- Reporters Desk
By Melina Paris, Columnist
To maximize the Knight Ridder Cities Challenge, the ArtExchange (ArtX), a visual arts center in the downtown East Village arts district, hosted (Artists + Activists) x Innovation, on Oct. 19. Local artists and activists were invited to share ideas about how to improve Long Beach.
Because the Press Telegram was once owned by Knight-Ridder Inc., Long Beach, where the newspaper is based, is among 26 places across the nation eligible to receive ongoing funding from the Knight Foundation for programs intended to attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement.
It’s the legacy of John S. and James L. Knight, brothers whose names were once atop the largest newspaper chain in the country. It’s called the Knight Cities Challenge.
The facilitators of (Artists + Activists) x Innovation recognize that artists and activists do not connect that much. Nicolassa Galvez, CEO of the ArtExchange, said she kept hearing conversations about the importance of collaboration among both groups, but it was only happening on a small scale, usually among people who already knew each other.
“This evening’s purpose is to hold a space for Long Beach artists and activists to connect or reconnect and brainstorm innovative ideas for cross-collaboration,” said Kenny Allen, one of the event facilitators, who is also managing director of Evolve Theatre and the marketing and membership director for the nonprofit organization Teaching Artists Guild.
Other facilitators were John Thatcher Montgomery, an ArtX Studio artist and the lead organizer of PechaKucha Nights Long Beach, and Janay Watts, an activist-scholar and emerging writer who organizes with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and facilitates youth intergroup dialogue through restorative justice.
Attendees came from the Long Beach Arts Council, Long Beach Fresh and Housing Long Beach, as well as a variety of freelancers who came to participate through writing and videography, among other means.
After the preliminaries—a few icebreakers, a few assessments of assets, and the identification of issues—attendees broke into four or five brainstorming groups. That’s where the action happened.
People got to know each other. They aired out concepts for a better Long Beach. At least 75 were recorded, shared and eventually combined under more expansive umbrellas.
Categories included the attraction and retention of talent, quantifying important digital technologies and media to increase access and information sharing, the engagement of artists in activism and community, increasing civic and community engagement, identification of new spaces to move community forward and bridging socio-economic gaps.
Montgomery and Galvez had recently been focusing on a grants writing cycle for ArtX to fund creative projects, which they presented to the local Knight foundation. The Knight Cities Challenge was also in the back of their minds. Later, Galvez and Allen met at a Long Beach Arts Council meeting and the Knight Cities Challenge came up again. The challenge had a hard deadline of Oct. 27, so they decided to dive into this opportunity to bring these two groups, artists and activists, together.
The Long Beach Community Foundation is excited about artists and activists coming together in this way. It provides charitable services to encourage philanthropy and strengthen nonprofits to effect positive change and improve the quality of life for greater Long Beach. It has also signalled its support.
“There were so many great ideas and I see more potential for innovative collaboration,” Galvez said.