Art vs. Racism, Privilege, and Displacement

Creating greater equity is urgent. This is the discussion we’ve been having at the New Community Visions Initiative convenings across the country. In these gatherings, we’ve focused (or tried to) on community goals as the outcome, and arts sector needs as a means to that end. Importantly, we’re talking about equity through art, not for art.

How do the arts contribute to creating more equitable places?

Diversity in Local Arts Agencies: Findings from the 2015 LAA Census

In 2015, Americans for the Arts partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts to conduct the Local Arts Agency Census, the most comprehensive survey of the local arts agency (LAA) field to date. More than 1,000 LAAs responded to the survey on topics ranging from budgets and financial outlook to specifics about their programs and services.

In order to more clearly see the work ahead of our field in terms of diversity we included questions about board and staff demographics, diversity initiatives in LAA programs, and about formal diversity policies. The answers we received paint a complex picture, but in general, the demographic composition of LAAs show that as a field, we can do better in representing all our constituents.

Reflections on Readiness and Resiliency

On April 19, the National Endowment for the Arts hosted a convening of national thought leaders and practitioners to consider the increasing importance of work related to natural disasters, man-made disasters and civil unrest. “Readiness and Resiliency”: Advancing a Collaborative and National Strategy for the Arts in Times of Emergencies.

I was excited to be attending as an observer on behalf of the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness and Emergency Response. I had attended a preconference through Grantmakers in the Arts in 2014 in Houston. The preconference focused on the examination of the readiness, response, and emergency support systems for artists. It featured three artists and really centered around how the arts community responds to the effect of natural disasters on the lives of individual artists. It was, to say the least, so completely inspiring that I found the ideas and content integrating itself into the conversations I had with the local community in Columbus upon my return and for the time following.

Boards First

Cultural equity is a significant charge for every arts organization to strive for in their work. The choral community that I work in is committed to expanding its diversity, including language, ethnicity, race, and religion, as well as crosscutting characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation, and range of ability and age. Choruses are building community from the inside out, focusing on the rehearsal room as a first step to building a healthy and vibrant arts organization that can create a feeling of community for its audiences and beyond.

But where does cultural equity begin in a field that attempts to be intentionally inclusive, rather than deliberately exclusive?

Disability – We Need to Keep Speaking Up!

I've been asked to write something about the Americans for the Arts statement on Cultural Equity. First, thanks for asking. I believe statements like this are important to set a tone—to set a standard by which we create a core set of values necessary to create a society that honors and respects the differences we all possess. I will also say that these are my thoughts; I've learned that I can only speak for myself and much of what I want to say is food for thought, something to consider.

I am a member of a historically underrepresented group. I am disabled. I say that with pride in my identity, something that I was not always able to say. I also have to say that I sometimes get a bit frustrated by the dialogues that seem to be continuing but not always moving at the speed I'd like to see it move at and especially for not always including members of my 'peeps' in the discussion.

 

Daisy, Hoke, and an Equity Ethos

This essay is cross-posted on Linda Essig’s blog, Creative Infrastructure

There’s a line in Alfred Uhry’s play Driving Miss Daisy that has stuck with me for the last 30+ years. In response to a well-meaning, but misguided (and forgotten) comment by Daisy, an elderly, White, Jewish, southern widow, to Hoke, her equally elderly Black chauffeur, Hoke replies, “How do you know what I see unless you can look out of my eyes.” I heard the play at least 50 times over several years serving as its associate lighting designer on numerous companies but that is the only line I remember today. I remember it because it is foundational to the development of my personal ethic of cultural equity. In one way or another, Hoke’s reminder that we all have unique, individual, and valuable perspectives formed by unique, individual, and valuable lives informs the way I interact with students, colleagues, board members, artists, neighbors, and all the other people with whom I interact who neither look like me nor believe what I believe.

All Things Being Equal

“To support a full creative life for all, Americans for the Arts commits to championing policies and practices of cultural equity that empower a just, inclusive, equitable nation.”

This week, Americans for the Arts released this statement along with a detailed explanation of how it came into being, and why it’s important. You can find all the details here. I was pleased to be one of the 150 participants who gave input on the statement, helping craft a message that is in line with my work in the arts and arts education–to make the arts accessible to everyone, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic circumstances.

A Statement on a Statement

Statement: a definite or clear expression of something in speech or writing. 

