Being Flexible & Uncomfortable with the Unknown

When I first began my work in the AZ ArtWorker program I was really looking forward to engaging multiple communities in Douglas. The launch of the program, which took place in this city was immensely successful and so my expectations when we opened registration for an asset mapping and community organizing convening were high.

Only a week away from the program, we only had 3 registrants. To say that I was worried is an understatement. We engaged Dr. Maribel Alvarez who works with communities in Tucson and engages with the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture and we were responding to requests from artists and community organizers in organizing this type of workshop, so we assumed that the program would be a welcomed offering.

On the morning of the workshop, held on a Saturday morning, in a local coffee shop, several community leaders and artists slowly tricked in to participate in the workshop. Out of the 9 participants who joined us that day, we hosted the new Mayor, the Douglas Hispanic Chamber Membership Director, members of the Douglas Community Coalition, a realtor and several artists; in short, community members who are devoted to making a marked and profound change in the way in which the arts can be engaged to creatively problem-solve the different challenges being faced by Douglas’ communities. It was that morning that I realized that what might make me comfortable as an arts administrator (high numbers and early registration) is not something I would find in Douglas. Registration is not a good indicator of what participation will be and the only way to get the word out is by directly communicating with multiple and varied stakeholders. Flexibility and being comfortable with the unknown up to the last minute have marked the only strategy that has worked in serving and working with Douglas.

At the end of the day, Maribel's workshop engaged these leaders in active dialogue with one another, something that doesn’t always happen even in this small rural community. The engagement also served to connect them with a national leader in community organizing, who conveniently, is also their neighbor. When the day’s work was finished, we all shared a meal in an adjacent restaurant, breaking bread and sharing stories.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Thrive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Equity Is Our Driving Force

I think our agency’s commitment to equity is our driving force. It’s is the lens through which we’re thinking about all of our work, all of our processes, every form, every selection, every community meeting, even how we work in our office, our hiring practices, what language we use, et cetera. We’re constantly questioning our own processes and the way we function. We’ve seen immense growth and so much more community buy-in and so much more artist buy-in because we’re working this way. I’ve been with the agency for six years and the change has been spectacular. It’s because equity is the lens through which we are filtering everything we do.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Thrive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

We Talk to the Population We Intend to Serve First

What we’re most proud of is whenever we offer a new program or a new service for artists in our community, we stop and make sure that we talk to the population that we are intending to serve before we design anything as an organization. I think that grass roots approach to programming really empowers artists in our community to be stakeholders in the work moving forward.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Thrive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Fostering New Appreciation for the Work of Marginalized Artists

Last year we did a program with the state hospital that’s located in our town. It used to be called the hospital for the criminally insane, and there are a number of patients who are residents there who are very talented artists but of course due to restrictions, budgets, and security, they can’t make contact with the community. We did a first-ever exhibition of work by those patients, and it brought to our exhibitions hundreds more people than ever before. There was a new appreciation for their work as artists, and the focus wasn’t on their illness or diagnosis or the context of their work. We even had a private reception for those who weren’t able to be out in public – and there were members of the arts center community there so those artists interacted with our artists in ways that never would have happened otherwise. They also sold a lot of work, which certainly wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Thrive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Creating a Conscious Base of Shared Power

Travis Laughlin, Senior Director of Programs for the Joan Mitchell Foundation, describes their holistic approach to supporting artists including a key strategy of fostering community between artists.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Thrive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Leading on Investment in Artists with Disabilities

Sara Slawnik, Director of Programs at 3Arts, shares about their focus on supporting diverse voices in the artist community with an emphasis on women artists, artists of color, and artists with disabilities.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Thrive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Making our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy Public

C4 Atlanta has maintained a diverse service population since its inception. However, three years ago the Board decided to ensure that we should strive for inclusion at all levels of the organization in respect to backgrounds, but also in respect to privilege. The organization takes very seriously its role in the community as a convener; however, we also examine our relationship to individuals and how that power dynamic may have unintended consequences.

For this reason, we made our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Policy public this last year. We also reference this site in many of our public facing materials, and we ask that our partners understand our policy. Because we carry this through our work, many of the artists with whom we work began to examine their roles in relation to community, each other, and their practice.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Sharing the Power of Community

So, sharing of power – or economic advantages – of two artists opening brick and mortar businesses in the same building and allowing each of them to build off of the other’s capital to make sure that they are financially secure is an example that could be held up. I think sharing in the power of voice. For example: when a burgeoning food truck movement was happening and policy came forward that was deemed restrictive and in favor of the brick and mortar restaurant culture in the community. A lot of the visual and performing artists came out to share their power to advocate on behalf of the start-up food truck business in the community. I think sharing in power, being willing to testify for how folks have directly benefitted from arts activity and how that’s led to business development in front of government, business, and other elected officials is a demonstration. We’re now looking at the youth that have at one point come through any one of those programs as a pipeline for leadership and individuals. A couple of those individuals are in the middle of a pilot program that have come from a couple of the center city neighborhoods. We’re actually sharing power with them by making them the programmatic lead in their community. So, it’s a leadership development program for these folks, but it’s sharing the power of community. There is an identity by and with the people that live in this highly localized community.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Artist Advisory Committees Develop Policy

