Wednesday, June 3, 2015

#ImpactArtsCon15 Speaker Spotlight: Lansie Sylvia

In the race to break the internet and trend on Twitter, how do you keep your organization’s message on mission?
Lansie Sylvia of Here’s My Chance will explore social content trends like infographics, hashtag memes, and explainer videos, drawing on real-world examples like #GivingTuesday and the Ice Bucket Challenge that illustrate how great content can be successfully deployed to increase donor engagement.
Lansie Sylvia is a tornado of curls, sparkles, and great ideas. As Director of Engagement forHere’s My Chance, she leads the agency’s external communication strategy, works with clients on communication projects, and builds new community partnerships. She was recently named Project Director for “Next Stop: Democracy!” – a Knight Cities Challenge project using public art and creative wayfinding to increase civic engagement in Philadelphia, PA. Lansie’s areas of expertise include nonprofit communication, storytelling, fund development, and millennial engagement strategy. Since 2010, she has held director-level positions in a variety of Philadelphia-based organizations, most recently at the EHL Consulting Group and the Philadelphia Film Society.
Come meet Lansie and our panel of expert speakers at this year’s Impact Arts & Culture Conference. Registration and session descriptions at

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 was my toughest year. But It was also the best year.

Like most of us, this last day of 2014 has me reflecting on the year that has past.  It was, personally, the hardest year I can remember. But the pain and loss I felt this year was only part of the story. I also was lucky to be part of some amazing projects and experiences in the York community thanks to the Cultural Alliance, and had the honor to work with colleagues and friends who brought arts and culture to life in 2014. Here's a look back at the year gone by, and a look ahead to what the next year brings.

Valley of Light

"Valley of Light" by Linda Sommer

On February 26th of 2014, my father passed away. Two months later, my mother joined him. It was hard to feel anything but sorrow last winter.  I relied heavily on two things to get me through; my family, and my work. In the midst of my grief, I spotted this painting by Linda Sommer at the York Art Association, and it seemed to embody my feelings churning and swirling inside me. But the best part was the valley of light at the top; a light waiting at the end of the tunnel. And that, I realized is what art does for all of us. It was a great beacon to me during those months, and still is.

Making Change

In the Spring of 2014, the Cultural Alliance headed up a committee of dedicated community partners and volunteers that brought CHANGE to York. The Litter Letter Project brought together people of all walks of life who wanted to help address the littering issues in York through art in the form of six-foot tall typographic letters, filled with trash collected in litter drives throughout York County. I got to meet and work with so many people who love our community, and wanted to use their hands to literally make change happen. And thanks to them, CHANGE is still going strong, slated for an installation on the York College Campus throughout Spring of 2015.

Meeting My Heroes

In 2014, I had the honor of meeting two people who were influential in both the art world and in my life. Ben Folds, an amazing musician and arts advocate, and Jeff Koons, a York County native and the most highly collected (and highly controversial) living artist. It was awe-inspiring (and a little nerve wracking) to share the same physical space as both of these men. Though they are very different individuals who took different paths, they have one thing in common; they both spoke of the influence that teachers had on their life. Each of them said without teachers who tapped into their potential, they would not be where they are today. And it made me realize that the real heroes are the people bringing arts and culture to the lives of our kids, day in and day out.

What Comes Next?

So what happens now? What's 2015 got in store? I'm not sure. But I can tell you that we're ready. The Cultural Alliance has set a goal of $1 Million for our annual campaign, so we can bring even more arts & culture to life in our community. And we know we can't do it without you. So thank you for an amazing and memorable 2014, and for being with us as we start 2015. Happy New Year! 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Life Lessons From Jeff Koons

Artist Jeff Koons, center, surrounded by Cultural Alliance of York County Board Directors and Staff
On September 23, 2014, members of the Cultural Alliance of York County Board of Directors & staff got a most rare gift - we were able to look at the work of Jeff Koons with the artist himself as our lens. We trekked to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City for a personally-guided tour of "Jeff Koons: A Retrospective" - the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to the artist's groundbreaking and iconic work. Comprising almost 150 objects from 1978 to the present, I expected to learn a lot about some of the most important, influential, and controversial works of art of our era. What I didn't expect was how much I would learn about Jeff, his memories of growing up in York, and how the lessons he learned at the different stages of his life influenced his art.

