December 27, 2020—Throughout 2020, I have been keenly aware of the significant efforts by several Champions of the Arts to fight for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access (EDI&A) despite the three pandemics our entire nation has been experiencing (COVID-19, racial injustice, and political divide). As we close out the year, I have chosen to highlight for the readers of Arts &Culture Connections three organizations and three individuals whose laudable efforts supported and advocated for EDI&A in the arts amidst unprecedented circumstances.
These Champions have provided unprecedented financial support; made efforts to expand the artistic landscape, or have served as thought leaders helping organizations navigate these challenging times.
My 2020 Champion of the Arts are: New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC); Darren Walker, Ford Foundation President; Dr. Indira Etwaroo, Billie Holiday Theatre’s Executive Artistic Director; the Billie Holiday Theatre and the Black Seed Initiative; the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, and educator and advocate Dr. Tobie Stein.
As you know, I am the Senior Advisor, Community Engagement for NJPAC. But I chose NJPAC as a 2020 Champion of the Arts because of the leadership and innovation it has displayed during the pandemic for the entire performing arts community. NJPAC pioneered the “In Your Living Room Series,” offering programs, including community engagement, in a virtual space. NJPAC also launched “Standing in Solidarity,” a nationally recognized and supported program that served as a platform for social justice issues. In addition, NJPAC’s programming opportunities celebrated local heroes and arts organizations. I salute NJPAC for its continuous efforts to utilize the virtual space to create opportunities and model excellence.
The Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker has long been a hero of mine and a model 2020 Champion of the Arts. As the President of the $13-billion social justice philanthropy, he has wielded the power of his checkbook and forged partnerships to protect “America’s Cultural Treasures,” Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous cultural institutions and arts organizations. The Ford Foundation also has been at the forefront of making its resources available to challenge racial, gender and ethnic inequality.
Dr. Indira Etwaroo has served as the Executive Artistic Director of the Billie Holiday Theatre for the past five years. She was one of the first cultural leaders to issue a statement on racial justice and a call for white cultural leaders to support equity and access for the African-American community, as well as to advocate funding support for institutions of color. Dr. Etwaroo is a 2020 Champion of the Arts not only for her work with the theater, but also for helping to bring to fruition the Black Seed Initiative. The initiative is a partnership with three other African-American theater organizations to distribute a Mellon Foundation grant that is the largest-ever investment in Black theater.
The AUDELCO and Obie Award-winning Billie Holiday Theatre is the artistic anchor for the largest African American community in the nation—Central Brooklyn—and one of the last remaining theaters forged in the aesthetic and sociocultural kiln of America’s Civil Rights/Black Arts Movements. This year, the theater also reaffirmed its historic ties to the “No Justice No Peace” movement by becoming the catalyst for the painting of a New York’s first Black Lives Matter street mural—a sign painted by volunteer artists and community leaders that spans 568-feet by 28-feet in the heart of the Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy) neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Billie Holiday Theatre is a 2020 Champion of the Arts and remains a beacon for world class art rooted in racial justice.
The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce has not only been a community resource leader during the COVID-19 pandemic, it also successfully navigated the herculean task of taking the 100-event Harlem Week 2020 Festival to a virtual space. This 2020 Champion of the Arts provided opportunities for artists to share their work and they also offered insightful panel discussions with thought leaders, from Broadway to the nonprofit sector, to discuss what’s next for 2021 in their respective fields.
Dr. Tobie Stein is a two-time Fulbright Specialist, an educator, researcher and keynote speaker, who has dedicated her efforts to challenging systemic racism and guiding cultural institutions to become anti-racist organizations. Dr. Stein is a 2020 Champion of the Arts for putting a stake in the ground as a white ally, determined to transform herself and society, by increasing access, diversity, equity and inclusion in the cultural workforce.
As always, I’d like to know what you think. Who is on your list of 2020 Champion of the Arts? Please share your list of champions and reasons below.
I wish you and your loved ones a safe, happy and healthy holiday season!