We have advisory committees that incorporate many individual artists. In their advisory committees, it’s really an act of shared power, especially when you consider their contributions to helping our state agency develop our policy, our programs, and our strategic plan. The individual artists are pretty critical to us as far as being a guiding force in how we’re building our programs and being responsive to how we’re being in the field. Additionally, we have a number of individual artists on our council and on that level – on a state and national level – and their influence is welcomed and encouraged and regarded. We’ve developed a Native Leadership Cohort as well as an expanding Native arts advisory team. It consists of many individual artists, and they play a role in shaping the Native arts program so that they are culturally relevant in addressing issues around de-colonization. How a state arts agency can go about doing that is really, really significant.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Artist Trust Public Commitment to Organization-wide Racial Equity

Artist Trust exists to bolster the work of all artists throughout Washington State. Ensuring artists of all backgrounds and identities are included in our cultural narrative is central to having an accurate and fair depiction of our society. Artist Trust recognizes and is committed to addressing historical and ongoing disparities in access to institutional funding, recognition, business practices, and job opportunities. Our Equity statement is a part of our Who We Are page on our website and shares more about the concept of racial equity and shifting paradigms, as well as detailing what Artist Trust has done, is doing, and will continue to do as we work to develop stategies for addressing socio-cultural and economic barriers for artists at all intersections of identities. 

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Americans for the Arts Statement of Cultural Equity

This Americans for the Arts Statement represents the culmination of a year of work and consultation with members, advisory council members, stakeholders in the arts field, board, staff, and partners throughout the nonprofit sector. In addition to our new Statement on Cultural Equity, this link also includes some supporting materials about our process and goals.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Grantmakers in the Arts Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy

Grantmakers in the Arts recognizes that our society is challenged to overcome a complex web of inequities– racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and ableism among them. All of these forms of discrimination are powerful drivers of unequal individual and group outcomes. However, it is our belief that ALAANA (African, Latino/a, Asian, Arab, and Native American) individuals whose identities intersect with those of other “minority” social statuses often experience compounded mistreatment that is amplified by the interaction of race. With our assessment that racism is one of the most pressing issues of our time, our current priority is working against racism by working toward racial equity in arts philanthropy. As such, the Grantmakers in the Arts' board of directors developed this statement of purpose for their work in racial equity in arts philanthropy with a goal to increase arts funding for ALAANA artists, arts organizations, children, and adults. 

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Misdiagnosed Barrier to Access

At the insistence of an important funder, we provided translators for our one-on-one consultation time. However, this resource was little used and we struggled to explain to the funder that it was because the vast majority of artists from this particular community were 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants who spoke English and practiced a range of art forms like hip-hop, graffiti art, and spoken word. There were certainly barriers to programming (such as the diversity of our instructors or a nuanced understanding of their cultural experience), but language wasn't one of them.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Struggle Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Desire to Serve More Underrepresented Artists

As we’ve expanded to other regions, we definitely had to rely more heavily on community partnerships or having organizational partners that could be mouthpieces for our organization. It assures artists that we are legit, and that we have their best interest at heart. Because we’ve been in the game so long, they think it is worth getting to know us and coming to trainings and taking advantage of grants and coaching that we offer. 

We still have a ways to go to build all of the right kinds of partnerships to make sure that we’re hitting all aspects of the community. We want to serve more artists of color, we want to be sure that we have community partners that will help us reach more artists of color. We want to introduce them and other underrepresented groups to our services so that they can build their art practices.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Struggle Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Grants to Serve Underserved Populations

This person on our staff handles issues related to those kinds of folks who live and work in the state. So, we’ve done various things to provide equitable services to different populations. We have a grant program called the Arts Access Assistance Grant, and that actually encourages organizations that are not arts organizations to partner with an artist or arts organization in their community to serve a special population. So, the populations have rotated.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Struggle Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

An Artist Sits on Our Board

We have an artist who sits on our board of trustees, and she has done very well there in helping to guide the overall governance of the organization. She has also contributed her knowledge and expertise to help develop the programming and the directionality of our programming for the organization overall.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Struggle Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Institutionally Built Systems

We understand that, institutionally, we have built systems to make our grant making successful. But inherent in developing those systems has been the reality that certain groups of people or certain individuals have not been successful in those processes. And so, as we evaluate for our next ten years how we provide meaningful support, we understand that it’s not just about getting the dollars out to the community – it’s also about how we do that. And it’s important that we do it in a way that opens the door for more people of color, more people of different classes as well as for more people from different regions. And this is all not only once they receive funding to be successful – it’s all the way through the application and grant process. It’s to ensure that for anyone from our community who is creative and has something to share, there is the opportunity and to be successful in that grant process.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Give Up Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)