“What do you want?” A call for action

December 5, 2008  •  2 minute read

by – Wesley V. Montgomery, Chief Operating Officer – National Performance Network Since joining the staff six months ago, I have been amazingly energized by the organizational charge of extending NPN’s reach in conversations around arts policy—particularly policy conversations focused on arts and social justice. NPN’s organizational commitment invites colleagues to actively engage in the policy arena, asking each of us to consider the question of leadership in the local, regional, national and global conversation, articulating how the arts contribute to building community. As the nation looks ahead to the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, there is an overwhelming sense of hope permeating community organizers, educators and artists. Yet the hope is tempered by the experience and perspectives of activists involved in the civil rights movement. At a recent conversation convened by the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Arts & Democracy Project, NPN had the opportunity to participate in a dialogue among cultural workers whose work focuses on arts and social justice. Specifically the question of the moment was, “what do you want?” The centerpiece of the opening dialogue, articulated by Claudine Brown (Program Director for Arts and Culture), framed the over-arching two-day conversation. Answering this important question is our nation’s first critical task, grounding the growing sense of hope generated by the recent historic election of the United States’ first African American President. Since that convening, I have been mulling the question over in my mind, as well as asking friends, colleagues, and advisors across the country what they want. Responses have varied.  One response was hope for a return to “normalcy,” specifically a sense that the nation’s leader continues to be a good honest man who includes visionary thinking in his decision-making processes. One key component of President-elect Obama’s approach to setting his administrative agenda has been his bi-partisan reach in naming key leaders. As the next several years unfold, people who may not have been thinking about serving within a formal (bureaucratic) system are needed. Perhaps that leadership call may touch one of us. Are we as a field prepared to step forward and actively participate in the on-going challenge of living in these times? In some ways the country is bounding forward, in others it’s wrestling with the limitations of societal systems rife with inequality. It is NPN’s hope that we create a space for careful consideration of our collective responsibility to participate in the democratic process. From writing to campaigning for office, our charge remains: participate, participate, participate. Perhaps my UC/Berkeley roots are showing—mostly in terms of examining the notion of the “personal as political,” a phrase I first heard while participating in the Black Theatre Workshop at the University. This refrain has significantly more meaning in the age of myspace, facebook, twitter, and second life. In the post-election buzz, let’s all collectively consider what it is that we want our role in community building to be. So, in the spirit of forward thinking, whatever contributions we envision for our country’s policies on the arts and social justice, either individually or as a collective, let’s make it clear, and then double it!