Catalytic Moments of '15

Catalytic Moments of '15


2015 has been a catalytic, inspiration-filled year at Art in Praxis. As nostalgia would have it, I took a walk down Instagram memory lane and tagged a few top #artinpraxis moments this year. 

These moments are connected by Art in Praxis' vision of a world where artists dialogue with organizations and communities to provoke new thoughts, perceptions, and unexpressed feelings, cultivating more open and creative places to work and live. 

We are grateful for our collaborators, partners and clients and are looking forward to many more moments on the 'gram. Happy New Year!

Warm wishes, 

JS Signature.png


Jessica Solomon

Director, Art in Praxis

Catalytic Art in Praxis Moments of 2015: 

Part of the #beautifultrouble closing evaluation. Roses, buds and thorns, baby. Doodles by moi. #artinpraxis

A photo posted by jesssolomon (@jesssolomon) on

Carving out space to plan for '16. Join me at @pottershousedc. Space is limited.

A photo posted by jesssolomon (@jesssolomon) on

Call for Artists: Where We Wanna Be #DC

Call for Artists: Where We Wanna Be #DC


Call for Visual Artists

Now accepting submissions for The Potter’s House’s summer exhibit, Where We Wanna Be. The call is for photography specific to Washington, DC that depicts life/joy/past/present. This collection of work seeks to invoke a sense of imagination and possibility.

"I believe in the world and want to be in it. I want to be in it all the way to the end of it because I believe in another world in the world and I want to be in that." - Fred Moten, poet and theorist


June 1 - August 31, 2015

The Potter’s House, 1658 Columbia Rd NW, Washington, DC 20009

Submission Deadline

Friday, May 15, 5pm

Read the full call for artists here. 


Case Studies: Brown Bag Lunch Lab

Brown Bag Lunch Lab CASE STUDIES: Southeast Ministry & Young Playwrights’ Theatre

Young Playwrights’ Theatre (YPT) 

Mission: Young Playwrights’ Theater inspires young people to  realize the power of their own voices. By teaching students to express themselves through the art of playwriting, YPT develops students’ language skills, and empowers them with the creativity, confidence and critical thinking skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. YPT honors its students by involving them in a high-quality artistic process where they feel simultaneously respected and challenged and by engaging professional theater artists in producing student plays for the community.

Challenge: “How can we be more accountable to our communities and our students?” There was a desire for productive conversations around accountability, community and justice as a primarily white, middle-class staff working with underserved students of color in Washington, DC.

Brown Bag Lunch Lab Design: “Story Circles + Accountability”: Art in Praxis believes that authentic, generative conversations about power and privilege should happen in spaces that are cultivated to support the ongoing learning and development of all participants. Given the two hour time frame of the BBLL, we sent relevant reading material in advance and facilitated a discussion featuring 3 questions we crafted based on the organizational challenge:

  1. What strategies might we embrace to authentically address race, equity, and privilege in our work?
  2. How can we leverage relationships to be more accountable to our communities and our students?
  3. How can we effectively elicit and incorporate ongoing feedback from our communities and our students?

Following that discussion, we shifted from an organizational view to personal context. We moved into a Story Circle process to explore personal connections and disconnections to “community”. Following the Story Circle we came “full circle”, connecting personal experiences to organizational perceptions through a creative brainstorm that generated original, creative ways YPT can live out the answers to the questions posed at the beginning of the lab.

Praxis & Outcome: YPT is now exploring the Story Circle process as a tool to facilitate conversations about accountability, community and justice with students, teaching artists and colleagues. YPT is planning teaching artist "auditions" at venues in the communities they host programming in. “We want to invite artists from these communities to teach with us, especially in their neighborhood schools.”

Southeast Ministry  

Mission: Southeast Ministry is a grassroots social justice ministry of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation that listens to the needs of the community and develops culturally sensitive education programs that address the root causes of social problems such as poverty, illiteracy, and violence.

Challenge: Organizational leadership wanted to ensure that all staff understood how the organizational budget serves as a bridge between resources and strategic operations at Southeast Ministry.

Brown Bag Lunch Lab Design: “Funding Our Priorities”: We designed this lab with the premise that a budget tells a story of how an organization plans to achieve it’s strategic priorities. Using a scaled-down mock budget and Southeast Ministry’s strategic priorities, we designed a game in which each staff member had an opportunity to determine how much and where funds would be allocated money for expenses.

Praxis & Outcome: Southeast Ministry is exploring creating space in the budget for an “Innovation Fund” to test ideas for a new social enterprise. They also pinned a blog post about their experience with the Brown Bag Lunch Lab titled, “Funding Our Priorities”



Over lunch with your staff or team, dive into issues of community engagement, coalition building, or program design...with creativity. The Brown Bag Lunch Lab is designed for organizations looking to maintain high functioning teams. A Graphic Recorder can be on site to create a large colorful mural translation of your conversation, live, upon request. 


  • Teams walk away with clarity, direction and shared language to move forward and go deeper, together.
  • A unique professional development opportunity.
  • An efficient team development opportunity. 

Bring the Brown Bag Lunch Lab to your office!

We also host breakfasts. Email with “BBLL” in the subject line.

Preservation, Collective Memory, THE Freshwater Project

“Placemaking in city/neighborhood spaces enacts identity and activities that allow personal memories, cultural histories, imagination, and feelings to enliven the sense of “belonging” through human and spatial relationships. But a political understanding of who is in and who is out is also central to civic vitality.” - Roberto Bedoya

Current site of the Freshwater Project: 1926 home known as the Cracker Johnson House

Current site of the Freshwater Project: 1926 home known as the Cracker Johnson House

A brief conversation with the Freshwater Project about their recent decision to relocate their headquarters led to a visit to West Palm Beach where I facilitated a multi-sensory discussion about African-American historic preservation as creative placemaking/keeping.

