November 30, 2022
“Talking directly with emergency management people gives you insight into how things actually work on the ground in disaster response, compared to what it looks like ‘on paper,’” reflected Cheryl Ross, administrative secretary with the City of Las Vegas, and a CAM Coach.
“We have a community partner that approached us about what we’re doing around climate change,” said Mollie Flanagan, Individual Artists Program Director at the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts. “I live in a state that is very impacted by climate change. Rhode Island is small, has 400 miles of coastline, and a whole bunch of rivers.” According to SeaLevelRise.org, the speed at which Rhode Island’s sea level is rising has increased, and scientists now forecast that in just the next 16 years, the sea will rise by another six inches. So Mollie decided she needed to take action, and applied to become a member of the first CAM cohort in 2021.
A project of NCAPER (the National Coalition for Arts’ Preparedness and Emergency Response), CAM is the Crisis Analysis and Mitigation Coaches Program, a nationwide network of arts responders trained to coach distressed communities in developing or expanding mitigation efforts using the arts and creativity. This project and NCAPER’s other work is made possible through major support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Rather than waiting for another disaster to occur, CAM Network coaches can work with affected communities as part of the mitigation process to be better prepared for the next disaster, and to build vital community communication networks. Existing relationships are key to responding to and garnering resources following a disaster, and to building resiliency for future crises. Why? Because all disasters are local. Crises happen in a specific place, and immediate help will come from local resources. People must first rely on local community resources, and work locally to build community resilience.
The CAM Coaches training is designed and delivered by Air Collaborative, which shares NCAPER’s belief that diversity of people, opinions, and experiences at decision-making tables make communities and economies stronger. Through a significant grant from The Emily Tremaine Foundation, NCAPER was able to engage Air Collaborative’s leadership, Beth Flowers and Emily Prince, to tailor their time-tested coaching and facilitation training. Rooted in equity and inclusion, their process is also, according to participants, very enjoyable. “Both Emily and Beth are such positive people! They’re fun to work with, and that made it fun to engage with them,” according to Gene Meneray. Flanagan found the process beneficial, too. “The learning back and forth … the way that we talked together and learned from each other, it surfaced gaps in the languages of emergency management and of the arts. And there’s lots of humor and flexibility and kindness built into the style of the Air facilitation method.” This type of understanding and interaction is exactly what CAM is designed to model in the local conversations and projects.
LaShawndra Vernon, executive director at Artists Working in Education in Milwaukee, is another CAM Coach. Her community’s crises are primarily human-caused -- gentrification, lead in water pipes, and something many of us experience: political churn. Frequent changes in local leadership drive quick shifts in funding and policy priorities. “I feel really strongly that this community needs to do this,” LaShawndra explained about her CAM participation. Following the CAM facilitation training, each Coach brings together artists and creatives, businesspeople, emergency managers, arts organizations, and other civic leaders to work together. CAM Coach Carol Foster, special programs associate at the nternational Association of Blacks in Dance, describes the local activities. “The first workshop is to get people involved and aware and educated about what we’re doing. The next one is to build these networks, so we have these creatives, local business economy, first responders … You give them the task of collectively coming together to create a project that will spark awareness about preparedness, but they are also creating a network, so when the next crisis comes down you won’t feel like you’re in a silo – you’re part of this network and you are planning how you can support each other in that network… That way they can begin to know each other and to understand that they’re not alone, and that one can value another and help another.” The existence of these networks can make a critical difference in how quickly and significantly the arts are addressed in times of need.
Local and state arts councils and organizations often have access to networks and contacts that the government doesn’t, explains Meneray, CAM coach and co-founder of The Ella Project in New Orleans. “The main thing is opening up lines of communication. That’s why I was attracted to CAM, to build these
relationships and have those conversations ahead of time.” While Louisiana is no stranger to recovering from hurricanes and other disasters, even here the arts and emergency management sectors aren’t well-connected. “I definitely like the idea of having these conversations ahead of time, so emergency experts can think of the arts as a component in this realm, and also that we in the arts have a better understanding of what those people’s work is.” The CAM training includes FEMA 101, to build coaches’ knowledge about how the agency works, but the local interaction is key. “Talking directly with emergency management people gives you insight into how things actually work on the ground in disaster response, compared to what it looks like ‘on paper,’” reflected Cheryl Ross, administrative secretary with the City of Las Vegas, and a CAM Coach. Cheryl is also responsible for the creation of a
Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) for the Las Vegas arts community.
The first cohort of twelve coaches will be joined by two dozen more over the next two years, for a total of over 30 communities. NCAPER’s commitment to the CAM project is driven by two core concepts: one, that arts leaders should use “Blue Sky” moments to plan readiness and mitigation, and two, that this readiness and mitigation work should become part of the regular work of arts service organizations. Jan Newcomb, NCAPER executive director, explains.
“All of our communities are at risk of crisis from climate change, human-caused tragedies, and major accidents. Waiting until a disaster happens is inviting greater damage than is necessary,” she says. “By taking time when skies are blue to think about how you will withstand, and help your constituents withstand, a crisis, you’re doing your duty as an arts leader.” Mitigation can include public outreach and network-building as well as concrete efforts such as floodplain protection. This is a fertile area for creatives. Flanagan reflected that during the pandemic, in Rhode Island, “The arts were there as a communicator, a community-builder, and a gathering point to make change. We saw a lot of really cool PSA-style work from artists around vaccines and testing.”
“CAM participants now have their coaching responsibilities built into their job descriptions, as a requirement of the program,” Newcomb explained. At this time, to NCAPER’s knowledge, there is just one full-time emergency management position within an arts agency: Lauren Hainley, Director, Disaster Services for the Houston Arts Alliance, who’s also a CAM Coach from the first cohort. Creation of the position was supported by the Houston Endowment. “While it’s not realistic to expect every service organization and funder to dedicate a full-time staffer to readiness and mitigation, we feel it’s imperative that this is an area that needs to be incorporated into existing staff responsibilities,” said Newcomb. NCAPER
is here to help organizations do just that.”
A full list of current CAM Coaches is here; the second CAM cohort participants will be announced in mid-December, and applications for Cohort #3 will open in late 2023.