millions of people are on the street, dressed in costume because the first night of the event is a parade.
And so there are many floats, you know, organizations that, you know, dress up and build these floats with art in mind, inclusive art in mind, if I may add. And that a couple hour long event through the streets of Over-the-Rhine and the downtown core. But then everything activates what was unique.
For us in 2022 is that,the Blink team added the components of drones over the river. And so you, you could, you could sit on the banks of the Ohio River and you could experience these beautiful lightning lightning show put on by drones, and it was just magical, Helen. It was just very, very magical.
And it happened for four consecutive nights, so it’s not like, oh, it’s a one night and done. So, oh, I can’t make it this one night and so I’m gonna miss it. No, you have four opportunities to come out over that four day weekend to come and be part of the Blink experience.
And, you know, I was out every single night and, and I have three young kids and my husband and three young kids were out all four nights of Blink and they couldn’t get enough. It is just, it is not only an experience for everyone, but it’s a family friendly event. And so I highly recommend to anyone listening not from Cincinnati to put the dates mid-October of 2024 on your calendar to come out and experience Blink with us.
Helen Todd: I’m already looking forward to it. And I’ve enjoyed it so much and it was, it really is an impressive art festival. And for those who don’t know Cincinnati, there’s so many murals like that really are everywhere downtown. And to see the light projection, like there’s one that has birds, but with the light projection, they come to life and fly over the mural and stuff.
It’s, it really is a special event that the region hosts.
Janice Liebenberg: Yes, it is. Agreed. 100%.
Helen Todd: Well, one thing I love about Blink is that, you know, you mentioned the inclusion of like the artists locally, nationally, internationally, and the diverse audiences. And I think one thing also that stands out so much about ArtsWave is that when you think about your DEIA efforts that you’re not just elevating the artists themselves, but thinking about inclusion from the audiences too, and making sure that those who experience the art are just as representative of the artists themselves.
So I was wondering if you could kind of, I love the holistic approach, kind of expand on that more and maybe dovetail more into the full blueprint and holistic approach to your DEIA efforts too
Janice Liebenberg: Yes, you know, I’ve already mentioned this, but ArtsWave is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and access, right? We started this journey by acknowledging the inequities in our society and, you know, we are committed to accelerating and expanding programs and investments that just will support the elimination of the systemic racism and more importantly, bridge cultural divides in our community.
So when we rolled out our blueprint of collective action in 2015, you know, bridging cultural divides was, you know, front and center for us. And then with everything that happened in 2020, you know, we kinda doubled down on our investment and our investment really since I now have shared that we rolled out the blueprint in 2015, our investment has been a continuation of initiatives driven by the commitment to diversify, you know, audiences.
And then of course, you know, create greater equity, have more inclusion and make arts just accessible to everyone who call the Cincinnati region home. And so part of our strategy was creating an African-American art series, which we called Flow, an African-American arts experience. It, you know, we launched Flow in February of 2020, but by then it was a combination of years of planning with many leaders in our community.
And you know, what happened? In February of 2020, everything shut down after we launched this program, but what it was designed to be at that time was to feature quarterly performances by renowned Black artists and ensembles from around the world, working in various disciplines, and the goal of the series was to grow the demand and the appreciation for expressions of Black arts and culture.
And while we’re doing that, we are hoping to create that culturally curious audience in the process. So not only do we want to invite African-American or Black artists to Cincinnati that would not otherwise come here, we want the people of Cincinnati, we want an audience that is culturally curious, that wanna go out and see, you know, what it is we are bringing to a stage or a theater through the Flow initiative.
Now again, we shut down things after we launched, and then we successfully relaunched in December of 2021 by bringing in Norm Lewis, who is this rockstar Broadway personality. And we brought him in for two nights in December of 2021. And he did his, you know, holiday cabaret, which was fantastic.
But what we’re trying to do with this program is so multifaceted. First, we wanna bring in that artistic excellence that wouldn’t come here. Number two, we wanna create this culturally curious audience. Number three, we want to create an experience for, you know, African-American talent recruited from elsewhere by the top companies in our region that there is something for them to do here.
And then, number four, and there’s probably a number five and number six too. But number four is that, you know, the audience that come to the Flow experience is representative of the community. It is not all African-American. No, it is that as diverse as the word diverse can get.
That there is white people in the audience coming to see what’s on stage because they are culturally curious, right? And so Flow is just at the heart of, you know, the audience diversification problem we have, or challenge we have or challenge we see in the community when our arts partners do the work by bringing in shows,you know, that is an African-American story, you know, they have a hard time, selling tickets, to a diverse audience.
They have a hard time drawing in everyone that usually come to buy their tickets. And so it is something that we see across the board for our arts sector. And so this is an opportunity for ArtsWave to lend its muscle to bring in, you know, these experiences or to latch onto shows and exhibits and performances coming to Cincinnati and invite, you know, our Black and white audience and everybody in between to come and experience this and perhaps have a social hour before the event.