The Freshwater Project’s offices are currently in the 1926 home known as the Cracker Johnson House. James Jerome “Cracker” Johnson (1877-1946) was a mixed-race, wealthy numbers-runner, bootlegger and club and real estate owner who was a Robin Hood figure crowned “King of Black West Palm Beach.”  The home is a contributing structure to the Northwest neighborhood’s status as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and is now up for sale.

While the brick and mortar structure will belong to someone else, the future of the Freshwater Project is inextricable linked to the Cracker Johnson house. I began to wonder, “How do we preserve the histories of this place?” “How are the larger stories about a place/community/neighborhood connected to our individual stories?”

Those questions set the tone for a discussion between the Freshwater Project and five DC-based  artists in town for Art Basel Miami (specifically, black artists exhibiting around themes of identify). Together, we examined and imagined the power of black historic preservation beyond property ownership. 

We began with a tour and the story of West Palm Beach’s historic “Freshwater” community followed by Story Circles, a technique derived from exercises of the Roadside Theatre and Junebug Theatre. Through personal narratives from the visiting artists and past residents of the Cracker Johnson House we explored what a community’s collective memory could look like past geographic location.

The ideas and energy generated here will help inform the future of the Freshwater Project.

Participants l-r: Moderator: Jess Solomon, Estate Owner: Natalie Hopkinson, Artists: Adrianne Gaither, Michael Chambers II, Jordan Martin, Holly Bass, Larry Cook, Amber Robles-Gordon, Serena Hopkinson, Stan Squirewell

Participants l-r: Moderator: Jess Solomon, Estate Owner: Natalie Hopkinson, Artists: Adrianne Gaither, Michael Chambers II, Jordan Martin, Holly Bass, Larry Cook, Amber Robles-Gordon, Serena Hopkinson, Stan Squirewell

Historic Preservation Prompts for your community:  

  • Who is the “Cracker" Johnson in your community, place of origin or family?
  • Tell a story about a time your work was considered an act of preservation of resistance.

We are in this together.

Artist: Tes One.

Artist: Tes One.

Via our partner, the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture:

In solidarity with the heartbreak, injustice, and actions happening nationwide tonight, the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture repeats its public call for artists and creative activists to join the movement and use their skills in service of equity and justice. Collectively, we stand for the demilitarization of the police and demand justice for victims of publicly funded racism.
--> Racism is a cultural issue.
--> Official violence is a cultural issue. 
--> The denial of human rights is a cultural issue.
‪#‎ShutItDown‬ ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬

We. Are. In. It. Together. 
Share the call (, and consider joining a local action near you ( ‪#‎MakeOurVoicesHeard‬ #PeoplePower

Creative Placekeeping with a TBT Pic #TBTDCART

While cleaning, I stumbled across several flyers for arts events that no longer happen at venues that no longer exist. Do you have old flyers, posters or handbills from arts events in DC?

Share them on Thursdays for #TBTDCARTS!

The same "Throwback Thursday" rules apply, but this hashtag is about reminiscing and sharing memories from DC theatre, music, poetry, dance and festival life. Here's what you do:

  1. Take a picture of the flyer, poster, handbill

  2. On Thursdays, post your photos on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and tag #TBTDCART. 

  3. Tell your friends to join in #TBTDCART

"Throwback Thursdays - DC Arts & Culture" is an experiment in Creative Placekeeping and community archiving. Last Spring, I was introduced to the concept of "Creative Placekeeping" by Allied Media Projects:

What is the word for "the opposite of gentrification"? And what is the role of creativity in achieving that thing, for which we have no word? The alignment of philanthropy in recent years around the framework of "creative placemaking" brings new urgency to these questions. Investments in creative placemaking must "keep" and honor the existing creativity and identity of a place, if they are to foster holistic, just development. They must also address what Roberto Bedoya has called "the politics of belonging and dis-belonging," which determine who has power to make a place their own and who does not. 

Don't live in DC? No problem. Do this for your city, county, township and share your hashtag with Art in Praxis (@PraxisMakes).


Solar Flares: Reflections on Designing #ImaginingDC

Solar Flares: Reflections on Designing #ImaginingDC


This is the 3rd post in a 3 part series about my work with the US Department of Art and Culture as a Founding Cultural Agent. This summer, the 17 Founding Agents were tasked with planning and hosting "Imaginings" in their cities. The DC Imagining took place on Saturday, July 12th. 

The 1st ever DC Imagining is a memory in the hearts and minds of (at least) the 100+ people who attended. Since then, I've been thinking about it's prologue - the things that influenced my cultural practice leading up to the planning and launch.

Before I sent the first solar flare into the universe about the DC Imagining, I was in my laboratory being consumed, amazed and affirmed by Poet/Activist/Black Feminist/Architect/Ancestor June Jordan and her friendship with Futurist Architect Buckminister “Bucky” Fuller. Their 1965 (environmental and social justice) collaboration, the “Harlem Skyrise Project” was "imagining"  at its core. But it was Jordan's writing about that deliberate moment of choosing love as mode of action and resistance was a salve to the viceral emotions I hold about DC, the ever-changing place I call home.

I share June Jordan’s words about the genesis of the “Harlem Skyrise Project” as a love note to myself, a meditation on the power of imagining and a primer for some of us.

“…the agony of that moment propelled me into a reaching far and away to R. Buckminster Fuller, to whom I proposed a collaborative architectural redesign of Harlem, as my initial, deliberated movement away from the hateful, the divisive.

My first meeting with Bucky lasted several hours, just the two of us, alone. And when we separated, agreed on the collaboration for Esquire magazine, I felt safe in my love again. We would think and work together to design a three-dimensional, an enviable, exemplary life situation for Harlem residents who, otherwise, had to outmaneuver New York City's Tactical Police Force, rats, a destructive and compulsory system of education, and so forth, or die.

