Part of the 4As team was lucky to make a trek to Calgary for the 2022 Western Arts Alliance (WAA) conference. WAA iss a community of presenters and managers who collaborate to bring performing arts to audiences in the Western region of the United States and Canada. In fact, the conference is so focused, several times I was asked directly, “Are you a presenter or an artist?”
“Neither,” I responded.
Well, that always caused a double-take.
Showing up as an advocate and activist at a conference focused on presenters and artists definitely makes one stand out. But it was all the more exciting to converse with presenters and artists about our mission. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was delighted and inspired by our mission, vision, and aspirational goals.
And it was an opportunity to continue our “listening tour” to assess where we might fit and how we add value in the arts and culture community.
The WAA conference felt unique in the array of talent presented in Calgary. There were nightly performances (presented by managers auditioning their talent) with inspirational and thrilling artists. Rather than a dry cultural conference that is ironically devoid of culture, the WAA conference showed off the talent and entertained the attendees.
Further, they leaned into their words by heavily featuring Native artists. Since this was my first appearance at WAA, I don’t know if they always prioritize Native musicians, dancers, and performers or whether this was unique to Calgary or the West in general. Regardless, it was an exciting element.
Also, I was reminded that Calgary is a vivacious, exciting city full of culture and creativity, youth and fun. Being at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, this city’s combination of city, mountains, arts and culture felt like an ideal combination for an idyllic life.
Especially the “commitment to art” part.
For me, the highlight of the entire conference might have been the address from former Calgary mayor, Naheed Nenshi. Mr. Nenshi told the crowd he was petrified for the future of the world based upon a five element “perfect storm” of societal cataclysm: climate, war, race relations, pandemics, and the growing gap between rich and poor.
Mr. Nenshi made his address in a cavernous ballroom while standing to the side of the lectern, ignoring the microphone, and generally speaking to the ground or with his eyes closed. He was not the most dynamic speaker (says the actor obsessed with public speaking). Yet the entire conference hall leaned forward on their seats. He had the Hyatt Hotel ballroom absolutely in the palm of his hand.
Listing and detailing his five concerns about the future of our planet was initially depressing and demoralizing. But then he ended with triumphant optimism that the hope for our future is love.
Oh, and art.
Art. Art is the answer. Because art comes from love and acceptance and self-expression and mutual support and commitment to truth.
And just like we at 4A Arts say, “equitable access to all arts for all people can help tackle almost all problems.”
Not only was Mr. Nenshi’s message inspiring and compelling, but it was also gratifying – it reminded me that we at 4A Arts are working directly to quite literally save our country and the world.
Because, as we all know, art is the answer.
(Below, you get a snippet of this inspiring Calgary leader. This is not his speech at the WAA Conference, but it’s still a good one…)
Elena K. Holy is proud to join the 4A movement as General Manager. Her 30+ year arts management career includes NYC’s non-profit Roundabout Theatre Company, commercial Broadway and Off-Broadway at Richard Frankel Productions, and founding and running The Present Theatre Company, where she co-created the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC). FringeNYC was once the largest multi-arts festival in North America – with an all-volunteer staff of 100 people, 2500+ additional volunteers, and 5000 artists representing 200 companies from all over the world, and producing nearly 1100 performances annually, with many now-famous alumni and productions.
As Producer, Holy was awarded the 1997 New York Magazine Award for her “creativity, vision and enterprise”. In 2006, she was named one of New York Magazine’s “Influentials” because she “turned the Fringe Festival, which she founded in 1996, into Sundance for the theater crowd – a place where anyone with an idea and a tiny budget can get noticed. Urinetown, the 1999 Fringe musical that made it to Broadway and won three Tonys, is the most extreme example, but more than a dozen Fringe shows have gone on to significant Off Broadway runs. Her triumph: retaining the fest’s brilliant lunacy amid commercial success.”
Other achievements include the 2007 Mayor’s Award for Arts & Culture, serving as a Tony Awards Nominator from 2008, and being named an Indie Theater Hall of Fame “Person of the Decade” in 2015. As FringeNYC ended (and the pandemic began) she became Interim Managing Director at SHADOWLAND STAGES in beautiful Ellenville, New York where she and husband Kevin share a home with their two westies, Daisy and JuneBug. She serves as Treasurer for the local Chamber of Commerce and is an active member of her community.