I am a mother of three beautiful bi-racial children; what that also means is that I am a woman and I am Mexican. I am a Libra. I am an employee of Americans for the Arts. I am a warrior. And I get a little scared sometimes. Once I got over the initial shock of being asked to write a blog about the newly released Statement on Cultural Equity—I panicked—full anxiety attack panic. Then I took a breath and I said yes. I was honored and humbled and terrified. What if I felt the "wrong" thing? What if I said the wrong thing? What if I didn't believe in or resonate with the statement despite knowing what was going into the writing of it and why it was happening? After getting the invitation to write a blog, I read the statement over and over—reflected on it and about it—spoke with friends and family about my struggles with inequity—workshopped phrasing and concepts and ideas...then on a flight to New Mexico—I opened my laptop to write…

Getting Beyond Fairness

I grew up as a white kid in the middle class—and rather racially homogenous—suburbs.  My father is a minister (as were his father and his grandfather), and the lessons embedded in the biblical teachings of “love thy neighbor” were taken to heart in our house.  My values were shaped to include service, fairness, and the responsibility to help others, particularly those in need.  From an early age, I also was aware of the inequities that existed between races, and I sensed that people of color hadn’t gotten a fair shake.  But I truly believed that, if I loved my neighbor as myself, and if I ensured that my neighbor was given an equal chance to succeed, things would change.

The Community Arts Movement Is (Still) Flourishing

A new report from Intermedia Arts provides evidence of the burgeoning community arts movement. Its author, William Cleveland, provides thoughts on some of the report’s findings and what it means for the future. Read more about the full report here.

Once upon a time, in the summer of 1993, I joined High Performance Magazine as a contributing editor. The magazine, then in its 14th year, was being published by artist, Steve Durland, and journalist, Linda Burnham out of the 18th St. Arts Complex in Los Angeles. At the time, High Performance was covering an art scene that the mainstream arts community was going out of its way to ignore. Nevertheless, the magazine established itself as the voice of the burgeoning community arts movement in the U.S., providing a first hand, first voice window on artists and arts organizations making art at the crossroads of social change, and community development.

A Beginning...

In regards to the America for the Arts Statement on Cultural Equity, I have no problem with the statement. It's earnest. I give it a passing grade with room for improvement assessment. My question, however: where's the muscle in the statement that may inspire the cultural field to take on it biggest challenge, racial equity in our sector?

Some contextual information that informs my assessment:

How Can I Use My Privilege to Make Change?

I’m a white person who is consistently grappling with my assumptions and privilege. For those of us who hold power, making institutional change is a humbling, confusing, unbelievably nuanced, and sometimes it’s even a scary process. It aggravates my Imposter Syndrome and I would be lying if I said I’m doing anything more than fumbling my way through this.

And yet, working toward racial equity feels like the most important thing I can do.

I believe that equity statements are vital tools for beginning this work. Publicly stating the intentions to which your organization wants to be held accountable is a brave thing. But it’s each individual’s personal commitment that turns the statement into action; that makes it real.

Avoiding the Cultural Equity Blob

The topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion have gained momentum and are now positioned at the forefront of many conversations among organizations and arts administrators. From research reports to Twitter chats, from conference workshops to inter-office training sessions, members of the field have accepted the challenge of adapting to our country’s demographic changes and to adopting the language to improve how we engage diverse communities—as audiences and as employees.

However, despite these progressive and much needed efforts of equity and inclusion of diverse communities I am concerned. As a person of color, I am excited to see these topics become organizational priorities, but in many instances these efforts seem more suited as the step-sibling of “outreach” and “community engagement” rather than a conscious shift in organizational culture.

Art + Culture EQUALS the Lakota Way of Life

When we talk about cultural equity in the arts, it's natural to think of the word "inclusiveness." Of course we want to pursue increased diversity, and we want to provide marginalized populations with better access to the tools and opportunities they need to fully live their best creative lives.

Inclusiveness is great. But we also need to remember that, for meaningful cultural equity, we're talking about far more than art. We're talking about the reclamation of culture itself.

How Will You Live Cultural Equity?

When I was asked to write a response to the Americans for the Arts Statement on Cultural Equity, my immediate reaction was that I know so many other artists and activists whose thoughts I would rather see in this space than mine. I still feel that way. But I also know that people with a significant amount of historical, societal privilege (mine happen to be that I’m white, cisgender, currently non-disabled, a U.S. citizen, grad-level educated, etc.) need to speak up in support of equity and justice. Silence supports the way things are, and I’m deeply committed to helping change that.

