Am I What You’re Looking For?

Posted by Catherine Heitz New, Mar 23, 2017 0 comments

Since its inception, The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County has celebrated more than 65 years of milestones. Throughout the decades, we have provided proactive leadership, sparked cultural growth, and granted financial support to create a flourishing cultural environment. In recent years, we have embraced that our mission has broadened from serving the arts to serving the greater community through the arts. To that end, one of our primary objectives is promoting diversity and inclusion through our work and that of our partners.

In 2016, we were inspired by an innovative collaboration between Wells Fargo and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA). As part of their 12x12 series, SECCA featured an exhibition of works by photographer Endia Beal entitled Am I What You’re Looking For?, which portrays young, black women as they contemplate their identities in the often-competing contexts of self and career. Endia Beal is a North Carolina-based artist, educator, and activist, who is internationally known for her photographic narratives and video testimonies that examine the personal, yet contemporary stories of minority women working within the corporate space.

“Am I What You’re Looking For?” photo series by Endia Beal, produced with funds provided by Magnum Foundation.

Anna Marie Smith, a Senior Learning and Development Manager at Wells Fargo, utilized the exhibition to organize team discussions.

The talk among team members opened dialogue about race, women’s issues, hiring practices, biases, and what we each can do to reduce stereotypes and remove hurdles that can get in the way of meaningful progress. —Anna Marie Smith, Senior Learning and Development Manager at Wells Fargo

Smith created a discussion guide to give structure to the conversation and provide a roadmap for dialogue that could be used by additional groups. The Arts Council utilized this resource to organize a team discussion among its staff and, in addition to experiencing this powerful exercise in empathy and understanding for ourselves, we recognized an opportunity to carry the work further.

While we sought ways to create greater access to the arts, our local companies were looking to grow their capacity by developing well-trained and adaptive employees. This intersection of mutual goals provided the opportunity to promote diversity and elevate the arts as an integral tool in our development as a 21st century community.

We knew that many of our arts partners already offered diversity and inclusion programs that could be adapted to a corporate setting. We aggregated these “services” in an Arts and Business Directory to collectively market them to our network of nearly 200 companies. The Directory will roll out in Spring 2017 and, if successful, will be one more step towards uniting our community through understanding and appreciation, sustaining our arts industry through an additional earned revenue stream, and further realizing our potential as a City of Arts and Innovation.

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