This post is part of our “Broadening and Diversifying the Leadership Pipeline” blog salon for National Arts in Education Week 2018.
Since the age of five, theater has served as my safe place, my platform, my passion, and my megaphone. It empowers me, strengthens me, and mobilizes me in an ethereal and visceral way that nothing else can. And yet, for the first nine years of my theater career, all my directors and theater teachers were white. Even now, years later, the vast majority of the faculty in my college’s theater department are white. This reality is an injustice. And still, my existence is proof that theater, and more broadly, the arts, shape our notions of what is possible for ourselves and the world around us. Art is restorative. Art is transformative. Art is healing. Art is resistance. It is for this reason, among many others, that arts leadership, and especially arts education leadership, must be representative of those who exist at the intersections of marginalized identities.
This past summer, I participated in Americans for the Arts’ Diversity in Arts Leadership Internship (DIAL) program. This program matched me and ten other interns of color from around the country with different nonprofit arts organizations in New York City for a 10-week internship and a whirlwind life experience. This program immersed me in the city I will spend the rest of my life scraping for pennies and dimes to return to. It showed me that I can, indeed, navigate complex subway routes and that, impossibly, I might even be capable of leading my own theater organization one day.
But if any one thing has affirmed my belief in the restorative power of the arts for youth of color, it is Opening Act, the organization with which DIAL matched me. Importantly, Opening Act does not just grant kids of color access to white space or white art—it allows them to produce their own work and tell their own stories, affirming their ideas, thoughts, and experiences and valuing the communities of which they are apart. It empowers them, just like it empowered me. Opening Act served as my first exposure to a theater space authentically embodying the healing power of the arts for young people of color, showing me that my dreams of one day creating and leading my own are more than possible.
Thus, DIAL and Opening Act have prompted me to interrogate the very value of “diversity” as a goal within arts education and its leadership. Diversity is not justice is not resistance is not change. It is not enough for people of color and other marginalized groups to have access to arts programming and education led by white individuals; rather, we need to be allowed to transform arts education itself, using our knowledge and power. The function of arts education must be to endow us with the resources and tools to create our own revolutionary spaces, ones that center our communities and that are led by us. This, I’m convinced, is the key to diversifying and broadening the arts education leadership pipeline: allow marginalized youth the resources and space to tell their own stories; center them and their communities; and listen to them, from the moment they step into the classroom at age five, to their first day at their first internship program and beyond, until they are creating their own arts education programming. This is what DIAL and Opening Act have done for me: inspired me and endowed me with tools, connections, and experiences to create my own spaces for people like me.