And that’s how you keep inviting these people to come in. They come, they see, they enjoy, and hopefully tomorrow they buy their own ticket to go see that show that they would not normally see.
Helen Todd: Yeah, I love that. And I think just setting the stage for everyone, like, we just had an interview with Adobe, like creativity for all and just embracing that art really is for all and not one audience, even if it’s the expression or the story from one artist, but it’s really inclusive for everyone to participate and enjoy.
So I love that you’re creating that space in Cincinnati.
Janice Liebenberg: Well, thank you. We have a long way to go. You know, this is not going to be a strategy for us that is just short-lived. I think that, you know, audiences, as communities and populations within the communities can continue to evolve, you know, this is something that everyone will have to work on, for a long time, you know, to remain relevant and to have the programming that is important to everyone in the community.
Helen Todd: I think that’s great. And I know the show also incorporates artificial intelligence and there’s studies out there that, you know, people aren’t meeting up in person as much as in the past as far as civic engagement.
And there’s a loneliness epidemic and just the need for in-person communities coming together is just so needed in general, but especially, events that bring, you know, diverse audiences to really start healing a lot of this inequality is so needed right now. And I love that ArtsWave is really ushering that in, in this region.
Janice Liebenberg: Well, thank you, thank you so much really. It’s important. It is important. When we had no art, you know, during the pandemic, we saw the need for, you know, encouraging our arts partners to meet the audience where they’re at. And, you know, what happened in our community didn’t happen in every community, and our arts sector didn’t, you know, kind of is better off than other communities, if I can say that, because of the investment, from ArtsWave, and really the people that contribute to the campaign every year.
This is, ArtsWave, it’s truly by the people, for the people. And the art that came out during the pandemic was just a wonderful way for our art sector to continue to do what they do and just meet the people where they’re at because it was so needed and continue to be, you know, a way for our people to wanna be engaged in.
And because there’s such healing qualities in the arts. It’s just the way as social human beings, that’s how we wanna engage. And we’re grateful for what we have here and, and how we as a sector can continue to serve the community.
Helen Todd: That’s beautiful. One thing that, you know, I really love about art is also, you know, the expression of artists and sharing their story and translating moments in time in different ways and mediums.
And that you have these themes, for the Black and Brown grant and showcase. And this year’s is truth and healing, which is such, you know, a beautiful theme for these artists to translate. So I’d love to hear more about that theme and if you wanted to share about some past themes since this was really born out of the pandemic too.
Janice Liebenberg: Yes, thank you. So yeah, we said that we really met the moment in 2020 when we realized that independent artists didn’t have that safety net that others may have had. And the theme in 2020, which we really, you know, rolled out in 21, came about, and the theme was Truth and Reconciliation.
So we absolutely, for the first year when we rolled this program out, wanted to hear everyone’s truth. We were prepared to only hear truth, as the artists were creating. But, you know, little did we know that the artists were gonna give us glimmers of hope and steps to reconcile with what is happening in our country in 2020.
And so, since then, you know, the theme has evolved. In 2022, we saw a lot of truth but also inspiration. You know, the artists’ work just inspired us and gave us so much more hope that in year three, we were hoping to take it even a step further, you know, we’ve had tons of truth, we were hoping to reconcile if there was a path for reconciliation.
We saw tremendous inspiration through the art. And then this year we were asking the artists if they could imagine sharing their truth, but also let us understand if, in creating the art that there is a path toward healing or rebirth or reconnecting.
And what you will see, during the showcase, in July, are just that, and I’ll touch on a few of the artists and the work that they have been doing. So we have a sculptor, his name is Michael Coppage. His project is called The 12 Commandments, and it is essentially a series of sculptures that he has been able to create through this commissioned program with ArtsWave.
And his project is a play on the 10 Commandments from the Bible. and it is just that it is commands and in his project it is the commands that police officers bark out to Black men during any type of altercation. So hands behind your back, you know, head on the floor, you know, all these commands that they bark out to, to young Black men, before arrest.
He’s putting that into sculptures. So you will see the commands and these beautiful bronzes that he has created. There’s now four in the series, and then of course he has accompanied with a video that is, you know, a heartbeat. You can hear a heartbeat. And then, you see the different commands in video, but then you see where he is in his journey with the sculptures, as his project is 12 Commandments.
You’ll also see a project by an artist named Brent Billingsley, where he is creating dialogue between the youth of Cincinnati and the police department. So there is more dialogue and interaction in art-making that come to that, as these groups, you know, these young men, young kids, it’s not just men, it’s all young kids, so it’s the youth of Cincinnati, and meaningful interaction with police officers so that their first encounter with a police officer is positive, right?
