Bringing together artists, community leaders, and neighborhood residents is a unique way to create change in under-served communities. Linda Steele, the Chief Community Engagement Officer with ArtsMemphis, is a nationally recognized leader who focuses on bringing these three groups together and ensuring that “the arts” extends beyond the traditionally recognized and established museums and performing organizations to embrace new audiences and positive social outcomes.
National recognition was recently bestowed upon Steele’s ArtsMemphis Community Engagement Fellows program. Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America, awarded the esteemed Robert E. Gard award to the fellowship program. The award recognizes and celebrates exemplary work at the intersection of the arts and community life. Having worked with Steele, we know that this program certainly meets the criteria.
Under Steele’s direction the program engages artists, arts managers, neighborhood leaders, and residents. They create projects that use the arts as a vehicle for social change and empowerment in disenfranchised Memphis neighborhoods. Fellows learn to listen to the needs of residents and collaborate on artistic projects that spring from and uplift the neighborhoods. Steele draws on her experience as an arts administrator and consultant with educational and arts nonprofit institutions in New York City, Cleveland and Chicago. She teaches by example, sharing her experience in program and grant management, fundraising, and audience and donor development. She believes that art can create change in under-resourced communities, and help improve the quality of life for residents.
Now in its third year the six-month fellowship includes classes, fieldwork, and site visits in Memphis and around the country. Fellows explore concepts such as creative placemaking, reimagining neighborhoods, community impact, sustainable fundraising, and cross-sector partnerships. Working together the fellows also produce arts-based project proposals designed to create lasting community development and build cultural equity. The next steps: funding and implementation!
We salute Linda Steele for spearheading and launching this program. We salute ArtsMemphis for believing in its importance. . Creating and sustaining the program requires vision, perseverance and willingness to adapt. The fellowship is a great example of extending the arts beyond the important and well-established arts institutions, and ensuring public support for community-based arts organizations and artists. Most importantly it helps build infrastructure and capacity so that emerging organizations and artists understand how to navigate the nonprofit sector; communicate impact; and engage partners who can contribute resources.
We have had the good fortune to observe Steele’s leadership and how she continuously refines the program. What we appreciate about her leadership is that she stays focused on her vision of “Memphis as a national model where others can see and learn how the arts can play a major role in a community’s/ neighborhood's revitalization and address challenges such as blight, unemployment, and youth engagement. The Fellows Program is creating a corps of change agents, cultural warriors and innovators trained to lead their communities in this work.”
Learn more about ArtsMemphis at www.artsmemphis.org
Learn more about Americans for the Arts at www.AmericansForTheArts.org.
Copyright 2016 – Mel and Pearl Shaw
Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of Prerequisites for Fundraising Success available on Amazon.com. For help growing your fundraising visit www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727.