Jun 1, 2017 – The Call

The Circle

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

– Edwin Markham

A couple of months ago, I found out that I am going to be father for the first time. As many of you who are already parents know, the news alone makes a profound change in your life. And, something I have been thinking a lot about is what are the values I want to help pass along to our little one. I think of my own core values of authenticity, family, and service to community. But, I also keep coming back to the idea of inclusivity, the idea that our communities are strongest when multiple voices are at the table–when that table is as inclusive of all narratives as possible. If I could cultivate this value in our little one, I feel I would have done right by them and right by the world.

As a Black man in America, I have often been in places and in situations where I have been intentionally made to feel excluded, like I did not belong, like I should not be there. I have even been in situations where I have been both intentionally invited and intentionally excluded. It’s a terrible feeling–demoralizing. Many people from marginalized communities are well acquainted with the feeling. It causes trauma compounded on the deep generational trauma that already exists. One of the reasons I have done the work I have done and continue to do to advocate for the arts and artists is my strong belief that the arts (and not art as this monolithic, pure thing) can heal trauma, and thus our communities. I believe that a community powered by the arts is a stronger more cohesive community.

Markham’s poem is one I think about when I think about building communities and creating understanding between groups. And when I think of the arts, I often see people so quick to draw circles to shut people out. High art, low art. Fine art, craft. Binary thinking is, in my opinion such an obstacle to creativity and progress, that I have wondered throughout how is it that I have found so much of this among my artistic peers. It is always so much more interesting to take people in and the return on social investment is immense. Our communities are healed when we allow space to express many narratives.

NEMAA is committed to cultivating an inclusive arts community, a community that is supportive, growing the number of performing artists, literary artists. I am a fan of, advocate for the full spectrum of creative people, the more diverse a creative community can be, the more valuable to more people it becomes. As we approach the millennial mark for NEMAA members, we hope to see our membership become more inclusive in ways the represent the diversity of artists in our community. One place we find diversity is in a surprising place–geography. Among you are members as far away as Duluth, as far away as Ohio. We realize that these members, like you local members, need and desire ways to stay connected to this community and as the number of community level members continues to grow, we also must provide more opportunities for you to engage throughout the year. So along with the NEMAA App which, according to our visitor survey, 60% of visitors used during Art-A-Whirl; you will see an updated, more dynamic website, newsletter, and a couple of exciting new opportunities for storytelling on a much larger scale in the coming year. We already have year-round media partnerships with Star Tribune Magazine, KFAI, AM950, Outfront Media and The Journal and through these partnerships, we will continue to tell the story of the vitality of the creative community that is the NEMAA membership and highlight the diversity of artists represented and we seek to be even more inclusive.

Earlier this spring First Thursday N|Motion was piloted at Northrup King Building. We hope to expand it to continue to support NEMAA creative community members without studio space, provide opportunity for short term installation/conceptual projects, and welcome artists, curators and other arts leaders from across the region for special presentations to our membership. We will continue to build partnerships with the breweries, bars and restaurants, and retail establishments to provide more deals for visitors of Thursday and Saturday open studio events. Through my role on the Minneapolis Arts Commission, I will advocate for an re-evaluation of Minneapolis’ Public Art RFP and review process to increase accessibility and reinforce a priority for local artists. And NEMAA will work with our broader maker community and community organizations to ensure that Northeast remains the beautiful combination of affordable residential and maker spaces.

There is no elite or ruling class of NEMAA. I have learned much from the organizations for which I have worked and the many boards on which I have served. And, there are NO favorites here. All voices are equal; from the seasoned, established vets to the hopeful, dewy rookies. You all get a seat. NEMAA can and should more than a clique, it should be a movement that draws a circle to take others in. Because in the end, as Lennon and McCartney penned, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

Oh yeah!

Dameun Strange

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