It’s essential that I acknowledge that my views below have formed over time by learning from many people whose words I’ve encountered at gatherings and meetings, in books, on screen, online, over email, over a shared meal, or mixed with late-night drinks. I’m deeply indebted to you all.

Equity for Culture is a Moral Responsibility

Americans for the Arts understands the value proposition of all Americans having access to the arts. After all, "to increase access to the arts for all Americans" is coded in its mission. Americans for the Arts also knows that our nation's arts and cultural sector nurtures the same purpose. The mission and vision statements that guide our field embrace this collective idea, which is also embedded through our policies and practices.

Mission statements are meant to inspire and frame the services that are provided by organizations. They also help to establish an outline for grant makers that can influence the decisions of their investment. In this context, we know that the research in our field has revealed that equitable access is not balanced and is affecting a great number of small to mid-size arts groups. America continues to be a place with mounting social and economic divide y con mucho political drama.

The Humble Step

The pursuit of cultural equity is a journey of mountains and valleys, someone once told me.  It is a series of hard climbs, brief moments of celebration, if you’re lucky, and then the progression begins again.  It is the type of work we do against our comfort, because it is necessary.

The pursuit of cultural equity for someone like me—someone who had the luck and privilege of not being confronted by the inequities of this country for the first two decades of my life, and then did—is a series of moments of confronting parts of myself that go against the idealized person I strive to be (and sometimes the person I see myself as).  There is irony, and a disappointment, in catching myself using the term “pow wow” when leading a session on issues of equity.  There is irony, and a disappointment, in catching myself exerting my positional power in a conversation where I am in a disagreement with someone else about whether positional power is a thing. The irony, there, comes tinged with the pain of recognizing a part of me that is less-good than I want it to be.

Navigating Big Transitions with a Creative Practice

Life is about change. In less than 3 months, the youth arts organization I co-founded ten years ago will be merging into a larger organization, and my role will change dramatically. As much as this has been a thoughtful and deep process of exploring, analyzing, and talking through all the parts of this merger, there are moments when I get nervous and rely on my creative practice to help me stay grounded. At this point in my career as an arts leader, I am certain that the tools I use as an artist are critical for any leadership role.

Your Next Challenge: Engage Business Employees Through the Arts in Your Community!

Thanks for joining us this week to learn more about how arts groups around the country are engaging business employees through the arts, and what the impact is with individuals, companies, and entire communities. This week, we’ve heard from a number of arts leaders, as well business employees who’ve both led and participated in efforts to bring the arts to the workplace, stimulate innovation, and deepen the daily practice of creativity in our lives.

Here’s a recap of what we’ve seen this week, and some of the best and most inspiring quotes:

Rock for Art

Like several other communities that have been posting on the blog this week, we at the Regional Arts & Culture Council (Portland, Oregon) were looking for a fun way to celebrate creativity in business and cultivate employee engagement in the arts while raising more money for our 10th annual united arts fund campaign, known as Work for Art. Drawing from several great models including the CincySings event produced by ArtsWave, we decided to produce a Battle of the Bands on May 12 at the beautiful Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland.

And what a battle it was! By the end of the night, we had raised about $75,000.

They paint too, and other employee engagement stories from Golden Artist Colors

One would think that an artist paint company, especially one that is also employee owned, would have a full understanding of the value of the arts in our lives. Unfortunately, work within a manufacturing and distribution facility requires many sorts of skills and interests, and many don’t connect what they do for the creative arts at Golden Artist Colors. It is only by constant effort of sharing the creative process and developing opportunities for integrating with artists that we can begin to break down these barriers.

America’s Hidden Public Health Crisis—Loneliness—Directly Impacts the Bottom Line. Here’s How Creative Expression and Engagement in the Workplace Can Help.

Most of us has had times in our life when we’ve felt lonely and isolated—and it’s a lousy feeling. But a growing body of research suggests that not only does loneliness make you miserable—it can kill you.

Recent research indicates that health risks associated with loneliness and social isolation are comparable to the dangers of smoking and obesity, increasing the likelihood of premature death by up to 30%. With the alarming increase in the rate of loneliness and isolation in our society, America is facing one of today’s most urgent—yet largely hidden—public health issues.

Packaging Your Impact: How Con Edison Engage Its Employees through the ABC/NY’s Diversity in Arts Leadership Program

At first glance, the Arts and Business Council of New York’s (ABC/NY) Diversity in Arts Leadership (DIAL) internship program looks like your typical summer arts internship: undergraduates descend on the city and ABC/NY helps them get their foot in the door of one of NYCs coveted arts and culture sector organizations.

