How the Arts Can Help Combat Bias and Injustice

Artwork credit is: “Awoken” from the National Center for Civil and Human Rights website

Since the tragic murder of George Floyd a month ago, there have been several news reports about the hundreds of millions of dollars pledged and/or donated to organizations committed to fighting for racial justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, or to address unconscious bias. I believe a portion of this money should be shared with arts organizations to help facilitate and foster the social changes necessary for transforming this era of violence, white supremacy, and racial injustice into an era of recognition and respect for the dignity of all people.

Why give money to the arts? Throughout every pandemic—and racial injustice is indeed an epic pandemic—the arts continue to define, shape, and sustain the narrative of that populace. Artists are natural innovators who can provide insight and help us consider solutions to the challenges we are confronting. Their work stimulates collective imagination; stirs our sense of possibility and has been shown to inspire us to action.

The arts often challenge us to examine our perceptions and probe our fears. Most important, to engage with the arts is to engage in a dialogue with the work and see ourselves in “other.” From music and dance to theater and spoken word; from paintings and sculpture to photography and design, the arts historically have been our greatest source of light and hope whenever we have found ourselves mired in chaos, confusion, and darkness.

I want to share with the readers of Arts & Culture Connections some of the ways I believe the arts can best be utilized to ensure that this is indeed a transformational time in American history:

Anti-racism, arts education initiatives that empower children to recognize racist behavior in themselves and others, and it provides them with the language and social skills to address it.

Fund new productions of works by Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) artists that leverage the arts to address both history and racial injustice to provide opportunities for learning, growth, and healing.

Civic organizations should partner with the arts as a platform to demonstrate and promote the vision of what building a just and equitable society looks like.

Civil rights organizations should incorporate events, performances, and workshops to translate and help implement social justice initiatives.

Some of those resources also could be used to help our arts and cultural institutions establish long-term programs that address issues of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access, (EDI&A) so that future of these organizations accurately reflects America’s growing multicultural population. These programs should include:

The establishment of multi-year training programs led by a team of POC for the staffs of cultural and arts organizations to help them embody the principles of EDI&A in all aspects of their business and artistic operations with an accountability plan that is evaluated monthly.

Provide funding for executive leadership training for BIPOCs within the arts community, that includes mentorship.

Make available paid internships to BIPOC artists and arts administrators that includes a stipend that exceeds their cost of living expenses in the market where they are working so that they can focus on what they’re learning instead of having to take a second job.

Prestigious arts awards programs, such as the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, and Grammys, should incorporate EDI&A in the way they train, staff and program their annual televised presentations, and they should add an EDI&A category to recognize industry innovation and leadership in this area.

Equitable pay for BIPOCs in the television, film and publishing industries.

Donations to organizations that fund the arts, such as the Ford and Mellon Foundations, to create sustainable programs to address EDI&A issues on an ongoing basis.

Without engaging the arts at this juncture in our nation’s history, we are likely to return to the previously unsustainable methods of tackling the effects of white supremacy and racial injustice. We risk rehashing old ideas and ineffective policies that did little to uproot the core values that justify the dehumanization and devaluation of the lives of BIPOCs.

Billions of dollars have been pledged or donated this past month. Let’s reach out to civic and civil rights organizations and offer partnerships that will help them achieve their goals, as well as encourage them to direct some of this money to fund arts initiatives and engage artists in efforts that will truly help change the course of history.

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

Be well. Be safe. Be strong!

2 thoughts on “How the Arts Can Help Combat Bias and Injustice

  1. Thank you, Donna, for your presentation on the 9 a.m. SGI BQLI Zoom gathering today, 7/4/20.
    As a white ally, I have been organizing for diversity and anti-racism for 50+ years. I will send my stories to you soon.
    Below is the website for Brooklyn For Peace, my primary social action affiliation.
    Ever upward,
    Jaki Florsheim

    1. Thank you so much, I am familiar with Brooklyn for Peace as some of their members attended a few of our Peace and Culture activities at NYCC a few years ago. That’s great what you are doing and I look forward to hearing of your experiences. All the best.

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