This was a way, a scale, of looking at things that escaped the sundering paralysis of conflict by concentrating on the point, the purpose of the fight: What kind of schools and what kind of streets and what kind of parks and what kind of privacy and what kind of beauty and what kind of music and what kind of options would make love a reasonable, easy response?

Forward from that evening in Fuller's room, at the St. Regis Hotel, my sometime optimism born of necessity hardened into a faithful confidence carried by dreams: detailed explorations of the alternatives to whatever stultifies and debases our lives.

My life seems to be an increasing revelation of the intimate face of universal struggle. You begin with your family and the kids on the block, and next you open your eyes to what you call your people and that leads you into land reform into Black English into Angola leads you back to your own bed where you lie by yourself, wondering if you deserve to be peaceful, or trusted or desired or left to the freedom of your own unfaltering heart. And the scale shrinks to the size of a skull: your own interior cage.

And then if you're lucky, and I have been lucky, everything comes back to you. And then you know why one of the freedom fighters in the sixties, a young Black woman interviewed shortly after she was beaten up for riding near the front of an interstate bus-- you know why she said, "We are all so very happy."

It's because it's on. All of us and me by myself: we're on.”

Source: Jordan, June, 1936-2002, Chapter 40: Foreword to Civil Wars in Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays of June Jordan. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2002, pp. 306-308


(Collage illustrating the implications and roots of June Jordan’s ‘architextural’ principles. SourceRace & Architecture Studying the historical intersections of Culture and Form.)

Coming in at a close second to my fascination with June Jordan X Buckminister Fuller was this idea of “Emergence" found in complex science. I was introduced to this concept in an article by Margaret Wheatley and then again by Invincible, an amazing Detroit-based cultural worker, artist and member of the collective Complex Movements. As organizers and change agents we can learn so much from flocks of birds, schools of fish and swarms of bees. Our local, national and global social movements need to take cues from nature.

I came to thinking about the design and intention of the DC Imagining with this vocabulary and perspective.

I also came with with my share of the psychic energy connected to living, working and creating in Washington, DC - the socio-political belly of these United States. I choose to see this energy as neither good nor bad, more like latent, full of potential.

And the belief that communities are always visioning for themselves. Even when they don’t recognize it. I also believe that many of these communities share the same locale, cultural, social and economic profile for all types of reasons. 

Solar Flare 1. 

Untitled design (2)

At the end of May I shared my new role with the USDAC and the upcoming DC Imagining via a weekend blog post. I proceeded to invite (and challenge) everyone I knew -  artists, activists, people from the creative, educational, social, business sectors, the bus driver on my route to work, my Mama, everyone - to join in and imagine DC in 2034 with me. Steadily the blog post views, shares and likes increased along with the questions and amazing supporters.

Over the course of 6 weeks the DC Imagining was co-created with…

  • A budget of 200 dollars.
  • Equal parts of soul, uncertainty, interest and a dash of healthy skepticism about the USDAC (“Wait, you’re not the government?!”).
  • A dynamic group of creative connectors who came to the USDAC with different interests, levels of engagement and investment.
  • A planning framework developed out of praxis and field testing. Everyone who volunteered to support the event participated in mini-Imaginings and visioning activities to some degree at every meeting.
  • Generous extensions of selves, networks and donations of space and supplies.

DC Imagining Planning Meeting #1. June 2014

Solar Flare 2. About Planning and Co-Creating

We made much of the planning process transparent and accessible to citizen artists via social media and word of mouth. 2 hours before every planning meeting I’d share the same mini-imagining prompt online that we were using that evening. At the meeting I’d share the responses we received online and after the meeting I’d post photos and a recap of what was discussed. It was important to me to archive and build physical and digital #ImagineDC communities and bridge the two.

Haiku #1

Beauty created/ The community fully/ Engaging itself

Haiku #2

Bright visions of change/ Fully realized by those/ Who've made DC home

(both Haikus written by Citizen Artist, Tavia Benjamin during a DC Imagining planning meeting)

Before our second planning meeting I boldly posted, “What are 3 issues impacting people in DC”. This was a whole different kind of solar flare. Responses popped up with people listing 3, 4, 5, 6 issues. “Gentrification”, “White Supremacy”, “Poor Education”, “Displacement” and “Food Desserts” ran up and down the timeline. Honestly, I hadn’t thought out my end goal for this post but I could not ignore these very real issues; they had to be embedded into the work of the Imagining. I acknowledged everyone’s responses and pointed out the data: that this question was the most active post to-date. Why? In Cultural Agent mode I challenged respondents to imagine what could be if we brought our full creative selves to finding solutions. I was energized by the powerful, creative responses. This confirmed my suspicion that our imagination is a muscle that must be activated and conditioned.

Solar Flare 3. The Event

The logistics: Saturday, July 12th, 1pm - 4pm at the Impact Hub.

In the spirit of June and Bucky, who knew the power of space and place, the Impact hub was the perfect location physically and politically. It is an accessible co-working space for organizations and companies committed to social justice that's sandwiched between two major metro stops. With a bright, open space floor plan we were able to host 100 people in the space effortlessly.

The air was festive and deliberate; our resident DJ Les Talusan curated an #ImagineDC set that featured local jams. Critical Exposure's latest youth photography exhibit, "REFRAME" hung on the walls. We had guided arts stations connected to the theme of the day, a photo exhibit featuring youth photographers from Critical Exposure, an “Imagining Your Self-ie” booth and snacks.

The agenda read deceptively short:

  • Welcome!
  • Imagine: DC 2034 
  • #ImaginingDC Freestyle
  • Planning for the Journey: 2014-2034
  • Next Steps + More Art

But it was packed. In 3 hours we wanted 100 people from all over the city…

  1. in the state of mind to imagine 20 years from now;
  2. to discuss their visions for the city in small groups;
  3. to create a shared vision in their small group;
  4. to creatively report out their vision to the large group and finally;
  5. plan action steps to get to those visions.

