Living Up to the Promises We Made

Posted by Mr. Clayton W. Lord, Jul 25, 2016 0 comments

We are, with this post, launching our first ever blog salon populated by posts from across the staff of Americans for the Arts. As part of our broader work on cultural equity, and our ongoing commitment to being transparent about the internal process we’re going through to become a more equitable organization, we invited our colleagues to reflect on what it means to work toward cultural equity. To be as inclusive as possible, we offered staff members who weren’t inclined to write the opportunity to instead sit down for an interview. I had the great honor of being the one in the room for those interviews, and the equally great honor of gathering up and curating the posts you’ll see over the next two weeks. And I’ve got to say, it’s hugely inspiring and deeply humbling to hear where people’s passions come from, and where their fears come from.

It is very hard to know whether we’re doing this right.
And it is very hard, period, to do this.
Here, anywhere.  
But we must do it all the same.

The spark for this blog salon was a staff retreat we did under the guidance of Margie Reese and Carmen Morgan. Margie and Carmen—two leaders in our field around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion—have loomed large in the development of our Statement on Cultural Equity and our ensuing internal and external efforts to live up to the promise in that document. They were, as you’ll see, hugely inspiring—and they inspired blog posts that may start in a hotel ballroom at the retreat, but that spiral out to all of the big questions we’re all grappling with right now. Who am I? What is my role to play? How can I help the world? How can I know my fellow travelers better?

How, in the end, can we live up to the promise and dream of true equity? We’re all, in these posts (and beyond), grappling—as I imagine are many of you—with whiplash as we vacillate between despair at the state of our country and cautious hope that we might be helping make it better in our own small ways.  We’re all trying to figure out how we can together progress forward in action.

In these posts—many of which are from first-timers on ARTSblog—I have found profound wisdom. At least two have made me cry, one out of sadness and one out of wonder at the buoyancy of optimism. They have made me confront things in myself. They have taught me new things about the people who, as one blogger notes, I spend more time with than anyone else in the world, including my husband and child.

There is caution here, and hope, and deep skepticism, too. I say that’s awesome. We must hold ourselves, as we are also asking you to hold us, accountable to the dream we have laid out. We have, as an organization, failed to deliver on our promises of equity before. And this next phase is about us all owning our part in carrying forward, too, and making sure that this time we deliver fully and completely.

And so from that point of view, I think this blog salon serves two functions. The first is to ask a lot of people who are here at Americans for the Arts and are participating in our ongoing efforts to articulate a little more fully what they think “participating” means, and where we are, and where we are going. What do we need to do to fulfill the promise of what is implicit or explicit in this work, to keep this from being a blip, and instead ensure it is a systemic change?

And then the second thing is that we very strongly wrote into the Statement on Cultural Equity two things—benchmarking and transparency. This is a process that a lot of other organizations need to go through—a process of learning, of conversation, of recognition of bias and privilege, of not feeling ashamed of that, and instead moving with that in the world. This is a process of being cognizant that you can (must?) use your privilege for good, be cautious and kind, and act—act—to mitigate your privilege over time.

As individuals inside this organization, and as this organization itself—a really big fish that leans heavily into all sorts of management structures and ways of working that emerged out of white dominant industry paradigms—we have a lot of distance to go and we need to think about how we’re going to do that. We need to surface all of the voices inside the organization, and we need to ask all of you, who we serve, to raise your voices as well.

So this is about reporting out. And making space for voices. And sharing, baldly and openly, what’s happening here, in that hopes that it is helpful to some of you who are also in the midst of this conversation—or who want to be. We’re taking barriers down. We’re opening up. 

It is very hard to know whether we’re doing this right. And it is very hard, period, to do this. Here, anywhere. But we must do it all the same. We are trying to navigate this process in a way that is respectful and meaningful and functional—that doesn’t take too much of people’s time, but may take more of their time than they’re willing to give.

I hope you enjoy these voices, and that you share them out. As the posts appear (two every weekday between now and August 4), you can find them aggregated here, along with the growing other posts from the field on the topic of Cultural Equity. I hope that you’ll share your own stories, and what you’re engaging with, and what you hope and fear. Thank you for reading, and thank you to all of the authors who took the time to bravely share their thoughts.

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