Sparking Thoughts: NEA's "Beyond the Building" Convening

By Jason Schupbach

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Jason Schupbach

Jason Schupbach, NEA Director of Design, at the "Beyond the Building" convening. 

When directors at the NEA were given the ability to host convenings on topics of our choice, I jumped at the opportunity to work with my performing arts and presenting colleagues to host a convening on the way that performances transform places, people's relationships with their communities, and community development processes.

Why did we choose this topic? I knew from multiple conversations in the field that many assumed that the NEA was only interested in the visual arts and design aspects of community building, and others thought that we were only interested in economic development projects. Second, many of the longtime community-based arts practitioners and their support systems felt that the creative placemaking work hadn't respected the history and depth of their work in communities—that the creative placemaking work had to only be 'new' practices. We knew we needed to right the ship a bit by listening to these concerns and talking about the issues related to performance and place.

On November 3, 2014, the Arts Endowment hosted the "Beyond the Building: Performing Arts and Transforming Place" convening to develop a better understanding of how performance-based organizations, and the artists they engage, transform places through their artistic practices. The convening brought together representatives of performing arts organizations from across the country and NEA staff for a day-long investigation of this topic. Barbara Schaffer Bacon, co-director of Animating Democracy, served as facilitator. Support for the convening was also provided by ArtPlace America.

We named it "beyond the building" to spark those thoughts on exactly how performing arts organizations and artists relate to and work with the communities they reside in. Additionally, we purposely invited three different, geographically diverse groups to the table—funders, service organizations, and performing arts organizations. By the nature of such a small convening we certainly left some folks out, but gosh did the people who could be there ever deliver! It was an incredibly fruitful day, as everyone immediately brought the key issues to the table. 

I encourage those who haven't yet to listen to the archive and to keep an eye out for a report which will summarize what was said. We hope this was just the start of a conversation—please do keep talking about this topic with each other and with us! You can email me at schupbachj@arts.gov, or tweet us at #PerformPlace.