Arts Better the Lives of Everyone

At the Berklee Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs, we believe that the arts better the lives of everyone. This is something other countries have figured out, but we still need to learn it here. We still need to learn to welcome all—including people with disabilities—into spaces where performances and exhibits take place. We still need to learn to broaden our understanding of who can be an artist, and what an artist looks like. We still need to learn how to open up our classrooms to all students and break down barriers to arts learning so that arts education, artistic expression, and artistic engagement can be a powerful, meaningful, and significant part of everyone’s life.

Change The Story. Change The Equation. Change The Game.

Throughout this Blog Salon, you’ve heard testimony from arts leaders across the country: creatives working in street symphonies and theater companies in LA; administrators building community practices in Florida and Boston; artists and curators invested in equity work from Portland to Washington, DC, and all points in between. By using this Blog Salon as a platform, the ELC is combating the dominant narrative that power in the arts exists only in the hands of a historically white, historically male, historically wealthy minority. We’re collectively organizing our experiences into a larger tapestry to change the story. Another intention: all of this year’s contributors identify as People of Color (POC). By centering experiences of POC who are artists, administrators, and experts, we’re attempting to course-correct decades of exclusion, disenfranchisement, and marginalization our communities have experienced working in the arts. 

From Shy to Fly—How the Arts Developed My Self Worth

I first realized I had the power to create change through the arts in a small camp in my hometown, Rockford, IL. I was just a little girl trying to muster up the courage to get on stage and perform when I attended the Rockford Area Arts Council Camp for Young Creatives. Waiting backstage with knots in my stomach, fingernails digging into my fingertips to distract from my nerves, I reassured myself I knew all the moves. “I got this,” I thought to myself, “...but wait! What’s step one again!?” The music starts and my body takes over, making all the right decisions on time. All that was required of me was trusting my capacity to pull it off. It was before I knew what it meant to be a woman of color and the importance of representation in leadership roles, and before I could speak intelligibly about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the arts. 

Diversification Begins with a Theory of Change

When I finally pivoted into arts administration, inching my way closer toward being a full-time creative, I was a bit surprised to find how much the sector was struggling with issues of diversification. Over time, I suppose I had grown accustomed to an industry that had no issue tackling diversification head-on and I expected the arts, the champion of inclusion, would be the same way. I am fortunate enough to oversee two great projects at ArtsBoston which help to drive the change we desperately need in greater Boston’s arts sector. For the ArtsBoston Audience Lab, diversification (specifically audiences of color) began with a Theory of Change—a blueprint designed in collaboration with the ten participating organizations in the Lab. When organizations state that they want more “diversity” in their audiences, we ask them to think a step further.

A.W.E in Portland: Arts Workers for Equity

I work in the nonprofit arts sector in Portland, Oregon, which is 76% white despite the growing racial and ethnic diversity in the country. This whiteness was deliberately designed. In the 1800s, exclusionary laws were ratified into the Oregon constitution and the language wasn’t officially removed until 2002. This history is reflected in who lives, works, and plays here, including the demographic makeup of who runs our cultural and artistic institutions. In 2016, a group of us arts administrators came together with the evocative question: “Why are the arts so white?” A truly grassroots operation, Arts Workers for Equity (AWE) is a collective of ten individuals who represent a multitude of intersectional identities. Alone and individually, we had limited power to effect change. But collectively we’ve influenced Portland’s nonprofit arts sector, citywide.

What does it mean to be accountable?

Several years ago, as I struggled to further define and understand my own work as an artist, my mentor and friend asked me one simple question “Are you doing healing work or just making art about something?” It took me more than two years to answer that question. Longer still to understand what she meant. Even longer to understand what it truly means to be accountable to myself, the community, those that came before, and those yet to be born. As a community-based artist, organizer, and occasional urban farmer, my creative practice is rooted in exploring and expanding methodologies that utilize art as a vehicle for dialogue, social change, and community healing. For several years, however, what I did not do: interrogate and explore the moral and ethical implications of working in community. Beyond a trendy catch-phrase, what did I mean when I said community healing?

