5M_MAY

One of San Francisco’s oldest arts organizations, Intersection for the Arts has partnered with Forest City Development on its downtown San Francisco 5M Project— a thriving, three-year old prototype community of 2,000 entrepreneurs, technology companies, artists and makers that are building the creative economy. Using art to instigate economic and community change, Intersection’s programs include creative collaboration and problem-solving involving large scale public art, arts-based community engagement, artist residencies, cultural entrepreneurship fellowships, and resource-matching. Potential benefits of 5M include awakening entrepreneurial opportunities, vibrant activation of the streets, and linking the low-income, multi-ethnic neighborhood to the surrounding downtown districts and its residents to new opportunity.

ArtPlace asked Deborah Cullinan, executive director of Intersection for the Arts, what have been her most effective strategies for attracting the attention of people who matter. Here is her reply:

CULLINAN: Yesterday, I participated in a panel discussion at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research center. The conversation focused around placemaking at the 5M project. Earlier in the week, I took part in a very different but connected conversation at the Surdna Foundation in New York hosted by Animating Democracy. This inspired dialogue focused on the landscape of art and social change in our country.

These conversations are deeply linked. Both are rooted in a quest for inclusive places and equitable change. Both offer a sometimes messy but always powerful assertion of the vital role art and creativity play in change, whether it is physical, social, or cultural. These conversations also call out the need for radical collaboration that crosses all kinds of boundaries and blends need, knowledge, skill and resource to achieve the kind of break-through change we need today.

And, here is where we can play around with this question “What have been your most effective strategies for attracting the attention of people who matter?” on its head a bit. We first have to ask what we mean by “people who matter.” From an organizational perspective, we must ask why we exist and for whom every day. The answer, presumably, is also the answer to the question about who matters to us. Those that matter are those that are served by our mission – those whose lives are touched and changed in positive ways. Those that matter are also the people who can help us achieve our mission in the best and deepest ways. This brings me back to the idea that we need each other across difference to make the kind of systemic change we need today.

So, how do we most successfully reach across silos and build a coalition of stakeholders that enables us to push through barriers, bring our work into the broadest context, facilitate the greatest impact? I have a few thoughts:

1. Do great work. Obvious, of course, but its so important to think about who the work is for, what they will gain by participating, and what they can bring to it. And this is bigger than we might think. The who includes a lot of different kinds of people who will want to be part of the solutions we are creating – from near and far. If we knock it out of the park, people who care will notice.

2. Think carefully about how what you do can help others achieve what they want to achieve in the world. Think broad. Know what is most pressing to the people who matter to you. Be of service – a part of the solution.

3. Collaborate in surprising ways as much as you can. Art and creativity have a place at every table. Show up. Sit down. Be polite, but assertive.

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