A Look at #ArtPlaceSummit 2017

May 30, 2017

By: Kayla Goggin for ArtPlace America

Each year, the ArtPlace Summit offers attendees the opportunity to gather for a three-day conference designed to refresh our perspectives on place-based work. This time, more than 300 of us met in Seattle, Washington to enjoy a series of eye-opening panel discussions, tool-building break-out sessions and moving cultural experiences together.

The summit kicked off on Monday, May 15 with a plenary titled “One Country, Indivisible” that would set the tone for the rest of this year’s event.

“We’re here to reflect on what we’ve been hearing and thinking and to project what we want to learn,” Jamie Bennett, executive director of ArtPlace America, said in his remarks introducing the plenary. “If what we care about is field-building, we need to stop celebrating our uniqueness and start celebrating our influences. We need to start celebrating what we have in common and thinking about what unites us.”

Throughout the summit, attendees returned to this sentiment. Over dinner later that night, groups of artists, community developers, urban planners and nonprofit leaders came together to discuss the current political landscape through the lens Jamie provided. They read “Praise Song For the Day”, a poem written by Elizabeth Alexander for president Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Attendees read the poem aloud and spent the evening talking, discerning the threads hidden inside the verses that represented connections around the table and discussing the impacts those ties might have.

The next day, Elizabeth Alexander gave a poetry reading to the summit audience. Alexander shared an intimate prose piece, which detailed her family history. The poem examined her personal experience as the spouse of a refugee and emphasized the integral role of storytelling in our cultural landscape. “Poems are how we say ‘This is who we are.’ Poems are heart and soul made legible,” she said. “The tribe needs to chronicle itself.”

For some attendees, this year’s emphasis on storytelling as a tool for self-reflection was just the tool they needed to shift their perspective away from the cynicism of the current cultural moment.

Performances by Ping Chong + Company (whose truncated production of “Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity” received a standing ovation from summit attendees), the Chinese Girls Drill Team, and Native American dancers–as well as this year’s inclusion of written and spoken poetry–gave attendees a chance to encounter the incredible breadth of storytelling opportunities art can provide.

Break-out sessions like “Deepening Community Engagement Through Design,” “Jedi Mindtricks of Conflict Resolution,” and “Getting to Action: The Art and Power of Storytelling” gave attendees platforms for closer conversation. We'll be sharing these with you in the coming weeks. 

But, as usual, many of the summit’s richest conversations took place during those unscheduled moments when attendees simply spent time together, talking and learning about each other’s communities. We connected with new friends while salmon smoked over a traditional fire at Daybreak Star Cultural Center; we bonded over our favorite Bruce Lee movies at the Wing Luke Museum’s fantastic exhibition dedicated to the martial artist and movie star; we took selfies together as we gathered to view the sunset over the Puget Sound.

Most importantly, we embraced the intimacy of our conversations and worked to uncover narratives in our stories that bolster hope, identity, democracy and responsibility. In his remarks during the final plenary of the summit, Eric Liu, founder and CEO of Citizen University and author of You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen, summed up the goals of the summit.

“Art, art-making, artistry is the very essence, the fullest possible expression of citizenship because it is a full-bodied and fully engaged participation in life,” Liu said. “We are not at the edges, we ought to be at the center of what it means to revitalize democracy. We have to be at the center of showing people how to know your own mind, how to know your own heart, how to stand your own ground and how to face the future and our hopes and fears together. Artists must teach the rest of us and those who work with artists must help make that possible.”

This year’s summit was all about celebrating our influences and working together to learn how we can celebrate our communities in engaging, thoughtful ways. If you weren’t able to join us this time, don’t worry–we’ll be breaking down some of the most exciting moments and most rewarding takeaways right here on our blog. We also filmed many of the sessions, and will be sharing those along with slides from the breakouts.

You can view the FULL video of the session below as well!

Kayla Goggin is a freelance writer working for ArtPlace America. She can be reached at gogginkayla [at]