Questioning the value of change from inside the Archives of American Art

In response to the prompt for this writing: yes, I have been at the forefront of critical changes, and I can identify the factors empowering me to do so. Those changes, centered on an inclusive understanding of what constitutes “American art,” will certainly continue to motivate my work. As I settle into my new role, however, I realize that my power to create change in the arts is rooted in a desire to encourage students and my peers to take a beat, and ask ourselves if and when we are seeking change for change’s sake. Is forward always the best direction? In my hours of conversation and archival dives, it is apparent to me every day that many of today’s issues are not unique.

Yo Soy Lider! I am a Leader

When I first moved out to Western Massachusetts I realized quickly that there was a budding arts community. Specifically, in regard to theater arts, all of the shows and showcases being put forward were stories featuring white European-centric actors/characters and their struggles and strife. Where were the Black/Latinx characters? The ones that weren’t treated racially and/or stereotyped? Where were the fully developed main characters of color that had full depth and breadth? Then came “In the Heights” and the “Lin-Volution” (Lin-Manuel Miranda) of the arts began. That show changed my outlook and perspective on what the arts should look like—they should reflect and relate to the people you are trying to reach. This is what spurred my vision for the Palante Theater company. I wanted to bring shows to the community which would highlight the struggle, sacrifices, and similarities that many Latinx individuals, like myself, experience every day. 

7 P’s for Power: Creating Change through Arts-Based Community Development

In my role as an arts administrator for an organization whose focus is on community development, I have been committed to understanding and strengthening my local arts ecosystem through my work to provide direction and ensure its relevancy. It is imperative for arts leaders and administrators to not just think out of the box, but also to work outside of it in order to help the arts field evolve and stay relevant, particularly with changes in funding, patronage, and social value. Arts-integrated community development allows arts and non-arts leaders to support their arts ecosystem while creating solutions for community issues. It’s not easy work, especially when you’re new to it. In my experience, I have found that it requires 7 P’s for Power.

It Has to Be Bigger Than You

When my mother died I felt a shift. When my first nephew was born, I felt another shift. Both events happened in the span of six months. Suddenly, theatre as I knew it didn’t matter in the same way anymore. At the exact same time my journey with mentor Diane Rodriguez of Center Theatre Group, with the support of a TCG Future Leaders Grant, allowed me to make a living working in theatre. The grant, and Diane’s network, unlocked new opportunities that I had long dreamed about. One day I realized that for me theatre was bigger than me, that my family was bigger than me, that the remaining three years that I would share with my elderly aunt and the unknown years I would spend with my nephew (plus two additional nephews later) was bigger than me. I was no longer moved solely by trying to be a powerful director and a mover and shaker of the theatre sector; there were many things bigger than me that I had responsibility for.

Joyful Work: Music in the Community

As artists, it’s our job to tell stories and to ask questions. The great “masterpieces” I play as a symphonic musician were written to tell the stories of communities, as much as they were written for what we might perceive as some grandiose idea of individual expression. I have dedicated my life to studying and performing the works of these great masters, largely in part because I will always be humbled by their craft and their music. We will always be humbled by the opportunity to hear—and play—something new in the music we love. But we have to ask the question—do we truly reflect the vibrancy and power of our communities just by playing the music of old, dead, white men? What’s our modern day “Messiah”? What is the sound of America, today, now?

Welcome to the Emerging Leaders Blog Salon

The arts field has begun to open its minds and hearts to the chorus of voices that have been on the outside for far too long. Many organizations are (finally) taking a critical look internally to investigate and interrogate the many ways in which the field has been built upon, and continues to perpetuate, problematic practices that demonstrate bias against under-represented groups. A lot of the changes have been procedural, to date. There are many of us waiting with bated breath to see if practical change occurs and is maintained. Despite the psychological and emotional hurdles many artists and arts administrators of color experience during their respective journeys in the field, we have hope. This year, Americans for the Arts’ Emerging Leaders Council wanted to show gratitude for that hope by offering a substantive means of acknowledgement through this week’s blog salon.

Great Art Knows No Boundaries

It is exciting and remarkable news that the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in music went to rapper Kendrick Lamar for his album DAMN. Lamar is the first composer outside of the classical or jazz arenas to be awarded a Pulitzer. And one of the critical subtexts of his win is the message that it sends about how musical boundaries are uncontained—they are breaking down. For too long we have seen art and music as a function of silos—pop here, classical over there, jazz somewhere else, you get the idea. It doesn’t work anymore. It is artificial. In fact, I would argue that the worst thing that ever happened to classical music was when it became walled off from the broader culture early in the 20th century.

