Owning Our Narrative: Conference Reflections

By Lissette Martinez, Program Coordinator


This past week, I attended both the Face to Face Conference in New York City, and the Kennedy Center Arts Summit in Washington DC. Both bringing together artists, teaching artists, arts educators, arts administrators, cultural workers in the arts, and those who consider themselves art supporters. A clear theme that flowed between both events was the ownership of narrative, in other words, the stories we bring. As Toya Lillard from viBe Theater Experience said, “You can’t give a human being a voice. They already have one.” Or rather, everyone is born with a story worth honoring.

From speakers like Uptown Boyz, Earlonne Woods and Nigel Poor from Ear Hustle, to Ryan O’Connel from the Netflix series Special, to all the young people at these events, like Vanessa Ramona-Ibarra from 826DC and the students from viBe, each artist deliberately using narrative and storytelling in service of their vision (To use the words of Audre Lorde). While art can be both liberating and terrifying, it is always powerful when used as a vehicle for disrupting oppressive narratives.

The arts finds itself simultaneously as a tool of oppression and liberation. Arts organizations need to collectively develop the courage to ask its communities what they need and have equal amount of courage to act- with funders brave enough to fund a revolutionary way forward (or develop a self-funding/collective funding model which leaves the power within the community).

The questions raised from Face to Face and the Arts Summit ask:

“Who are truly the gatekeepers of voice and how does art contribute to or dismantle barriers?” “What are the consequences of reclaiming yourself as a gatekeeper of your own story?”

“Whose voices are being spoken for without an invitation to the room?”

“What does a self-sustaining collective funding model look like so that culturally specific institutions are not competing for the same 3% of private funding?”



Published: May 03, 2019