2017 Conference Reflections: Monica Davidon

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, Monica Davidsona youth speaks fellow at Writers in the Schools in Houston, TX, shares her thoughts on traditions, takeaways, togetherness, and self-care. 

What happens when you place around 700 arts educators, community activists, executive directors, and teaching artists in one space for four days in the bay? A whole lot of conversation and even more inspiration. People came from all across the country descending on the bay, some out of tradition, others looking for a “takeaway” to use back home. Then there were folks like myself excited to be in a space with like-minded individuals. I was looking for colleagues with similar values that are driven by similar passions—most importantly, exposing and empowering young people through the arts.

For the past two years I have been working as a fellow through a partnership between Youth Speaks and Writers in the Schools in Houston, TX. As a part of the culmination of our fellowship we were brought to the 80th National Guild for Community Arts Education Conference. I initially began the conference on the Creative Youth Development track and after the first day of sessions found myself being pulled into the rooms with the people I wanted to hear more from.

Below are four themes that arose for me during my time at the Conference as well as the thoughts and questions that came along with them.


This being my first Conference, it became clear that many attendees were there out of a sense of tradition. Essentially, you attend because it’s what you’ve always done, or something your organization has always been a part of—but now what? In my view, traditions are as rewarding as new experience if you find a way to add something new. Add a new layer of tradition—something that reminds you why this became a tradition in the first place. Maybe the next layer of tradition will include being amazed, inspired, and uplifted.


People view takeaways as something tangible—something they can hold and replicate in their own spaces and with their local youth. Every story I heard felt like a takeaway, from a person at New Conservatory Theatre Center and the work they’re doing with LGBTQIA young people interweaving their stories with art, to the amazing performances by the students from Mosaic in Detroit and Destiny Arts Center in Oakland. Every moment opened an internal dialogue: What can we be doing differently? How do I take the best of these moments and fold them into the work we’re already doing?


I am a part of a cohort of 7 fellows, placed across the country strategically to impact nonprofit management and youth development in local areas. As we gathered in this space—an eclectic group of people with multi shades and vibrant voices—we looked forward to being together. What we didn’t count on was the camaraderie we would find in the other attendees in this space. The workshops that allowed for discussions, and talkbacks, and space for questions allowed my soul and spirit to leave full. One example was Chandra Ortiz and the change in culture they are making at Massachusetts College of Art and Design—creating pathways for the people in the neighborhood, to not only obtain a degree, but to also learn how to create in their neighborhood. Creating art in the spaces that are void, giving voice to those who have been talking but we weren’t yet listening.


In our efforts to constantly give back to our communities and to our students and staff, we often forget to take care of ourselves. We work ourselves to the bone and almost forget that we have needs as well. Meet them. Meet your students where they are—encourage your staff, and take care of yourself. One of the last sessions “The Radical Act of Self-Care” was overflowing with people and facilitated by the incredible staff with DreamYard Project, and the session encouraged us to create, to tear papers, stretch and write. In that session I shared, and was heard, but most importantly I took care of myself. As much as we want to create space for our students to create, remember that you are also a creator.

Published: January 08, 2018