Arts Integrated AND Bilingual

So many teachers and other artists have asked, “Why bilingual?”, because it was how I wanted to share Latino culture through language, my personal mission as an Artistic Director. Then the old lightbulb exploded and for two years of graduate school I started (and continue) to work on my case study. Working in two counties and several schools, I have set out to quantitatively measure the percentage of higher comprehensive learning from students who have participated in one of our bilingual arts-integrated residencies. It has been exciting research for a data nerd because it is a unique study. I had to piecemeal it together: studies in arts integration, studies in bilingual integration, and all the other forms of both in between—for example, arts-learning does not necessarily imply arts-integrated.

Pushing the Possibilities for Diversity in Arts Leadership

In 2018 the Arts & Business Council of New York (ABC/NY) is expanding on the success of its 25-year-old Diversity in Arts Leadership internship by approaching a new challenge area in the career continuum where we can grow and share our expertise. DIAL Labs is a summer 2018 pilot series that will engage professionals 5 to 10 years into their arts careers to include senior-level mentor pairing, interactive expert panels, and culturally-relevant programming. This program is not just about earning promotion into senior leadership; it is an intentional investment and exploration into the longevity, inclusion, and retention of an increasingly diverse arts leadership. Together, as an arts field in NYC and beyond, we will expand the network of executive opportunities for arts professionals traditionally untapped for senior leadership.

Professional Development: Not an Add-On

When we think about partnering with schools, we’re generally pretty clear that success requires changing how work is currently getting done. We’re also (usually) clear that it’s unfair to ask people to make such a change without providing support. Within that context, professional development is a no-brainer. In arts administration and within local arts agencies, however, professional development is often considered a luxury investment. The hidden assumption in this attitude is that changing how we work is rare, or undesirable. The truth is that any arts organization operating under a “business as usual” mindset is in for an awakening—if not now, then in the near future. Local arts agencies have a responsibility to create space to support those awakenings—and a responsibility to prompt them.

Arts and Gentrification: Potential for Change

In informed discussions about the role of the artist when communities undergo change, words like privilege, displacement, and tools of gentrification often come up. The point is not that the blame for the detrimental effects of gentrification lies in the artist—of course there are much larger forces at play. Rather, the arts are being used as a tool on the path to displacement. If national trends are any indication, the artists who encroach as community outsiders in fact have a stake similar to longtime residents in the process of gentrification. Across the country, the artists initially involved in neighborhood “transformations” are themselves pushed out as rents rise. Artists and arts organizations have an opportunity to recognize their place in the system, and to take responsibility in it.

Incubating Art for Social Impact: An Interview with Halcyon Arts Lab in Washington, DC

This spring break season has seen an increase in the numbers of students, teachers, and arts advocates choosing civic engagement over a hedonistic week at the beach. As engagement in the arts for positive impact towards civic engagement and social justice continues to trend up, community building around organizations and practitioners working in social practice becomes increasingly important. So I reached out to Nicole Dowd, Program Manager of Halcyon Arts Lab—a newly launched residency and incubator program for artists working in social justice in Washington, DC—to learn insights gained from the first full year of the program. With local influences and resources ranging from Capitol Hill to an actively engaged tri-state area with interests in arts, policy, civic engagement, and everything in between, visiting artists to the Halcyon Arts Lab are welcomed into a profoundly energetic creative environment.

Eight for 2018: New Obstacles and Opportunities in the Arts

Over the first quarter of 2018 I’ve had the great opportunity to spend time listening to the wisdom of my colleagues in the field. From these gatherings, I continue to see first-hand the spectacular array of work and service offered by the non-profit arts community in our country. It is a vibrant, effective, optimistic, inciteful, and growing field that uplifts our communities across the country. Despite challenges in funding and support, the creativity of our arts field surges forward. There are new benchmarks to celebrate and new obstacles to overcome, all leading I hope to new opportunities for the arts. Here are eight observations for 2018.

Matrons of the Arts Initiative Highlights Female Artists

It’s no surprise that women are underrepresented in the art world. Left out of textbooks, exhibitions, and museum collections, women artists often face an uphill battle to get the recognition they deserve. The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) recently announced a new initiative, Matrons of the Arts, to help change that. The movement highlights female-identified artists in the Museum’s permanent collection and around the world. Inspired in part by the "name five women artists" challenge put on by the National Museum of Women in the Arts—and playing off the phrase patron of the arts—this campaign seeks to bring the public’s attention to women who have been and continue to be major figures in the world of art.