Life Lesson #1: There Is Art Inside Us All 

"Inflatables," Jeff Koons
Jeff spoke a lot about his York County roots in this part of the retrospective, which featured his inflatables and his ready-made works-some of his first creations when he arrived in New York City. "My father, Henry Koons, had a furniture and interior design showroom at 216 East Market Street. And in that store, I learned that the art was not in the object, but in the display of it.  A lamp is a lamp, but the art of it is in the way you view it. The Mona Lisa isn't art, your reaction to it is the art. The art is inside you. The object is a transponder, but your reaction to it is the transcendence."

Life Lesson #2: We Have To Accept Ourselves 

"Made In Heaven Billboard," Jeff Koons
Jeff was candid with our group, and let us know that the "Made In Heaven" series was one of the hardest of his bodies of work to discuss with audiences. It documented a time in his life when he was falling in love with his ex-wife, Italian actress Cicciolina, and when he received some of his harshest criticism. "It's hard for me to show these images to you, but at the same time this work is all about acceptance. Acceptance of your body, of yourself, of ourselves as organisms, our perfections and imperfections."

Life Lesson #3: Show What You Feel 

"Balloon Dog (Yellow)", Jeff Koons
"The Celebration Series was done at a very difficult time in my life," Jeff told us as we entered the area holding this collection. "My ex-wife had taken my son Ludwig to Rome, and I wasn't able to communicate with him. I wanted to show him how much I was thinking about him."  You could feel the joy in "Play-Doh" and "Boy with Pony," and the love he worked to convey when words weren't available to him.

Life Lesson #4: Remember Your Roots 

"Gazing Ball (Mailbox)", Jeff Koons

The Gazing Ball series is at the entrance, but is the last body of work that Jeff created. "Being from York County, The Gazing Ball series really represents my childhood, and my background. I'm sure you've all seen gazing balls in the yards of your neighbors. They're really an act of generosity; they allow us to see ourselves and our surroundings in them. It's about reflection."

The Jeff Koons Retrospective will be on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York until October 19th. Afterwards, the exhibition travels to Paris and Spain, where hundreds of thousands of people will be able to view his work and marvel, as we did, at what he has accomplished. And, I'm sure they'll all learn more than they bargained for.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What I Brought Back: 

Americans For The Arts 2014 Annual Convention

Rock God & All Around Nice Guy Ben Folds posing with Kelley

On June 11th, in the midst of a planning frenzy for the Impact Arts Conference on June 27th and other events coming fast and furious that same week, Cultural Alliance President Mary Anne Winkelman and I left York for the sunny, music-soaked streets of Nashville, TN to attend the Americans for the Arts 2014 Annual Convention (AFTACON14). Thanks to the scholarship I received from AFTA, we were both able to go. Though on the plane ride out, while I was feverishly updating to-do lists and writing scripts, I thought to myself; "What was I thinking? I don't have time for this! I have our conference in two weeks! I have a board retreat coming up! What about the Litter Letter Project?" If it hadn't been for the scholarship and having to go to honor that agreement, I would have backed out. And our events would have been the worse for it.
Not only did I gain professional knowledge and inspiration, but AFTACON14 gave me so many ideas to help our Impact Arts Conference and other events better serve the needs of our community. Below are three takeaways I received at AFTACON14 that I brought home to York & immediately put into practice at our events:

Takeaway One: People working in the arts need & feed off of time spent with others doing exactly what they're doing. 

Learning so much from my counterparts across the country
I didn't realize how extremely important it was to meet and talk with other people from outside my town/region who are working day in and day out, like me, on making their communities better through the arts. And not just my fellow colleagues at United Arts Funds such as Louisville, KY, Cincinnati, OH, and Chattanooga, TN, but those doing projects and programs on a scope I cannot even begin to imagine, such as Graham Beal, Director, President & CEO, Detroit Institute of Arts; and Tamara Mozahuani Alvarado, Executive Director, School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza. Just having a chance to hear their struggles and successes put so much of what we are doing here in York into perspective. And you realize that there's a support network of professionals all over the country that champion what you do & want to hear what's next in your community. 

After AFTACON14, making sure our attendees at the Impact Conference would be able to network with one another and feed off of each other's experience in the sessions was made a priority. And we encouraged attendance by creatives outside of our region's borders and brought in speakers from across state lines to help broaden the view of what's happening in the arts past our own community.

Takeaway Two: Thinking creatively & creative thinking are two different things. 

I think creatively. My mind works a little differently, so my thought processes follow a less beaten path on occasion. But I made the mistake of thinking I was using creative thinking, which I discovered at AFTACON14 is not the same thing. Creative thinking is a way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective that suggests unorthodox solutions (which may look unsettling at first). Creative thinking can be stimulated both by an unstructured process such as brainstorming, and by a structured process such as lateral thinking.

