Another Reason to be Counted: Creating Access to the Arts

Photo Credit: 2020Census.gov

I have been learning from a number of different associates that one key way we can create access to the arts is by helping to facilitate participation in the 2020 Census. That’s why I decided to reach out to the readers of Arts & Culture Connection to urge you to participate in and advocate for full participation this year, especially at this critical time.

What happens with this population count will impact our communities, as well as the arts, for future generations, and that makes our participation in the 2020 Census both critical and essential.

Think about this: As with other types of funding and policy, arts-related resources from the federal government are partially determined by the density and demographics of each city and state. In additional to the National Endowment of the Arts, population-based funding is used throughout the federal government, including for the Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, etc.

According to Clayton Lord, Vice President of Strategic Impact for Americans for the Arts, all of these agencies have pockets of funds that in part stream to the arts. Depending upon how the population count breaks down, special government grants also are given to areas with large communities of color. If the U.S. Census doesn’t have an accurate count, arts organizations engaged with communities of color could miss the opportunity to reach key members of their community and be hindered in the amount of money they can receive through government grants.

For additional insights, I also consulted my friend and colleague Toni Hendrix, who is very involved in outreach and advocacy efforts for the 2020 Census. Toni explained the genesis of some people’s reluctance to participate that often exists in communities of color: “We have a set of historical biases against completing the census because we don’t understand what it does and we make assumptions about what it does not do. That’s why it’s essential to have an engagement process to help inform and educate our community; to help remove the fear that many have about filling out the census forms.”

Toni is both passionate about the need for participation and emphatic about all of us taking responsibility to make it happen. She says it’s important that we stop allowing ourselves to be invisible or letting unfounded conspiracy theories get in the way. For example, she mentioned that people receiving public assistance particularly feel as if completing the census will have a negative impact on their assistance. If someone receiving assistance has someone living with them temporarily, they will be nervous to admit there is a second person in the household because they think it may reduce their monthly allocation, or they could lose it all together. However, that is not the case.

Toni also talked about the importance of making sure multigenerational and extended family households are included in the count—mom, pop, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Even if the living situation is temporary due to a financial crisis or natural disaster, if they were living in the same household as of April 1, 2020, they should be counted, no matter how long they intend to stay.

Also, it’s important to emphasize the importance of counting children of all ages. In the 2010 census, the undercount of African-American children between the ages of birth and four was 6-percent, which means a generation of children did not receive their rightful benefits nor did they have access to necessary resources. We need to make sure that single parents, couples, or grandparents caring for children understand that a child should be counted from the day of birth.

Community and civil rights activists believe the biggest hinderance to participation in the 2020 Census is the fear of the so-called “citizenship question.” Although the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from including it on the 2020 Census, some form of citizenship question has been included in random questionnaires. This issue doesn’t just impact the Latinx community. There are at least a dozen predominately Black countries in the Caribbean and Africa whose people have been blocked from accessing U.S. citizenship. Despite the fact that sharing Census data is illegal, even with the White House, they are understandably afraid to participate given the anti-immigrant climate and not wanting the government to know they are living here. But they can and need to be counted, too!

Why am I writing about the census? So much is at stake—our Congressional representation and the number of seats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives; the drawing of legislative boundaries at the state level, which determines allocation of state resources; funding for Women, Infant and Children (WIC) programs; afterschool programs, as well as funding for other social services.

Even the location of hospitals is determined by census data—imagine what New York City would be like amidst the current global pandemic with even one less hospital!

This is our money. We pay taxes to the federal government and it’s important that those tax dollars flow directly back into our communities where they are most needed. And as arts administrators, if we want more resources for the communities we serve, we must also advocate and work for their participation in the 2020 Census.

I envision that an accurate count of communities of color during this census can end “art-desertification” because arts and cultural institutions will have a more accurate picture about the locations and needs of their prospective audiences and can develop relevant programming. And I believe an accurate 2020 Census count can be the vital catalyst for underserved communities to have more access to the arts!

As always, I would like to know what you think. Please share your comments below.

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