And that they, that there is, you know, building of trust between young kids and these figures of authority in the community. And we bring them together by making art. That is a project, by Brent Billingsley.
And he calls it, “I’m listening” or as his project for this year is, “I’m Still Listening,” as it’s a build on, what he’s been doing for the last couple years by convening youth and police officers to build that relationship so that the first encounter for a young person with a police officer, this person of authority is not negative but indeed it is positive.
And then, you know, we have a Mezo-American artist, her name is Rebecca Nava Soto. And her project is, you know, just about healing and how people heal differently. And it is an immersion project. So you actually will walk through, you know, pieces of art hanging from a ceiling and you can see yourself, you know, through the art.
And all while you are experiencing these pieces of art that is inspired from Mezo-America, you know, and you can, you know, her project invites you to leave something behind and then take something with you. You know, what is it that you wanna leave behind today, and what is it that you wanna see more of in your life? And part of her project also, there was a cacao, you know, drinking ritual, and the healing benefits around that.
So very true to the theme of truth and healing and how people, you know, are healing and what they need to do to heal. And so that is Rebecca Nava Soto. And then, one artist, Desirae Hosley, she, her project, which will manifest itself in the showcase as a short film, she hosted, you know, these panel discussions with artists in the community and then invite the community in.
And she really wanted these artists to share with the community if they are truly healing through their art-making from the last couple of years, and what healing means to them as individuals and what they hope healing means to others when the community experience their art.
So those are just a, you know, a couple of examples of the art and the artists that participates in this year’s showcase, which again, will happen, July 14th, 15th and 16th at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. We really invite anyone to come out to experience – it’s a free event.
The museum is not free, but, if you come to see the showcase, you know it’s free admission for you. So, please come out, you know, as many of you as possible to support these artists as they are sharing their truth first and foremost, and how we as a community can heal together through art. Please come out and support them.
Helen Todd: It is so powerful. I got chills hearing about some of the projects and I think the, “I’m Still Listening” just epitomizes how art can really bridge divides and communities so beautifully. So I’m so excited to see all of the artwork. And one thing too that,I know people, when I say I live in Cincinnati now, don’t always know about the Freedom Center and how important this region was in the Underground Railroad.
Janice Liebenberg: For our artists, it is important, that they have a voice in this Smithsonian-affiliated institute, whose mission is to eradicate, you know, all types of slavery, you know, as it happened in the past, as it happened. Today, I know there’s, you know, slavery shows up in so many forms still today.
Then this institution is here in our community to just eradicate that. And so for our artists, it is, you know, an honor, to showcase their work at this institution, because it is a much needed initiative and effort and the, just the relevance of where it is and, and what it means to the community, you know, they wanna be part of that.
Helen Todd: That’s beautiful. Well, is there anything else that you wanna leave us with and the listeners and viewers before we sign off today?
Janice Liebenberg: Yes, yes. Thank you, Helen. I wanna thank you and Creativity Squared specifically, and first and foremost for the collaboration, you know, as we continue to, you know, make more resources available for our Black and Brown independent artists, which is, you know, you know where you have committed your support will be.
And so I wanna thank you for that. I wanna thank you for the opportunity to, you know, speak a little bit with your listeners and, and share the ArtsWave story first as a whole, as we’ve been here, in this community for nearly a hundred years, and we hope to be here for the next a hundred years.
And the foundation that we are growing today, not just through our commitment, in diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. But also our commitment to bridge cultural divides, our commitment to, you know, create a more vibrant economy and create a more connected community for everybody living in this region.
You know, if there is anything that I have said today that touches any of your listeners, you know, we hope you are curious enough to wanna learn a little bit more, to be part of our journey, whether it is to, you know, volunteer for us or, you know, you know, give what you can so that we pay it forward.
If you are so inclined to learn a little bit more, we invite you to visit ArtsWave.org for more information. And thank you. Thank you for the opportunity.
Helen Todd: Oh my goodness. The pleasure is mine. And it’s such an honor to support such an amazing organization that’s really, I know just living your values and making such an amazing and positive impact in the community.
So the pleasure’s all mine. So thank you so much, Janice, for all of your time. And hopefully we’ll see each other before mid-July, but I will definitely be seeing you mid-July for the showcase.
Janice Liebenberg: Yes, yes. I think we will. And we look forward to hearing our artists on your program because they will share their stories firsthand.
And so that’s the come-to, so we’re just grateful for the opportunity. And yes, I hope to see you soon. Thank you so much.
Helen Todd: Thank you for spending some time with us today. We’re just getting started and would love your support. Subscribe to Creativity Squared on your preferred podcast platform and leave a review. It really helps and I’d love to hear your feedback. What topics are you thinking about and want to dive into more?
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Theme: Just a dream, dream, AI, AI, AI