“Assets” conference tries to enhance University-community relations

By Kimberly Drelich

Representatives from South Side cultural organizations and the University met in Harper Memorial Library Saturday to discuss their changing relationship. The day-long conference, “Enhancing Assets: A Resource Network for Arts, Cultural and Humanities Organizations,” offered panels ranging from “What is humanities’ content?” to the “ABCs of fundraising.”

As part of the Civic Knowledge Project, pioneered by Danielle Allen, dean of the Division of Humanities, the conference began a new dialogue between the University and the community.

The conference highlighted the University’s ability to share its knowledge with the community. “Lots of studies support the claim that arts and humanities organizations anchor the community,” Allen said. “The goal is to take knowledge of how to maintain arts and humanities divisions over time and share that knowledge with other arts and humanities institutions that are similarly trying to maintain themselves over time.”

Allen stressed the need to share knowledge between the University and South Side community and to “talk across boundaries that exist.”

Representatives from cultural organizations such as the Organization of Black Designers and Creativity, a jazz magazine, introduced themselves to other representatives at the beginning of the conference. They then attended panels, which discussed applying for grants, fundraising, technology, law, finance, and public relations.

Diane Grams, associate director of the Cultural Policy Center at the University, gave a keynote speech, “Understanding the socio-economic context of your work,” which pointed out that arts activities foster connections among people in the community and emphasized the importance of the humanities in the Bronzeville neighborhood. After the conference there was a tour of the Smart Museum, followed by a reception.

Many of the panelists were professors at the University. Larry Norman, associate professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and Interdisciplinary Studies, Martha Ward, associate prof essor in the Department of Art History, and Jacqueline Terrassa, the Interim director of the Smart Museum of Art, led a panel entitled “Curatorship,” in which they discussed the changing role of the curator both inside and outside of museums, experiences planning exhibits, and their involvement in research. They also discussed how museums decide what is valuable to them and the experience of having interns.

At lunchtime, the more formal panels gave way to networking opportunities. Attendees met in rooms to talk about topics such as “Finding Space” and “Professional Development.” The attendees discussed their concerns about gentrification and rental constraints. Representatives suggested places like the Hyde Park Arts Center that organizations might look to as promising possibilities for space.

This conference provided many representatives with their first opportunity to meet with others in arts and humanities organizations in the community. “It’s very valuable to encounter people involved in similar endeavors who have similar needs and problems,” said Connie Spreen, a representative of the Experimental Station. “The fact that we’re here is a valuable resource in and of itself, because we now have a list of contacts.” Spreen also noted that she considers her organization an “incubator” for small businesses and cultural activities.

Other representatives appreciated the diversity of subjects that the conference covered. “Hearing and seeing people from organizations I never knew existed is very energizing and exciting,” said Clairan Ferreno, a board member of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference. “Having issues go from the extremely abstract and academic to the ground-level and practical is very interesting.”

Though “Enhancing Assets” was a University initiative, Allen said she would love to hear students’ ideas. She added that South Side cultural organizations could use interns and that the cultural organizations could in turn contribute to the education of students in the University. “The group is important because there is a lot more on the South Side than the stereotypical view of it,” she said. “There are tens and tens of arts and humanities institutions.”