Working as the Communications and Marketing Coordinator of 4A Arts fulfills Alex Carrillo’s dream to bring his knowledge of the entertainment industry to the broader arts and culture world. Born in Oakland, CA and raised in the Tri-Cities of Washington state, Alex envisaged himself exiting generational poverty and eventually working in the music industry.
After high school, without scholarships, funding, or other support to help him reach his goals, he enlisted in the U.S. military in 2013, joining the Army Infantry. Alex received his basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia before being stationed in Fort Drum, New York, where he proudly became a member of 4-31 Charlie Company, the Mountain Division (the world’s best kept secret). In 2015, Alex was deployed to Afghanistan in a classified combat war zone through early 2016.
After his time in the service, Alex returned home to seek his college degree. He enrolled at The Los Angeles Recording School, a division of the Los AngelesFilm School, where he received his associate’s degree in Music Production and bachelor’s in Entertainment Business.
While still studying at the L.A. Recording School, Alex landed a publishing deal with Position Music, earning his music a place in the Netflix movie Moxie and in the video game NBA2k22 with his album Locked In.
After receiving his Bachelor’s degree, Alex began working on the business side of the industry, managing artists, performing social and digital marketing, and distribution, among other duties. Alex joined 4A Arts in the summer of 2022, bringing those talents to the nonprofit world.
Whitney S. Christiansen is a native Kentuckian with an interdisciplinary background in arts, education, and advocacy. She spent nearly a decade teaching secondary English and drama in public schools, receiving a master’s in Interdisciplinary Humanities from the University of Louisville in 2017, where she received that year’s Grady Nutt Award for the year’s most creative directed study project, “Summoned,” an interdisciplinary practicum that combined research on medieval morality plays and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus with contemporary concepts of costume and set design. From 2009-2015 she was a cast member and later director for the Kentucky Highland Renaissance Festival, where she inaugurated and directed the festival’s teen cast, who developed two stage shows in the commedia dell’arte tradition.
Leaving the classroom in 2019, Whitney received her second master’s degree from Colorado State University in Arts Leadership and Cultural Management, where she began working with Be An #ArtsHero, a grassroots campaign dedicated to bringing COVID relief to Arts Workers (now Arts Workers United.) She was the researcher on staff for AWU’s lobbying team for the U.S. House Small Business Committee’s January 2022 hearing on the creative economy, and for Ovation TV’s The Green Room with Nadia Brown, an educational comedy show about the creative economy that launched in March of 2022. Formerly the general manager of the Center for Music Ecosystems, Whitney heads up 4A Arts’ new research initiative alongside her work managing central operations.
Actor, entrepreneur, political strategist, and father of two, Gavin Lodge comes to 4A Arts with a unique perspective on arts and culture in America. A 20-year veteran of stage and screen, Gavin grew up in suburban Colorado and traversed the country in his work with political campaigns at the senate and presidential levels as well as touring for shows.
After studying international affairs and philosophy at the University of Colorado, he worked as a field organizer in the Iowa Caucus followed by the role of “body guy” to then-candidate Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State. Politics empowered him to move to New York City to pursue a performing career. Ultimately, he performed in multiple Broadway shows (including 42nd Street, Spamalot, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) as well as regional theater, national tours and several network television appearances.
Though he was thrilled every time he stepped onto a theatrical or sound stage, Gavin was equally happy to take on leadership roles in his local union and later his kids’ PTA.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, Gavin jumped back into the political realm, working as a strategist for Bryson Gillette, a minority-owned PR firm focused on politics and public affairs. He also volunteered for Be an #ArtsHero, an arts advocacy movement blossoming during the first few months of the pandemic. During his time with Be an #ArtsHero, he was part of a team that successfully lobbied for a first-of-its-kind hearing on the creative economy in front of the House of Representatives Small Business Committee.
Gavin lives in rural Connecticut with his partner (a composer and orchestral conductor), his TikTok-dancing daughter (who is musically gifted in unparalleled ways) and his soccer-playing son who recently told him “Dad? I’m just not into concerts and theater stuff.” As he told his son, Gavin believes there is much more to American arts and culture than “concerts and theater stuff.” From the video games his son loves to play to low-rider paint jobs to streaming television series while sitting on the couch, Gavin sees American arts and culture as an inclusive, “big tent” spectrum where everyone is an artist and everyone is a member of an audience.