Arts Education becomes Arts Advocacy

I was excited to enter Randolph High School back in 1980, mostly because of its thriving music program. I couldn’t wait to sing in the different choruses, and to audition for the competitive show choir. Yet when I arrived at school, I learned that, as a result of Proposition 2 ½, music had been cut from the high school curriculum—along with other reductions to busing, foreign languages, sports, and library staff. I was devastated. My arts education came to a sudden end, but my education as an arts advocate was just beginning. Along with other students and parents, I wrote letters and attended meetings, imploring administrators not to abandon the music program. And our efforts began to pay off.

Art in Politics: Why Both Matter

Every day at work, I am reminded that the intersection between art and government continues grow in importance. Funding, allocation, and government spending is essential to developing our education system. I intern for Americans for the Arts because advocating for equitable access to art and arts education vastly improves our education system. Research shows that marginalized communities consistently have little to no access to arts education in schools. Some of the most diverse voices are being shut out of conversations and art creation. We are left with an education system that refuses to elevate some of the most integral voices in diversity for our dialogue and our art. I had the privilege of art shaping my entire childhood, but there are some places youth have no access to art at all due to systemic inequality in our education system. 

A Recipe for Representation and Inclusiveness in the Arts

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Goya Foods, Inc. got its start in NYC and now collaborates with artists and arts organizations, like Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, to reflect its values in family, achieving the American dream, and helping cultivate Latin culture in the boroughs and beyond.

The Issue of Creating Across Generations

Myah Overstreet (20) and Jason Wyman (41) are an intergenerational producing team with The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture. They have worked together for over two years co-piloting The Alliance Youth Media Initiatives. Their latest endeavor with The Alliance is The Issue, a new arts + culture magazine designed to inspire a future where we all belong, which was published on January 11, 2018. The Issue is a model of intergenerational collaboration and mutual reciprocity, where diverse voices are artfully represented and joyfully celebrated. Overstreet and Wyman recently sat down to chat how and why they collaborate and create across age as a means to create a more inclusive future. 

Americans for the Arts Joins Federal Amicus Brief in Support of Free Speech Rights of Congressional Art Competition Student Artist

Americans for the Arts joined 17 national, state, and local arts service organizations urging reversal of a ruling that permitted Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers to remove a painting by St. Louis high school student David Pulphus from a Congressional Art Competition exhibit at the U.S. Capitol. His allegorical post-Ferguson painting depicts a civil rights demonstration and includes two police officers with boar heads; one is pointing his gun at a protester with the head of wolf. The painting was removed under pressure from a small group of Congressmen, with the contention that the exhibition was “government speech” which the government could censor at will. 

A Conversation with Outgoing Board Chair Abel Lopez

Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to speak with Abel Lopez, outgoing Chair of the Board of Directors at Americans for the Arts. As Chair since 2013, Abel has been an instrumental part of the growth of Americans for the Arts, particularly in sustaining leadership, developing goals as part of the organization’s most recent Strategic Plan, and spearheading the Statement on Cultural Equity. In this interview, Abel talks about his history with Americans for the Arts, his experience as Chair, and his excitement for the future of Americans for the Arts and the nonprofit arts and cultural sector. 

Amplifying Institutional Evolution

Nearly a year ago, two members of Trinity Repertory Company’s resident acting company proposed an idea: use the Rhode Island tradition of presenting A Christmas Carol to amplify our institution’s commitment to community engagement. They dreamed of incorporating different community groups every night, connecting our audiences to work and people they might not otherwise know. Fast-forward to now, somewhere mid-run of an unforgettable Christmas Carol. Every three days a new community group steps into a show so full of heart it bursts off the stage. The results of this work are still uncountable, and yet the reverberations are already so easy to see. 

Documentary Video Tells the Story of a New Public Art Monument in Richmond

“A Monument to Maggie” explores the decades-long community effort to develop a monument honoring civil rights hero Maggie L. Walker

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Monument to Maggie tells the story of the development and unveiling of a monument to civil rights hero Maggie L. Walker, which was unveiled after nearly 20 years of efforts led by community and political leaders to help tell another part of Richmond's history.

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