As a planning team and facilitators, we embraced uncertainly. I acknowledged at the outset that we were not going to solve anything today, that we may have more questions than answers at the close at that all of it was ok. Everyone dived in for 3 hours, with creative interpretations of visions for the city that included cooperatives, artists in schools, a minister of culture, a go-go museum and truly diverse communities. DC-native, Grammy nominated progressive hip-hop artist and cultural gem of DC Christylez Bacon created an Imagining freestyle rhyme on the spot using 10 words from the audience. Our youngest participant was 7 and our oldest was 75. And we made it through the entire agenda!

Images that appeared during a search of “#ImaginingDC”…


(l to r: Christylez Bacon freestyle performance, Citizen Artist in the “Imagining Your Self-ie" Booth, Graphic Notes from a small group breakout, 2014 - 2014 timeline, Volunteer in the “Imagining Your Self-ie" Booth, Chalk art outside Impact Hub, Citizen Artists in the “Imagining Your Self-ie" Booth, Photo exhibit from Critical Exposure, Small group discussions, Small group presentations, More small group presentations. More #ImaginingDC HERE.)

What Emerged

The prompt used during the small break out groups generated a lot of ideas. Beyond the list we generated, what was most powerful was/is the acknowledgement that we must get creative about how we are going to save ourselves from ourselves. People who hadn’t really seen art and culture as tools to be applied and integrated into justice work were going just that. People identified and claimed their role on making our city a more just, creative place. People who didn’t necessarily shared the same locale, cultural, social and economic profile were in community, listening to each other. There are mini-imaginings happening in recreation centers, board rooms, classrooms and kitchens, right now. Flocks of birds, schools of fish and swarms of bees.

There is a deep interest and desire for accountability in the “what’s next”. A a Founding Cultural Agent and host of the first Imagining I encourage you to learn more about the US Department of Arts and Culture and become a Citizen Artist: 

Just like June Jordan knew that justice and transformation for Harlem would take bringing her full-self and extending her reach to collaborators, I am so clear that this work - imagining and planning for DC 2034 - cannot happen in a 3 hour meeting or in a silo. I look forward to our second gathering this fall and supporting the cultivation of shared local leadership and collective imagination. We're just getting warmed up!

A Call to Action for DC Citizen Artists: The Imagining, Summer 2014

(Recently I wrote about my work with the US Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC), a bold new people-powered national movement dedicated to cultivating equity, empathy, and social change through creative, cultural action. Below is a call to action to DC Citizen Artists.)

Citizen Artists,

It's 2034. What do you hope to see, right here in Washington, DC? What would DC look like if we brought our full creative selves to envisioning and building it? How might we go about imagining who we are and what we're capable of in a fresh, new way? When is a community meeting not another boring meeting? When it’s a lively, arts-infused gathering known as an Imagining!

Hello! I'm Jess Solomon, one of the 17 Founding Cultural ImageAgents volunteering around the country to launch this idea.On Saturday, July 12th from 1pm to 4pm right here in DC, we'll be hosting one of the 17 Imaginings unfolding across the U.S. in July. Imaginings bring community members to 1) envision their towns and cities in the year 2034, when art’s power to engage, connect, uplift and transform has been fully integrated into all aspects of society and 2) to spark creative ideas about how to get there, starting now.

It’s all part of a bold new people-powered initiative called the US Department of Arts and Culture, helping spark imagination and connection on the local level and then taking what we learn to the national level where we can amplify our visions and begin to make them real.

I’m so proud that the Imagining here in DC will be one of the first; in coming months, you’ll be hearing about dozens—maybe hundreds—of similar events occurring all across the U.S. We promise serious fun, lively performance, good company, delicious snacks, and a chance to consider and create something that can make a real difference in all our lives.

This is one of the most exciting projects I’ve encountered in a long time. I’d be thrilled to talk with you, answer questions, hear your ideas. Save the date and stay tuned for exciting updates.

If you are interested in joining the DC Imagining Core Planning Team or participating as a Imagining Facilitator join me at the next planning meeting:

Imagine the Imagining

Thursday, May 29th 6:30 - 9pm

Coffy Cafe (upstairs) | 3310 14th Street, NW


In Creative Cahoots,
P.S. Announcing the DC Imagining location soon! Share this invitation with your creative collaborators, colleagues, dance partners :)

"Think there might be an Imagining closer to you? Check out this map and email to find out how to contact a different Cultural Agent." 

US Dept. of Arts & Culture: The nation's newest people-powered department!

Cultural Agent Logostatic.squarespace Fellow travelers, creative muses and lightbeams, I'm excited to share that I'm one of 18 founding Cultural Agents across the nation as part of the new U.S. Department of Arts & Culture! 

What in the world is the U.S. Department of Arts & Culture?

It's a national movement dedicated to cultivating equity, empathy, and social change through creative, cultural action. The US Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) is the nation's newest people-powered department, founded on the truth that art and culture are our most powerful and under-tapped resources for social change. Radically inclusive, useful and sustainable, and vibrantly playful, the USDAC aims to spark a grassroots, creative change movement, engaging millions in performing and creating a world rooted in empathy, equity, and social imagination.

As founding Cultural Agents we're supporting the development of tools and infrastructure that will enable anyone to step up as a Cultural Agent. Find out more about this dynamic group of humans:

Can't you see why I'm excited?! There's so much alignment with USDAC and the vision for the work at Art in Praxis. 

What does the USDAC look like in practice/praxis?

It looks like you and me, creating the world we wish to inhabit. It looks like you joining me, enlisting as a Citizen Artist. If you're in the NYC area, it's you visiting the USDAC Pop-Up space at the Bowery Cafe. (You could even catch today's livestreamed  "USDAC Performative Press Conference" at 2:10pm.)

