Arts Alliance views ways to respond to community trauma

by Wendy Weitzel

Can the arts community serve as second responders to emergencies? On Thursday, Arts Alliance Davis participants said the answer is yes, and began a discussion about this critical role the arts can play in community healing and wellness.

Arts Alliance Davis meets every other month, at rotating venues. The collaborative effort unites artists, civic and arts organizations, businesses, patrons and other community arts allies. It’s open to anyone who creates, supports or enjoys art. The host this time was Davis Media Access.

Three of the meeting’s participants, along with two members of the city’s Civic Arts Commission, attended a workshop the day before: From Idea to Action: Advancing Cultural Equity in the Arts in the Greater Sacramento Region. The event, at the Clunie Community Center, was hosted by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and the Sacramento Region Community Foundation. It examined how to create a thriving, inclusive community, and looked at the role arts can play in healing.

One of those attendees was Autumn Labbé-Renault, chair of the Davis Arts Alliance, who led Thursday’s Arts Alliance meeting. She said the event’s message was timely, coming a few days after the slaying of Davis Police Officer Natalie Corona. She asked, “What role can the Arts Alliance play in helping facilitate the healing around not just what happened last week but these other simmering issues in our community?”

Stacie Frerichs, executive director of the Davis Arts Center, who also attended the Sacramento event, said artists serve a natural role as what’s being referred to as second responders to trauma in a community. The Arts Center can help artists develop the skills to respond to an event, whether it’s with their art, their organizations opening up spaces for shelter, or providing other support.

“To do that well, we have to really be thinking about the diversity, equity, inclusion piece of it,” Frerichs said. If a nonprofit’s staff and board members don’t represent a broad spectrum of backgrounds and views, it’s difficult to respond with authenticity.

Rachel Hartsough, the city of Davis’ arts and culture manager, also went to the cultural equity event. She raised the question, “How do we take differences and celebrate them, and make them what we are about, in a real, positive way?”

When you run an organization, Labbé-Renault said, it’s important to step beyond the everyday work to view things “through the lens of equity.” That means “not just looking at things like diversity and inclusion, but looking from our foundations up. How are our processes equitable? Who staffs the organization? Who governs the organization?”

The nearly 20 participants at Thursday’s Arts Alliance Davis meeting said they welcomed further exploration of this topic. Though artists can serve therapeutically in traumatic events, “the diversity-equity work really can’t happen until there’s healing in the community,” Labbé-Renault reported.

Hartsough said these are honest and challenging discussions that need to take place in all areas of governance, and all community groups.

An analogy she heard at the event was, “ ‘How are we bringing in all of the members of the community?’ There’s a difference between being welcome and being included. Davis is welcoming but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re including everyone in the community in a way that is authentic.”

Hartsough added, “As a city, we need to look at where we place our resources. How do we award community arts grants? Are we reaching out in a way that is the most equitable as possible?”

She suggested going through this process as an Arts Alliance, so the artists – often members of local nonprofits working with the community — can bring those ideas back to their organizations.

Larry Chandler, a volunteer who organizes a monthly information table at the Davis Farmers Market, spreading the word about local art events, said art can bring people together and improve attitudes. “You see how divided the country is,” he said, citing blowback over the Women’s March or a recent Gillette digital ad promoting positive male behavior.

Frerichs acknowledged that some organizations are further along in this process, and asked them to “reach out and build bridges, we’d love to have you.”

One of the leaders in this effort is the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, a nonprofit that created “Art Became the Oxygen: A Guide to Artistic Response.” Download the booklet at The guide was created to unite artists, resource providers and service organizations in the aftermath of a crisis. It incorporates experience and guidance from those engaged in artistic response to events “from Katrina to Ferguson, from Sandy to Standing Rock,” and has links to arts projects and emergency resources.

The website states, “As natural disasters and social emergencies multiply, the need has grown for ethical, creative and effective artistic response ­– arts-based work responding to disaster or other community-wide emergency, much of it created in collaboration with community members directly affected.”

Each meeting has time set aside for participants to introduce themselves and share information. Some highlights:

Davis Media Access has several upcoming workshops for adults as well as children. Every month, it offers a general orientation, explaining volunteer opportunities with its radio and TV stations, and a TV studio workshop, DMA’s Alex Silva-Sadder said. In February, it will offer podcasting seminars. In March and April, there’s storytelling workshops, with some catered to nonprofits. There’s also a green screen workshop on its way. And in the summer, there are kid video workshops and teen digital media workshops. Visit for details.

The UC Davis Music Department will offer a “Sound of Music” screening and singalong, Friday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Ann E. Pitzer Center.

Jeremy Truong of Imagining America, based at UC Davis, said the organization’s annual National Gathering is Oct. 18-20 in Albuquerque, N.M., with deep discounts for local residents. The event gathers public scholars, artists, students, designers and cultural organizers to address the nation’s most critical issues.

The Big Day of Giving is Thursday, May 2. Labbé-Renault helps lead the effort for Big Day at The Dock, where nonprofits, for a small fee, can rent space at Sudwerk Brewing Co. to promote their missions. Signups will begin in late February.

J.R. Yancher of Bike City Theatre Company echoed a sentiment often heard from local artists: there’s a lack of performance, rehearsal and gathering space in Davis. He’s looking for affordable stage space on evenings and weekends for about 45 days, to rehearse an upcoming bike safety musical that will be presented to local elementary schools.

The next meetings of Arts Alliance Davis are March 14 and May 16, 10 to 11:30 a.m. The venues are to be determined. For more information, to post an event or opportunity listing, or to subscribe to be on the mailing list or become a member, visit or contact Rachel Hartsough at [email protected].