2017 Conference Reflections: Cherie Hill

Last year's Conference for Community Arts Education in the Bay Area brought together staff, students, administrators, funders, policymakers, and stakeholders representing over 400 organizations from 40 states, Canada, and South Korea. Each year, the Guild is humbled by the amount of expertise, inspiration, enthusiasm, and joy that our delegates bring to the Conference experience. As a way to highlight those delegate voices, we are sharing a series of 2017 Conference Reflections.

Below, Cherie Hill, teaching artist and chief of staff at Luna Dance Institute, shares her thoughts on building hope and maintaining balance. 

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into your brother’s face
Your country, and say simply very simply
With hope—Good morning. 
Maya Angelou

The 80th Annual Conference for Community Arts Education was my first National Guild Conference. As I wondered at the elevators and the immaculate chandeliers at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, I was greeted by bright and joyous faces coming in and out of sessions. The rooms held a buzz as persons shared tables and halls. My interactions with others—hearing their stories, making new connections, and sharing our excitement for arts education filled me with hope. Hope! Was this the conference’s magic ingredient?

Opening plenary keynote speaker Hasan Davis delivered hope as he captivated attendees with his biographic story of art and childhood perseverance. “I am asking you to be the hope dealers, not the hope stealers,” he emphasized. But how do we keep dealing hope while maintaining our own life balance? What are the best ways to cultivate hope for communities in despair? Questions such as these continued to surface as I navigated through the conference.

Speaker Ronnie Brooks connected hope to memories of success in the CAELI alumni pre-conference. The session, “Refuse to Despair: Building Community, Generating Hope, Demonstrating Courage” stimulated us to find our own methods for hope by looking within. She explained that memory produces hope the same way fatigue produces despair. If we can tap into the memories of what success looks and feels like, we can relate to hope and the desire to make something happen.

In the public forum led by Marc Bamuthi Joseph as part of the conference’s Creative Youth Development track, attendees broke into small groups. Each group had the opportunity to dialogue with youth from YBCA’s Youth Fellows and First Exposures programs. For me, hearing the youth’s desires for more responsibility and agency was surprising. I was inspired by their ideas, passion, and will. Bamuthi proposed an idealist question: What if instead of investing 51 million dollars into a San Francisco prison, our government spent the money on youth collaborating to create new policy? Together we discussed and grappled with this and other strategic questions related to justice, co-design, and centering young people in civic leadership.

At the casual food for thought luncheon “work/life balance for parents and caregivers” three round tables were placed together and filled with women. The space felt comfortable as we shared our conflicting desires to work hard and be dependable, while yearning for more time with our families and for ourselves. Strategies for achieving personal time ranged from insisting that the executive director give weekend schedules in advance to embracing work time as connected to purpose. In other words, can we be ok with working on a Saturday if we truly believe we are destined to make a difference?

In my role as Chief of Staff at Luna Dance Institute, I often think about contentment in relation to staff retention. In the teaching artist development lunch meeting both program directors and teaching artists attended. Issues that emerged included teaching artists pay. Should teaching artists be paid to make phone calls? What state laws require teaching artists be paid for work for outside of their teaching contract? I suggested we refer to our organizations’ core values for help. At Luna, relationship is at the core. We prioritize teachers building relationships with students and their families. Our unique structure requires all teaching artists to work full time and hold an administrative role. This model, along with our core values, guides our decisions. Other organizations shared that they hold the artist at the core referring to their teachers as artist-teachers. I was specifically intrigued by Travis Laughlin from the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s question, “How does your organization support both the teacher and the artist?”

On the final day of the conference at Luna Dance Institute’s site-visit and panel, “Community, Power, and Privilege” facilitated by Nancy Ng, Director of Community Engagement, we discussed what equity means and how it is practiced. Judith Smith, founder of Axis Dance Company pointed out that 20% of the population identifies as disabled, yet disabled artists and educators continue to be underrepresented. Tammy Johnson encouraged us to talk about the future we want, and referenced Afro-futurism, and Eddie Madrill shared that for him, equity comes from love. I shared a story from my teaching at a school in East Oakland where equity meant stepping back, allowing my students to be the teacher. We ended the session with a barefoot improvisational dance jam in the studio.

The hope dealt at the Community Arts Education Conference was powerful and contagious. I am holding onto it, planting the conference memories into my brain, body, and spirit. When I need hope, I know where to find it.

Published: January 08, 2018