There is much more to come about my work/our work with the USDAC, including details about a DC "Imagining" -  part facilitated dialogue and part community cultural celebration. Imaginings will also be hosted by my fellow Cultural Agents in their communities. (Imaginings bring together artists, organizers, and others to 1) envision their communities and the country in the year 2034, when art’s transformative power has been fully integrated into all aspects of public life and 2) spark creative ideas about how to get there, starting now.)

 On we go, 

Jess Solomon

[Event Alert] Cash Mob @ Boveda Tribes 4.19

Cash Mob (3)

Next Saturday we're hosting a "Cash Mob" at Boveda Tribes, a wonderful local, woman-owned business in the heart of Mt. Pleasant, DC (Columbia Heights Metro).Between noon and 3pm, stop by and find beautiful one of a kind pieces from Central/South America, Africa and the Middle East at every price point - starting at $20. Refreshments provided :)

What is a "Cash Mob"?  

A cash mob is an economic + community boost. It's group of people who descend on a local business at the same time to make purchases + show some love. The purpose is to support both local businesses and the overall community.

Why we're hosting...

Because the proprietor of Boveda Tribes is just as amazing as her wares. Barbara Cameron personally travels all over the globe for Boveda's jewelry, textiles and home decor. AND she's the Executive Director of the Walk in My Shoes Global Project, a nonprofit organization providing new and gently used shoes to children living in developing countries including Mexico, Ecuador, Uganda, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, El Salvador, Columbia, and Senegal.

(If you're interested in donating shoes, email! )

Ways to support the Boveda Tribes "Cash Mob" on 4/19 1. Bring your amazing self there! 2. Share this post with your funky-fly friends in the DC area. 3. Tweet: "Meet me at Boveda Tribes in DC this Sat for a Cash Mob! 1 of a kind finds from Central/South America, African & the Middle East! "

Have a great week, hope to see you Saturday!

Jess Solomon

Convenings for Creative Practitioners


We have a soft spot for great conferences and convenings that explore the intersections of art, innovation and social change. They recharge us, inspire new work and give us new tools. What makes them "great" is more than just content.

We believe there are specific variables that account for great experiences for Creative Practitioners:

  • Consistency (annual, bi-annual)
  • Content
  • Design that allows for open space, collaboration and skill-shares
  • Multi-sensory presentations by masters in the field
  • Participant scholarships
  • Food (yes, food)

Our top picks:

The goal of the 99U Conference is to shift the focus from idea generation to idea execution. Providing road-tested insights on how to make your ideas happen. They bring together some of the world's most productive creative visionaries & leading researchers to share pragmatic insights on how ideas are brought to life. (Jess Solomon was selected to attend this year as a 99u Fellow! She'll be reporting from the front lines this May.)

The Allied Media Conference is a collaborative laboratory of media-based organizing strategies for transforming our world, held every Summer in Detroit. (The Art in Praxis team hopes to present a workshop at #AMC14  on Storytelling as Creative Placemaking using "Crank & Groove: A Go-Go Love Story" as a case study.)

Alternate ROOTS Week is part meeting, part retreat and part performance festival in the beautiful mountains near Asheville, NC.  It's a gathering created by artists, led by artists, for artists and cultural workers/supporters that is rooted in a community of place, tradition or spirit. (Check out the current call for poster art and visual arts scholars!) 

Remixing the Art of Social Change is an annual international Teach-In hosted by Words Beats & Life. The Teach-In brings together organizations, artists and scholars that utilize hip-hop culture to promote social change and advance how hip-hop promotes lasting social change.

Urban Bush Women's Summer Leadership Institute is an annual 10-day intensive that serves as the foundation for all of UBW’s community engagement activities. SLI builds the global network of community arts practitioners, and front line social justice workers, by connecting dance professionals and community-based artists in a learning experience that leverages the arts as a vehicle for social activism and civic engagement.

Each year, the Creative Time Summit explores the many ways in which artists are tackling the world’s most challenging social and political issues. Innovative artists, activists, writers, and curators take the Summit stage to present bold new strategies for social change to a global audience.

What are your favorite convenings for Creative Practitioners?

Making Waves: A Guide to Cultural Strategy

Here’s a thought-provoking review by our friend Paul Kuttner of on the report Making Waves: A Guide to Cultural Strategyfrom the Culture Group. Making WavesFresh off the presses in 2014, we’ve got a new guide for organizers and activists interested in developing cultural strategies for social change. This one comes to us from The Culture Group, a collaborative of artists and social change experts committed to the idea that “there is no change without cultural change.” It’s a highly visual and readable look at the power of art and culture, and how to begin building partnerships between artists and organizers.

Making Waves uses the metaphor of an ocean wave to describe cultural change. Culture, they explain, is like the ocean: vast and ever-changing. It is all around us. Cultural strategy is about making waves in that ocean through the use of cultural practices and activities like art, media, sports, etc. — what they refer to as the “big tent of arts and culture.” Given how many definitions of culture are floating out there, this is a useful metaphor for re-imagining social change efforts, and one of the most accessible explanations of culture and social change that I have seen.

For the most part, this report is targeting organizers who may be skeptical of the importance of art and culture in social change, or who don’t know how to go about addressing culture. The #1 strategy they offer: Partner with artists. In a section titled “Why Artists?” the authors offer a compelling, if somewhat romanticized, view of the particular strengths of artistic voice. This includes artists’ ability to connect with people emotionally, to be bold and visionary, and to address fundamental social issues.

It is clear, however, that the authors have seen organizer-artist partnerships go poorly, as evidenced by my favorite section: 13 Key Principles for Working with Artists. Organizers are called upon to “involve artists from the beginning,” and “let the artist lead in the creative.” Implied in these principles is a history of artists being brought in at the last minute and told what to do, rather than being seen as an integral part of the social change effort. (There is also a page of tips for artists, but it’s mostly about helping those organizers remember those 13 principles!)

