Advancing the Arts: African Proverbs Provide a Blueprint

June & July 2023

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This month’s blog is a throwback. I wrote the article below for Americans for the Arts some years back. It’s has a message that still resonates with me today. I hope you enjoy it, and we look forward to seeing you on tour (for tour details, see the month of May’s post below).

I attended the 2019 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was amazing to be in a place with thousands of other arts supporters and enthusiasts. I was among artists, researchers, educators, community organizations, politicians, board members, and so many others. All of us came together to learn, share, network, and champion the cause of elevating the arts in our communities.

There was power in the sheer number of people who traveled from all over the country to be in attendance. All of us traveled individually—one by one, to come to one place for one reason: the arts. When we all came together, our singularity became overshadowed by our togetherness to beacon the arts, our progress, and each other. Our shared belief that the arts make our communities and country better was demonstrated by keynote speeches, artist performances, research dissemination, critical conversations, and meaningful collaborations.

We came together to advocate, connect, and support the power of the arts in America. I believe the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In those simple words, the proverb teaches us the blueprint for monumental progress. We can go further by unifying and aligning our common interests and goals. Power may come with greater numbers, but the unity of these numbers is what builds momentum. There is power in numbers and unity as we make progress together.

After the convention has concluded, and we go back to our individual communities, the work still continues, but how do we continue to build upon the synergy that is produced from coming together, at one time, in one place? How do we continue advancing the cause in our communities, and maintain the bridges we built during the convention?

Here are four curated strategies for advancing the arts.

1. Each One Teach One — African-American proverb

Each one of us has the ability to teach another person. Each one of us has the power to expand someone’s knowledge, and human experience, by sharing information and wisdom. As we take what we learn from various sources—webinars, colleagues, conferences and conventions, even life itself—and share this with one another, we open doors to whole new ways of elevating our work in the arts. As I have heard so many times in primary school classrooms: “Sharing is caring.” Share what you know and raise up another person. Extend the web of knowledge that connects all of us in the arts. Show a mentee the blueprints for how to build a successful arts program in a diverse community. Teach how to apply for the grants that secure funding and ensure arts integration educational experiences for students. Model how to forge a career in the arts and earn a paycheck by providing high-quality arts experiences to our communities. Together—each one, teach one.

2. When a Man Is Stung, He Doesn’t Destroy All Beehives — Kenyan proverb

Setbacks in progress sting. They may cause us to question the purpose of our efforts.

Although challenges and setbacks may occur, together we can encourage each other to keep trying. Don’t quit. Our work of elevating the arts in our communities is critical. Some ideas don’t work, although the intentions of the program or initiative were thoughtful and created for good. Rebranding or downscaling may have to be considered. Seek professional consultation and research other models of success when planning and implementing. At times, progress moves slowly or not at all. Though the sting of setbacks or failure can be discouraging, keep the momentum moving forward—all is not lost. Together, we can encourage each other to pick up the pieces and make a new puzzle.

3. If You Think You Are Too Small to Make a Difference, You Haven’t Spent a Night with a Mosquito — African proverb

One person can make a difference. One person can have a seismic effect that changes the lives of many. One.

4. Tomorrow Belongs to the People who Prepare For It Today — African proverb

Preparation. A critical element for sustainability as plans for today, tomorrow and beyond are strategized. Plan and prepare. Creating short term and long-term plans are essential for progress. Strategic planning uses the mapping of goals, strategies, and action steps to ensure a target is reached. Think it, see it, plan it, do it.

Together, we can reach more people, leverage resources, share best practices, and try our collective best to change more lives and better our communities. There is power in numbers and unity. The arts are valuable because of how they bring people together. Through the arts, we invest in what matters: people. All people.

Sticks in a Bundle Are Unbreakable — African proverb

Let’s stick together.

Improvise Life,



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