However, you might not guess that DIAL doubles as an arts-based platform to engage employees in the corporate sector. Huh? How?

Cincy Sings: A magical way to create employee engagement, company pride, & love for the arts in our city!

It has been three years since ArtsWave and I launched the city-wide company singing challenge CincySings in Cincinnati, and it is evident to our city that the unique choral competition has delivered on its mission to leverage the power of the arts to create employee engagement and excitement among the participating companies, and a renewed passion for the arts across the regional community. The sing-offs that lead up to CincySings have become a staple at some of the region’s largest businesses, including Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where it all began.

Managing Change and Maintaining Relevance: Business Volunteers for the Arts®

Engaging with the business community has always been the hallmark of the Arts + Business Council of Greater Philadelphia; we were established in 1981 and are an affiliate of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. As an extension, our core programs revolve around engaging the employees of businesses, harnessing their skills and talents for the nonprofit arts sector.

Engaged…in What? Employee Engagement and Art-Based Training

Human creativity is the ultimate competitive advantage. And who better to learn from than artists who have dedicated themselves to creative expression? Yet bringing arts-learning into business, while a sexy idea, is not so simple. Businesses fear wasting time, resources, and lack of clearly beneficial results. Artists are concerned with protecting freedom to take risks and avoiding ‘dumbing down’ their work for business participants.

Prescription for Progress: Art + Health

Creating equitable places and healthy people: that’s the mission of Louisville, Kentucky-based, artist-innovation company IDEAS xLab (IDEAS). Together with its education and training nonprofit for artists, Creative Agents of Change Foundation, IDEAS has created a framework that helps corporations and communities re-frame challenges and discover new opportunities by leveraging the dynamic capacity of artists to innovate.

IDEAS was launched in 2012 as an exhibition series designed to connect contemporary artists in Central Appalachian and Southern States with international artist networks. Today, IDEAS has morphed into a new framework for social entrepreneurship centered around artists as strategic human resources on two parallel fronts, civic and corporate innovation. The ultimate goal is creating “shared value” programs between the two.

Whistle While You Work: Employee Engagement in the Arts

I work for Aetna, a healthcare company that builds healthy communities by promoting volunteerism, forming partnerships, and funding initiatives to improve the quality of life for its employees and customers. Here in Community Relations & Urban Marketing we strive to deepen our local market presence in the communities where we live, work, and play. Because of my love of singing, my interest naturally gravitates toward music and arts in the community. So I look for those opportunities where I can contribute my talents to support the company’s mission. What follows are several accounts of my personal experiences with music and the arts in the workplace, all guided and encouraged by the leadership at Aetna. As you’ll see, they were fun, memorable, and unforgettable.

Paper ROCKS-Glatfelter Paper and the YorVoice Music Showcase

Founded as a United Arts Fund for York County Pennsylvania in 1999, the Cultural Alliance of York County's annual campaign supports eight partner agencies that are essential to our cultural core and funds the Creative Impact Award grants that bring arts and culture to life in York County.

In an effort to promote camaraderie/fellowship in the workplace for our local corporate contributors and deepen their involvement in the Cultural Alliance annual campaign, the Cultural Alliance created YorVoice in 2015. The event brought 10 local musical acts that varied in style and genre together for a friendly singing competition. Based on the model of the Cincinnati-based ArtsWave United Arts Fund choral competition event; “CincySings,” the Cultural Alliance recruited teams from corporate contributors, as well as local performers who wanted to participate and showcase their talents to a larger audience. We had a panel of celebrity judges rank the teams to award a first place Champion and Runner Up. We also created a People’s Choice category, which awarded the People’s Choice trophy to the team with the most votes, $1 per vote.

#WorkCreative – Bringing Creativity into the Workplace

The idea of creativity in the workplace is getting a lot of play in the media these days. Books like Creative Confidence, from IDEO founders Tom & David Kelly, entice business people to retool their approach to problem solving. Industry leaders like Hitachi CEO Barbara Dyer are making bold statements like ““[c]reativity is rapidly shifting from a “nice to have” to a “must have” quality for all types of successful organizations.”

In the midst of this hey-day, lots of people are talking. But our partners at Southwest Airlines are doing. They’re finding new ways to embrace creativity in their business, and it doesn’t stop at corporate retreats. These guys are making creativity a way of life that they embrace and encourage in the day-to-day, and it shows through in their quirky corporate culture and innovative approach to airline service.

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