The report addresses many of the key terms in the area of art and social change in a useful glossary. They define cultural organizing, for instance, as

“Practice that fuses arts, culture, and political organizing. Cultural organizing seeks to organize politically engaged artists together into networks of collaboration, and form intentional, cohesive partnerships between artists and like-minded advocacy organizations, funders, and political campaigns. Cultural organizing builds the power and capacity of artists as a community, both as skilled workers whose labor has value and as essential partners in the progressive movement.”

This definition is intriguing to me because of its heavy emphasis on organized artists,which calls to mind historical organizations such as the American Artists’ Congress. This report also introduced me to the idea of a “cultural producer”: a cultural strategist who can speak the “languages” of both art and organizing, and can help develop partnerships between the two worlds.

Overall, Making Waves is  stronger on making a case for cultural strategy than for guiding how it can be done. There are some great case studies, but I personally didn’t need 20 out of 50 pages dedicated to proving that  cultural events have often outshone and even preceded political events. And the sections on strategy and tactics are useful, but aren’t particularly tailored to cultural strategy. Tips about setting goals, defining an audience, and outlining how decisions will be made are relevant to any sort of organizing campaign.

I believe the reason that the “how-to” section seems very general is that the authors don’t want the organizers to have their hands in the art too much — organizers are told to make room for the artists to lead. This is a very important lesson for organizers who in general have under-utilized cultural approaches, seeing artists as adding “decoration” rather than substance to campaigns. But it seems to assume the artists more or less know what they are doing in terms of using art to support social change. For most artists, this is likely not the case. Perhaps a good companion to this report would be the book Re:Imagining Change, by the Center for Story-Based Strategy whose theories on narrative could be very useful to both artists and organizers.

I love how this document seeks to re-imagine the role of artists in organizing. At the same time, I’m not sure how I feel about the advice that organizers “don’t try this at home…creating an effective, powerful work of art is not easy…be willing to invest in real talent.” It is true that well-meaning but untrained activists have made some pretty bad art. But, to me, this argument makes too strong a distinction between “artists” and “non-artists,” and focuses a bit heavily on the arts that involve individual training, as opposed to more grassroots arts practices which have been so important to social movements in the past — African American spirituals, Native drumming practices, etc.

I would recommend this as a good starting point for any organizer looking to move beyond short-term policy wins to long-term change. If you are an artist working with social justice organizations, you may want to pass this along. And while you’re at it, check out the other great resources from the Culture Group.

The post originally appeared here.Also, check out

What's the Future of Your Street? #FutureOf

What's the Future of Your Street? #FutureOf

Future banner 2

Future of button by Jess Solomon, Director, Art in Praxis

I live in one of 70 units in an apartment building. We are in close proximity with entirely separate lives and I’ve been asking myself, “is this community?”

I connect with my neighbors in passing; running to the bus, doing laundry, checking the mailbox. Even when I sometimes rush through pleasantries with my neighbors, deep down I still want more.

As someone who values civic engagement, I want to bring those values to my doorstep and practice intentionally spending time with my neighbors discussing what we love and don’t love about where we call home.

I have a sense of urgency in making this happen. Where I live is changing. Gentrification, flux, development, whatever you want to label it is steadily shifting the cultural and economic landscape of the District. How are the people I share walls with impacted?

I walk in the world with the assumptions that sharing and visioning with those in close proximity to you is transformational and that eating together builds community.

And I suspect I am not the only one.

On April 1st, 2014, the evening of the D.C. primary election, I am having dinner with my neighbors and friends. We will eat well and exchange ideas to create a shared vision for our neighborhood. I am encouraging others across the District to do the same. I'm dubbing this neighborhood-powered grassroots initiative #FutureOf for “The Future of (Your) Street.”

“The Future of (Your) Street” is powered by Art in Praxis and our community partner, Maximize Good. We blur the lines between making, performing, organizing, and community engagement with “experiments” like this.

To date, there are #FutureOf dinners planned across the District in Deanwood, Columbia Heights, Anacostia, Capitol Hill, Waterfront, Congress Heights, Tenleytown and Brookland. The grassroots dinners are colored by the personalities of each host and the communities they are in. We're equipping hosts with a guide and support, but how the dinner takes shape is up to them. They could be potlucks, fancy catered affairs, or something in between.

Future banner 2

Really, though, dinner is just the beginning. I’m most excited about what will happen afterward. If my assumptions are correct, I guarantee that, in time, the people who dine and dream together will go on to positively impact where they live. I can see community gardens, skill-shares, murals, new small businesses, less potholes, increased participation in local government and more dinners. I recently learned that hosts of the #FutureOf #Petworth dinner want to revisit the epic community block parties of their past.

The artist in me hopes that #FutureOf is the kind of community building and civic engagement initiative that precedes creative placemaking. Getting these resources, people and ideas together will lead to stakeholders strategically shaping the physical and social character of a neighborhood.

As the Director of Art in Praxis (AiP), my primary goal is to promote creativity as a catalyst in communities. I’m interested in tapping into our collective imaginations, getting a lot done in small spaces and working across sectors. The nature of my work is temporal; it is collaborative, experimental and transient. Even still, each project—including #FutureOf—is built to take roots or wings in the hands of participants.

Will you join us on April 1st?

Sign up to host a #FutureOf dinner in your neighborhood at

Special thanks to our media partner, ElevationDC!!


Pressure Points: The "Commons" in the Age of Gentrification + Development

DenglerSW-Stromboli-20040928-1230x800 This post is inspired by a trip to a crowded grocery store. 

My Question: What happens to the Commons (particularly in urban cities) in the midst of transition/gentrification/redevelopment/upheaval?

