The Arts, Justice, and Equality

Friday, June 16, 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Open the Convention with a bang as we welcome Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, to tell his inspiring personal story and talk about the crucial role of arts and culture in pursuing the dream of equal justice and cultural equity. Stevenson will be joined on stage by Deborah Cullinan, executive director of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and a driving force in placing the arts at the center of supporting healthy, vibrant, equitable communities.


Deborah Cullinan
Executive Director
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco, California

Deborah Cullinan joined Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as CEO in September 2013. With her stewardship, YBCA has sharpened its mission and vision; regrounding the organization in its origins as a citizen institution and San Francisco’s premiere art center built by the community, for the community. In addition to presenting YBCA’s groundbreaking visual art, performance, and film programs, Deborah has fostered what she calls “a culture of invitation.” From asking San Francisco residents to shape the future of Market Street, to bringing together creative thinkers of all kinds to inspire change, Cullinan has set out to prove that an art center can create the culture that’s needed in order to achieve a more hopeful and equitable future. Armed with a contemporary definition of artistic practice, she has established successful partnerships and collaborations with organizations such as the Institute for the Future, Art Practical, ImpactHUB, Future Cities Lab, Kadist Art Foundation, Autodesk, and the San Francisco Planning Department. She says, “There is no better place to gather and organize the diverse mix of people needed to respond to the key questions of our time.” Prior to joining YBCA, Deborah served as the Executive Director of San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts. During her 17 year tenure, Intersection became a powerful arts-focused community development organization. While there, Cullinan played a leading role pioneering the 5M Project, a four acre prototype for creative urban development in San Francisco’s SOMA district. Deborah’s passion for connecting art and civic impact has made her a sought after speaker and contributor to both U.S. and international organizations, including the New Cities Foundation, Americans for the Arts, the City Innovate Foundation, the University of Chicago Arts Incubator, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is a co-founder of ArtsForum SF, and a member of the Board of California Arts Advocates, Californians for the Arts, MissionHub, and the Community Arts Stabilization Trust. She is on the Advisory Board of the Catalyst Initiative, Grey Area Foundation for the Arts, Howlround, the San Francisco Arts Education Project, and the Community Visions Project/Americans for the Arts. She is co-chair of the San Francisco Arts Alliance and is a Rockwood Fellow, a Gerbode Fellow, and alumni of the National Arts Strategies’ Chief Executive Program.
Bryan Stevenson
Founder and Executive Director
Equal Justice Initiative
Montgomery, Alabama

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. EJI recently won an historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. Mr. Stevenson’s work fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system has won him numerous awards. He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government, and has been awarded 26 honorary doctorate degrees. He is the author of award winning and New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy. In 2015, he was named to the Time 100 recognizing the world’s most influential people. Recently, he was named in Fortune’s 2016 World’s Greatest Leaders list.