Earlier this month, the Queens Council on the Arts invited Emily Berry (Artistic Director, B3W Performance Group), a former Leap Dance Project Artist (2011/12) and current Pear Leadership Circle Facilitator to attend the Americans for the Arts 2013 Annual Convention and Emerging Leaders Pre-Conference in Pittsburgh. Alongside QCA’s Executive Director, Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer, Emily acted as a representative of the amazing work being done by the artists of Queens in a nation-wide conversation about the role of the arts in our communities.

In order to share her experience of strategizing with over 1,000 arts and community leaders about how to better communicate the essential impact the arts make in our communities, we asked Emily to write some of her reflections down for you. We hope that you enjoy hearing what she has to say and please join in on the conversation!

BEFORE: In the few short hours that we have been in Pittsburgh, we have gotten a tour of the city from our cab driver Kurtis and eaten at an incredible local Italian Restaurant. The sense of pride for their city resonates so deeply within everyone we meet from here!  Tomorrow at the Emerging Leaders Pre-Conference, I hope to learn new ways to engage artists and communities that will empower them to take action with the same sense of pride that is so inherent in the people we are meeting here in Pittsburgh.

AFTER: The information, the inspiration, and the litany of brilliant people and ideas that I encountered in Pittsburgh continue to overwhelm me days after the conclusion of the conference.  It permeates and applies to multiple facets of my life as an artist and the type of work that I do; as an educator and the director of the dance program at Queensborough Community College; and most importantly as a facilitator of a Peer Leadership Circle.  While I have pages and pages of countless notes detailing shared information and ideas, the through line that ties everything together is the idea of community organizing and the impact that I can have on the multiple communities of which I take part.

At the close of the opening plenary for the Emerging Leaders Pre-Conference: “Celebration of Our History Through Storytelling”, we were asked to stand and repeat the following, “If you try, you can indeed alter the face and the heart of America”.  As an emerging leader, my role is not only to live by these words, but also to ignite others to do the same. These words connect to my work as an artist, an educator, and a mentor, and my vision of how community organizing and the arts can create social change.  For years, the words in big bold letters at the top of my company’s “about” webpage have read, “B3W’s fundamental belief is that art has the power to create change”.  While that has always been at the heart of the work that we create, I was struggling with how to expand that concept into connecting more deeply with the communities that I have come from as well as the community in which I currently live.  The conference has provided me with tools, and more importantly, with the inspiration to develop ways to do that.  It has also allowed me to think in much broader terms about how art can create change through community organizing, and the ripple effect that we as artist leaders can have in inspiring individuals to start (as Emerging Leader Council Member Todd Hawkins says), their own “revolutions”.