Arts Organizations Engage in Dialogues About Racial Injustice

Image credit: TRG 45/YouTube

Like many of my readers of Arts & Culture Connections, I have spent the past week engaged in numerous discussions about how the arts can help bridge and heal the societal chasms and wounds created by racism, racial injustice, and state-sanctioned violence. The videotaped murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, as well as the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Toni McDade, have shown the world the ugly and brutal truth of racialized-violence that African-Americans have endured since this nation’s founding, sparking an unprecedented outpouring of outrage and pledges to take action—from corporations, arts organizations and sports leagues.

This past week, I was moved by the receipt of eight photographs of global solidarity marches by thousands upon thousands of primarily youth, which were held on a single day last week in Canada, Japan, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Poland, New Zealand and Australia. That number exploded to more than 100,000 on Saturday (June 7, 2020) across many states in Australia, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, and a demand for justice for the indigenous, Aboriginal Australians, who have died in police custody.

And I have been deeply encouraged by the number of anti-racism workshops that have mobilized in the past week; the acts of solidarity, such as the launch of “White Coats for Black Lives,” and the efforts to educate people through the compilation of book lists that range from anti-racism instruction to African-American history and experience.

I also must applaud the efforts of two Champions of the ArtsNina Simon and her arts organization Of/By/For offered “A Framework in Response to Moments of Outrage & Crisis.” And David Cutler, Ph.D., founder of the Savvy Arts Venture Challenge, sent out a newsletter promoting the “White 5 Challenge,” to urge white people to take on the system of white privilege and to become publicly accountable for at least five measurable and pro-active, anti-racism steps.

Truly, this is a moment in international history, which has compelled the world to look in the mirror at the impact of racism upon all of us. Still, the questions remain: “What individual and collective actions will we take to create and manifest a new vision? What concrete and measurable actions will we launch that can and will change the destiny of America (and the destiny of people of color around the world)?”

I was honored to be invited to share my thoughts and answer questions about what I believe are measurable action steps for arts organizations during a YouTube webinar. The webinar was sponsored by The Results Group for the Arts (TRG Arts), a consulting firm dedicated to helping its clients establish business models that lead to artistic innovation and the ability to better inspire communities. Our discussion was moderated by TRG CEO Jill Robinson, and my fellow panelist was the dynamic and award-winning director Roy Alexander Weise, MBE, one of the co-Artistic Directors for the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, UK.

One key point that participants in the webinar learned was the similarities between the struggles for racial justice in both the United States and the UK.

The questions the audience submitted helped us unpack several key issues facing the arts when it comes to addressing racial inequities and lack of access, especially from the perspective of an artistic director. Had we been in an auditorium, instead of online, I imagine Roy’s powerful statement that he would rather halve his budget to ensure that diverse audiences could afford tickets would have silenced the room. In other words, he argued, the value that the arts give to diverse audiences is a far greater good for society than the value generated by profit. That was profound food for thought for all of us.

I believe these provocative dialogues provide an opportunity to discuss resources, but also are a gateway for asking the tough questions whose answers we don’t always want to hear. I am grateful to TRG Arts for the opportunity to participate.

Due to our profound mission as arts leaders, administrators, curators, cultural organizations and artists, I know this is just the beginning of the necessary dialogues in which we need to engage. Let’s continue to seek, to listen, to understand and to hear what we can and will do together.

I want to know what you learned the past week. What pledges or promises did your organizations (or you as an individual) make? What measurable action steps are you planning? Please share your comments below.

Be safe. Be well. Be Strong!

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