[Context] The Commons – by whatever name – is ancient in human experience.   We gather, disperse, and gather again in “the commons,” whether at the crossroads of a village, in a grand piazza, a house of worship, a ballpark, or cyberspace.  The Commons is grounded in those things that are the heritage of all and held in trust for future generations—e.g. air, water, seeds or culture but may take the form of a small public library, a community art fair, a cafeteria, a national park, the internet, an ocean. Source.

My Answer: The Commons become a pressure point.  The grocery store, bus stop, festival and outdoor market - the places where people from different experiences, cultures, abilities, economic and educational strata converge to purchase goods, travel or consume art and culture - bubble with fiery uncertainty. Like a volcano.

My Hypothesis: The Commons are "volcanic" because the original design for that specific site didn't account for such rapid change across very distinct dimensions. The design doesn't always provide entry points for everyone, yet. Therefore, the Commons are not always spaces that alleviate the pressure of literally bumping up against someone's  humanity that may be completely different from yours.

I say this often: If you ever want to see the best and worst of us, ride a public bus. I may add grocery store to that.

Before I prescribe a host of creative public interventions for the Commons,  I want to check out my hypothesis with you.

  • What do you think?
  • Do you have "pressure point" experiences in highly trafficked public/private spaces?
  • What are some creative ways to provide entry points for everyone? To alleviate the pressure?

Share in the comments section below!



Artists Can Impact '14 Nonprofit Trends

2014 As we look to the year ahead, many Nonprofiteers see January as a time to pivot and revisit last year's strategies. A few weeks ago, The National Council of Nonprofits released a timely white paper on 2014 Nonprofit Trends to Watch (since then, other nonprofit supporters have written forecasts, see here and here).  The trends highlight what to expect in the Social Sector and the implications for nonprofit staff, boards, donors and community leaders.

Through the lens of Art in Praxis - a space where art and culture are at the center of social change - I want to add another stakeholder group: Artists.

Nonprofits, this is an opportunity to leverage the arts to amplify your mission. Artists, this is an opportunity to produce socially engaged art for clients that can influence people and policy. (We design experiences like The Match for this very reason).

The National Council of Nonprofits lists 11 Trends to Watch. I'm making the case for engaging artists around #3 and #11.

  1. The Resource Squeeze
  2. The Upward Spiral of Need
  3. Advancing Missions Through Advocacy
  4. Increased Scrutiny
  5. Transparency About Outcomes
  6. Owning Our Costs
  7. Pictures That Tell Stories
  8. Online Giving
  9. The Cloud Imperative
  10. The Leadership Challenge
  11. What Is A "Nonprofit" - New Financing Structures And Confusion

#3 Advancing Missions Through Advocacy


Whether it is funding for a project or policy reform, elected officials make decisions every day that can either create a supportive environment for the change you are working towards or hinder that work.  Advocacy is not limited to giving scripted testimony, taking meetings with elected officials or pilgrimages to City Hall.  Creatively operating outside of those institutions to influence policy should also be a part of your strategy and campaign planning.

Good ideas to learn from:

SE13 Cone Final Lower Res

#7 Pictures That Tell Stories

What is the visual history of your organization? If an outsider (and potential supporter) were to look at only the images associated with your organization, what story would they make up about your work? Your impact? 

Never underestimate the power of visual curation and imagery. Partnering with visual artists, graphic designers and photographers to tell a clear, evocative story can put the issues you are raising awareness about in front of larger audiences. Just ask Sasha Bruce Youthworks and Photographer Graeme King about their Teen Parenting Perspectives exhibit. 

A quick note about stories. Q: Who do you think has the best stories about your organization?

A: The people your mission sets out to work for and with.  Invite them to share. Incorporate their feedback into your visuals. 

Good ideas to learn from:

  • Children's books written by youth.  A great way to demonstrate the importance of literacy programs. See Reach Incorporated.
  • A Photo exhibit featuring work inspired by your mission. See Critical Exposure's "Zoom In: National Lens, Local Focus" campaign and exhibit.
  • Eye-Popping, Data- Filled Infographics.  See one of Fast Company's "Most Compelling Infographics of 2013" about Shark Attacks (yes, shark attacks). 

You know the trends for 2014, now plan. Host an Artist in Residence. 


Your work may not call for a full-time staffed creative position. Consider an Artist in Residence.  If you are interested in developing a custom Artist Residency to  move your mission, increase impact an engagement, contact us.  Art in Praxis designs short-term and long-term Artist Residency programs that are connected to your strategic vision, outcomes and financial planning. 

The "Kick In The Pants" file

As the days get shorter and colder and 2014 steadily makes herself a reality,  I've been in need of a boost of energy and inspiration to close this year out strong... a (loving) kick in the pants, if you will. So, I've started to compile speeches and interviews by creatives, visionaries and weirdos that inspire me. The "Kick In The Pants" file will be updated throughout December. Check back and take what you need!


Oprah Winfrey Harvard Commencement Speech, Class of 2013 [youtube=]

Ava DuVernay delivers the filmmaker keynote address at the 2013 Film Independent Forum


Any of the talks from the National Innovation Summit for Arts & Culture (hosted by #ArtsFwd)


A Public Dialoge Between bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry


Jenifer Lewis' Advice To Young Actors


Austin Kleon's talk "Steal Like An Artist" @ TEDxKC


[Video] The Generational Shift | MCA Arts Lab 2013

[vimeo] MCA Arts Lab 2013 - The Generational Shift from GBCA on Vimeo.

This week I attended and participated in Maryland Citizens for the Arts' annual capacity building conference "The Generational Shift: Creating New Approaches to Leadership, Funding, and Audience Participation in the Arts." The focus was capacity building for arts professionals and artists while exploring solutions to the challenges of an already occurring shift in generational demographics.

We looked at this shift through three lenses: -Approaches to organizational leadership and governance -Trends in philanthropy and in earned income -Changes in audience participation

Obviously I geeked out.

