The Humble Step

Posted by Mr. Clayton W. Lord, Jun 20, 2016

Interns in Arts and Business Coucil of New York's Diversity in Arts Leadership Internship ProgramThe 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.

I don’t, in general, do well with confronting my limitations. I don’t think most of us do. The natural inclination for most of us, I think, is to turn away from discomfort and the realization of fault—particularly when turning away simply means turning back to a status quo that basically “works” for you. The temptation, in those moments, to walk in the opposite direction of discomfort instead of taking the first humble steps towards what is ultimately right and just can be strong. In our best moments, we overcome that temptation, step forward, and learn.

I’m always proud to be a staff member at Americans for the Arts—I believe strongly in the work we do and the way we do it. But today I feel particularly blessed to be here, because today is one of those days when I think we, as an organization, are choosing to humbly take a step forward instead of rest in the comfort of where we were. With the release of our new Statement on Cultural Equity, we re-commit to many of the principles that founded the local arts movement in America—principles that held the arts and those who made and supported it to be a part of community, to caring for and minding the creative life of all of us, to being part of creating a more equitable and inclusive world.

For Americans for the Arts, this is a journey of learning and sharing, and hopefully of participating from our areas of strength—by creating field education and training opportunities; nurturing equitable pathways to leadership across the sector; continuing to generate research that benchmarks where we are, shows us where we want to go, and helps us know when we’re making progress; and advocating for and supporting policy that places art and equity side-by-side in making better lives for the people in our communities.

I invite you to explore what we’ve offered up here, as we take this step. We have shared the Statement on Cultural Equity itself, and have also posted a short document outlining a little bit of our process to get there as well as a fully editable version of the Statement that you are welcome to adopt or adapt as you like, if you find that useful. We have also compiled a short glossary so as to be transparent in our terminology, and a Frequently Asked Questions document that we hope begins to answer some of the questions we feel are likely to come from the field. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing about 20 different blog posts from throughout the field about cultural equity, which we hope will showcase some of the great ongoing work and thinking that you all are already doing, and that we’re learning from.

I see us temporarily, maybe, nearing the crest of one of those mountains, another uphill slope along our nearly 60-year journey as an organization. Here’s to the forward march, the long arc towards justice, and to working to live up to the best hopes that people have for this organization, this field, and this country.

If you have questions or thoughts along the way, please email me at [email protected]. Thank you for being a part of the Americans for the Arts family, and for creating healthier, more vibrant, more equitable communities through the arts.