When Tamara Mozahuani Alvarado, Executive Director of the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza told me to draw planets in my notebook during her "Leading From The Edge of Your Authority" session, I really didn't get it.  "It's not a to-do list!" she commanded. "You make too many to-do lists!" and she was right about that. "This is your worlds. Organize them like planets, in order of importance. Then you'll have an image of the important places to you, and where you need to visit in order to keep in touch with them."  I now have a list of ten circles, rotating around one another. At the center is my family, then the Cultural Alliance, and then my other commitments such as my York College teaching and volunteer work. My solar system, right in front of me. It really helps re-organize my perspective on what's important, and what I have time for. All of the planning I was feverishly worrying over for our Cultural Alliance events got much more manageable once put in that perspective. I can do this; I've got planets.

My Planets
In "Planning & Facilitating Community Meetings" with Kirstin Weigmann of Forecast Public Art, there were big white easel pads and doodling. I'm not a doodler. It's not in my wheel house. But I realized that the more I was encouraged to write down whatever words and ideas popped into my head, the more the ideas and thoughts on our topics flowed. My table mates and I fed off one another, and at the end we had some really thought-provoking answers among our drawings of curly cues and seagulls (I did the seagull!) We implemented this method of capturing feedback at our Board to Boards retreat with our eight partner organizations the very next week.

Takeaway Three: Hearing thank-you from someone you admire can take you from burnt-out to brand-new.

When we attended the lunch-time Keynote of AFTACON14; "The Power of Art To Transform People;" I hadn't looked closely at my program to know who was scheduled to speak. That is, until I looked up from my plate and saw the back of Ben Folds' head at the next table.  

My heart made a sound I can only describe as "Sqeeeee!" BEN FOLDS. HERE. Amazing musician, a huge advocate for the arts, and a personal hero. I was so excited; was he scheduled to perform? But little did I know that his musical performance would be the icing on the cake.

Robert Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, introduced Ben Folds, who came up to talk to us about what the arts mean to him. "Up until 5th grade, I was a pain in the ass.  I didn't get good grades, and I didn't get along with the other kids.  I didn't have a lot of confidence. And as soon as I started playing music, I can see what I learned from that, and how it got me where I was.  It was on the backs of so many people.  And if it wasn't for what you do, and for the people that did that before you, I wouldn't be here."

That one sentence was so galvanizing.  Could it be possible that there was someone, out there, that someday might find what I did valuable? Could I be responsible for helping to move the next Ben Folds forward? It was enough to make me feel a renewed belief in my work, and that was worth all the time away from the office to be in Nashville. (That, and getting my picture with Ben Folds. SQUEEEE!)

When we returned to York, I knew that I wanted to give the attendees at our Impact Arts & Culture Conference the same experience. We were fortunate to have Patrick Dahlheimer, bassist of the multi-platinum rock band LIVE and native Yorker attend to welcome everyone. He spoke of the influence that his middle-school music teacher, Mr. Carn, had on him, and how that interaction opened his eyes to the world of music. Then, he put a challenge to our attendees. "One person dared me to dream. My question for you today is 'who are you going to dare to dream?'"

As one attendee put it; "That challenge was just what I needed. It re-ignited my light." It was the perfect way to begin the day, and set the tone for the rest of the conference.

Thank you to the Americans For The Arts Scholarship Committee that provided me the means to attend AFTACON14. Without that time spent with my peers absorbing new ideas in new ways, our community events and conference the following week would not have been as effective.  

Can't wait to meet up with all my new friends in Chicago for AFTACON15 and bring back even more to York!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Impact Arts Conference Speaker Spotlight

Impact Arts & Culture Conference Speaker Spotlight:

Jason Konopinski, JMK Media
We are thrilled to feature a wonderful array of expert presenters at the Impact Arts & Culture Conference on June 27, 2014 at York College of Pennsylvania, a one-day regional conference providing professional development and networking opportunities to creatives, designers, and those in the arts & culture sector. Today, we spotlight Jason Konopinski, a local talent with global credentials, who will be the moderator of our "Crowdfunding and Crowdsourcing Solutions" Panel.

Jason is a digital marketing and communications professional with over ten years experience working with data, web analytics, and marketing automation products. Over the course of his career, he has worked with boutique PR, marketing, and advertising agencies to develop strategy, create cross-platform and cross-medium content, and help clients tell better stories about themselves and their products.

Crowdfunding is the aggregation of small amounts of capital from a large group of people, usually via the Internet, in order to fund a business, project or organization. Crowdsourcing is the completion of a task by a large group of individuals, usually previously unknown to you and typically through the internet. Jason will share his expertise on crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, and lead a panel discussion with organizations and individuals from our region that have launched successful campaigns. 

