I couldn’t be more excited to announce the formation of a new nonprofit organization today, ViVA Virtual Visiting Artists with my friend and co-founder, Natalie Marsh. Natalie and I both stepped away from our former careers to take some time off (a privilege to be certain) and began a process of thinking about what we wanted to do with this next chapter in our working lives. I’m incredibly grateful for that time – to read, to contemplate, and complete a few long-simmering projects. Little did I know that this planned sabbatical would coincide with so much disruption.
Obviously, it’s been a difficult time. Social networks and reckless personalities deepened our national divide and an initially ill-managed pandemic ravaged our communities. We saw people needlessly die, watched our environment grow more dangerously out of balance, and groups have been working to push racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, misogyny and other vile “-isms” back into the mainstream. For the first time in my lifetime, I felt like we not only stopped making steady progress, but moved dangerously backward. I witnessed many friends cry out online in pain.
A few years ago, Marc and I had lunch with an old college friend during a trip to Houston. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher was, at the time, one of six candidates running in her district’s democratic primary for Congress. She was a partner at her law firm and she spoke passionately about what drove her to run. One day she was watching an incredible story unfold on the nightly news, and she turned to her husband and said, “where are the adults?!” It was moments later that she realized that we are the “adults” now and if we desire a fix to the things which are broken, it will be up to each of us to take bold action to do so. As you may know, Lizzie won that primary, impressively beat an incumbent in the general election and joined a wave of women who were newly elected to Congress in that term. This year, she was re-elected to a second term along with even more women. That conversation with Lizzie resonated with me.
After a year of concentrated preparation I’m proud to announce with Natalie this new platform that accomplishes a number of positive and essential outcomes:
- Bringing artists of note whose work speaks to the most challenging issues of our time to learners of all ages
- Providing support to educational and all types of learning institutions – many of whom have seen their budgets and faculty/staff positions significantly reduced – in augmenting and diversifying their curriculums and programming with high quality artist engagement at a remarkably affordable price point
- Supporting artists during a time of great disruption and financial difficulty
Our effort is strongly supported by a stellar board of directors, a team of educators, volunteers, and a group of interns, and we’re extremely grateful to them. Much more information is available at our website: vivavirtualartists.org.
Creating this venture as a nonprofit organization was paramount. We are mission driven and we will be accountable in accomplishing that mission. (Adding in a profit motive wasn’t going to further help those we hope to serve). We will run a lean, transparent organization that is built for this moment, and actually we’ve been doing that behind the scenes since last year.
Starting a nonprofit from scratch in this environment in a sort of blue ocean space is both exciting and daunting, but I couldn’t be more excited by the challenge and the possibilities. I have reawakened entrepreneurial muscles I first flexed in the nascent days of the web in my early twenties. As we launch I hope we’re getting most things right, but we’ll listen carefully, and make adjustments along the way. That’s how all works get to be great. And we have much more in store for later.
Our tagline is “Connecting voices. Expanding understanding.” – and that’s something we need a lot more of right now. Our inaugural roster includes a remarkable group of artists working in the climate change / sustainability area, something I’m incredibly passionate about. We are a zero carbon solution for artist/speaker engagements. I am also very concerned with fostering conversations about difference and discrimination.
In that regard, this endeavor is – for me – very much about allyship. I reflect often on what it was like in the ’90s when I was in the process of coming out as a gay man. We’ve made so much progress now that it’s difficult to remember just how gut-wrenching a time that was for me. And I say this having been almost exclusively surrounded by allies. Of course, I wasn’t certain at the time that basically everyone in my world would turn out to be an ally – and most of them staunchly so – but it made all of the difference. My allies made life better, easier and more equitable for me. All of these years later, I’ve also come to fully appreciate the nuances of how privilege aided my personal journey.
Allyship is the practice of emphasizing social justice, inclusion, and human rights by members of an ingroup, to advance the interests of an oppressed or marginalized outgroup. Allyship is part of the anti-oppression or anti-racist conversation, which puts into use social justice theories and ideals.
I look to many of my friends and I know I must be their ally now. We must be allies now. And not just cheerleader, social media “liking” allies but active allies who are strategizing to do good. That must be the mission for all of us who care about social justice and oppose discrimination of any kind.
ViVA presented at a conference just recently – a sort of sneak peek before our launch – and one of our artists, Jane Marsching offered that “hope is a consequence of action.” I couldn’t agree more.
So, here’s to new chapters, to “being the change”, to life-long learning, and to support of the Arts and Education. And here’s to raising up diverse voices during a critical time.
I appreciate your support and taking note of our endeavor. It means a great deal to us. Our sleeves are rolled up. Let’s get to it.
Do you want to know how you can support us? I’m so glad you asked!
- Please tell your friends who either teach or influence programming budgets at colleges, universities, high schools, museums, libraries, and community and municipal organizations, about ViVA.
- Sign up for our newsletter, ViVA Voices to stay abreast of our efforts.
- Donations are welcome, too. We’re investing heavily in getting this organization off of the ground and support of any size is very meaningful.