Pittsburgh is a long way from Ocean Park, Maine. And The Association of American Cultures (TAAC) conference that brought me here is hot and sultry, like the weather inside and out. The air conditioning at the Hilton is broken. I’m sitting here on the 16th floor with the window open, my forearms sticking to the cherry desk as I type. I have to leave in a few minutes for dinner with Anthony Radich, director of the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) so we can get caught up on WESTAF work after a month of connecting only by e-mail and phone.
TAAC’s 10th conference is titled “20 Years of Celebrating Diversity: The Arts as a Catalyst for Change.” You couldn’t do better illustrating that fact than listen to the story of Donna Brown and the Point Breeze Center in Philadelphia. Her mother started the organization in her kitchen, holding arts classes for kids. When the founder died, the daughter reluctantly stepped in, insisting that “I’ll sit here until you can find some artsy fartsy arts person to take this over.” That was 20 years ago, and now the Center is way bigger than a kitchen. In the process, the organization has been drawn into work for social change. In addition to learning about art, community members were asking how to get Food Stamps. “One woman was sitting in our lobby one day,” Ms. Brown said. When asked why, the woman replied, “I need to sit here because if I go home I’m a gonna kill ‘im.”
The center’s widely diverse programs help kids find reasons to stay in their neighborhood. “We’re giving them choices, opportunities, and chances,” Ms. Brown said, “and that’s what the arts are all about–choices, opportunities, and chances.”