I was fortunate enough to sit on the dynamic intergenerational panel at the conference  where we shared our perspectives on those three lenses.

Panelists: Gregory R. Evans, The Maryland Symphony Orchestra , Gary Vikan, former Director of The Walters Art Museum, Rushern Baker IV, Visual Artist and Instructor, University of Maryland, Susan Malone, Wide Angle Youth Media

I learned a lot from my colleagues and I had a great time. Our moderator, MCA's Brian Francoise was brilliant and definitely channeled Oprah.

Watch the entire conference or fast forward to the panel discussion at 57 minutes.

We're Hosting An #ArtFwd Virtual Summit Watch Party! 10.22

This post was updated after the Virtual Summit Watch Party.  As soon as I learned about the National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture's "Virtual Summit", I began conspiring ways to watch the livestream with my tribe. As a bridge-builder and connector, I fundamentally believe the very best ideas and solutions spring from a collective imagination. Bringing different DC communities/ disciplines together – to learn and be inspired by stories of artists and arts organizations advancing broader civic agendas, – would no doubt spark ideas and conversations that would benefit the DC creative and social sector.

One of the Virtual Summit presenters for the “Citizenship and the Arts” panel was a cultural provocateur in DC, Howard Shalwitz, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Light bulb moment: Woolly would be the location for the gathering, now lovingly dubbed the Virtual Summit Watch party! I volunteered with Woolly’s Connectivity Department from Seasons 31-33 as a member of the Claque, a group of zealous volunteers who support audience design and community engagement. Woolly’s approach to Connectivity has influenced my work as a capacity builder and community artist. I am grateful for Connectivity Director Jocelyn Prince’s support and partnership in bringing the Virtual Summit Watch Party to the Woolly Classroom.

Keeping with the “Citizenship and the Arts” theme, I intentionally challenged Watch Party Goldie Dean, Executive Director of FRESHH Inc, mapping the ecosystemparticipants to think about DC as a ecosystem where arts and cultural institutions, popular education networks, schools, civic organizations and social enterprises all impact and influence each other. Throughout the party as we were inspired by the talks, we literally mapped out those groups and institutions in relation to each other.

The Watch “Party” was a bit unconventional because it happened on a Tuesday at 10:30am, but creativity and inspiration has no timetable! We had a lively group from all four quadrants of the city, including Christylez Bacon, Grammy nominated Hip-Hip performance artist (who is scoring the Woolly production, “We Are Proud”), Joy Austin, Executive Director of the DC Humanities Council, Goldie Dean (pictured right), Executive Director of FRESHH, Teshonne Powell, Atlas Theatre, Brenda Hayes, Producer, This Light: Sounds of Social Justice, Nora Rassman, Maximize Good, Woolly Staff, recent Rhode Island transplants and avid theatre goers. We even had local participants who livestreamed the Virtual Summit from their desks because they received the invitation from Art in Praxis.

The beauty of the virtual summit was its virtuality! Seeing our thoughts, affirmations and questions flash across the screen was surreal.  We “met” fellow travelers from all over the planet, just as excited about Howard, Lisa Hoffman and John Davis’ presentations as we were. When we heard the shout out the DC Watch Party, we cheered because the world heard it! In many ways we were in Denver too.

After the Virtual Summit talks we shared our thoughts and turned inward, revisiting our own ecosystem. We talked about creative placemaking, cultural exchange, world cities… ultimately landing on development in DC and the potential role of artists. This was a rich, layered discussion with everyone entering at different points are perspectives. Joy, from the DC Humanities Council saw artists as preservationists. Nora was interested in artists collaborating with housing and advocacy organizations, Christylez offered Takoma Park DC as a case study of a community whose preserved its heritage despite big business cropping up around it. Our brief time together sparked ideas that are still bubbling. I look forward to seeing what materializes about of the Watch Party and I would definitely host one again.

Huge thanks to the ArtsFwd team and Kendra Danowski, ArtsFwd Editor + Engagement Coordinator for her support and encouragement!

Citizenship and the Arts

Virtual Summit Livestream Presented by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Art in Praxis (that's us!)

The National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture’s "Virtual Summit" features livestreamed 12-minute talks by three dynamic leaders in the field that explore the outputs and impacts of innovative projects across the country.

As part of the Summit, the “Citizenship and the Arts” presentation features stories of artists and arts organizations using their unique capacities as citizens to advance broader civic agendas, including social justice, civic vitality, and social innovation. (DC gets the spotlight with Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director, Woolly Mammoth Theatre as a featured presenter!)

RSVP and join us on Tuesday, 10.22, 10:30am - 12:30pm for the Virtual Summit Livestream followed by conversations with local DC Cultural Provocateurs!

“Citizenship and the Arts” Virtual Summit Presenters:

Small Town, Big Vision  John Davis, Executive Director, Lanesboro Arts Center

Lanesboro Arts Center is reimagining the future of rural America and the role that the arts can play in its sustainability by transforming an entire small town into an arts campus. This talk will explore the political, economic, and creative problem solving strategies of this innovative vision.

Artist-led Ecosystem Interventions  Lisa Hoffman, Director of Environmental Program and Community Engagement, McColl Center for Visual Art

Explore with us a community engagement model that highlights the value of artist-led ecosystem interventions that foster inter-generational relationships, create stronger communities and elevate the value of artists as catalysts for change.

Finding Your Itch and Scratching It Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Drawing on his perspective as a theatre founder, Howard Shalwitz will explore how an organization’s founding motivations and culture can play out over time to encourage innovation. More specifically, he will describe the evolution of Woolly Mammoth’s recent “Connectivity” strategy as a current example of “scratching the same itch” that the theatre began scratching 35 years ago.

#artsfwd #DCArts

@woollymammothtc @PraxisMakes___