Meet Jason and join in our "Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding" panel discussion by registering for the Impact Arts and Culture Conference. To learn more about our scheduled speakers, sessions, and ways to save, please visit

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Impact Arts & Culture Conference Speaker Spotlight:

Takenya LaViscount, National Endowment for the Arts
We are thrilled to feature a wonderful array of expert presenters at the Impact Arts & Culture Conference on June 27, 2014 at York College of Pennsylvania, a one-day regional conference providing professional development and networking opportunities to creatives, designers, and those in the arts & culture sector. Today, we spotlight Takenya LaViscount from the National Endowment for the Arts, a member of our "Meet The Funders" panel.

Takenya LaViscount manages the Challenge America Fast Track (CAFT) grant program for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). CAFT is one of the few national funding sources that enable eligible entities, particularly those organizations that are small or mid-sized, to extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations—those demographics whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability. In 2013, CAFT awarded 150 grants totaling $1.5 million dollars.

Meet Takenya and our other funders at the "Meet The Funders" panel discussion by registering for the Impact Arts and Culture Conference. To learn more about our scheduled speakers, sessions, and ways to save, please visit

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Valley of Light" By Linda Sommer

What Art Does

Today is the 27th annual National Arts Advocacy Day, the only national event that brings together a broad cross section of America's cultural and civic organizations. These arts advocates represent a united effort to tell Capitol Hill how important the arts are to our communities, how much arts education means to our children, and how the arts improve our daily lives. It inspired me to share a recent story of how the arts impacted me.

I lost my father three weeks ago, and even though I was back to work, I was having trouble seeing people. At meetings and on phone calls, everyone wanted to tell me how sorry they were, and though it was comforting, it was also very painful.  Anyone who has dealt with a death knows that each person that remembers it to you cauterizes the wound; it’s part of the healing, but it really hurts.

I was avoiding just such an exchange; people gathering for a meeting at the York Art Association and all of them wanting to give their consolations and; buying some time,  I was slowly ambling through the gallery pretending to be engrossed in the show when something happened. A painting by an artist named Linda Sommer reached out from its place on the gallery wall among many others, wrapped its hands around my heart, and squeezed. Tears welled in my eyes as I stood transfixed in front of it; watching the dark brown and gray paint turn to cream and ivory at the top of the canvas. It was like watching my father’s spirit rise up from the darkness into the light.  The piece was titled; “Valley of Light” and I had to have it. I purchased the work, and walked into the meeting feeling buoyed by the condolences rather than burdened; it comforted me in a way that nothing before or since has been able to do.

When the arts have this power to grab us, to hold our hearts and squeeze them in a way that is very personal and profound, why do we feel that we have to justify its existence with other reasons? Why must every arts organization feel compelled to hold up the economic impact of the arts in their community as a reason for their importance? Why must we talk about the arts in the education of children and youth development as to why the arts matter?

I don’t disagree that these are very critical roles for the arts. As this article in the Wall Street Journal points out, arts and culture ARE a strong driver of economic impact; the arts contributed $504 billion to U.S. economic output in 2011, or 3.2% of gross domestic product. And yes, the arts are an integral part of education; a 2012 report from the National Endowment for the Arts, entitled “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth,” concluded that students “who have arts-rich experiences in school do better across-the-board academically, and they also become more active and engaged citizens, voting, volunteering, and generally participating at higher rates than their peers.”   These are important reasons to support the arts, and we should talk about them.

But none of that mattered when my heart was hurting and I was missing my dad. I didn’t care what the arts do for our economy or for education; I just wanted something to make me feel better. The painting I found by Linda Sommer did that for me. And that’s why I bought it.  I wasn’t trying to better the economy, I didn’t plan to use it as a teaching experience; I just felt I needed it to begin healing. That is what art does; it heals, it helps, it raises deep feelings that are hard to describe and completely personal, and we should celebrate it for that as much if not more so than for its economic and educational benefits.

Do you have a story to share about when an arts experience reached out to your heart and moved you? Then make sure to tell members of Congress by sharing your story of what art does for you on our Facebook page or on Twitter and tag it #AAD14 in honor of Arts Advocacy Day 2014.

P.S. If you’d like to see the painting; “Valley of Light” in person, join me at YorkArts one-night only art show “Art In Residence-Black and White Night” at the Bon-Ton Corporate Center on Saturday, April 26th. You can get your tickets here.