October 17, 2021—In August of 2020, Dr. Durell Cooper saw an announcement on LinkedIn about a global arts conference to discuss the state of the world amidst the pandemic. Not a single Black person was included as a speaker. This event was being organized while the world was still reeling from the murder of George Floyd and record numbers of African-Americans (and other people of color) were dying of COVID-19.
Durell was incredulous and reached out to several arts administrators of color, including Shirley Taylor and me. Shirley wrote back: “…instead of asking for a seat at their table, we should just build our own.”
Following a series of dialogues, the three of us made several key decisions: Rather than waiting for invitations to participate in discussions that impact our lives and our community, we decided to create a space where African-Americans involved in the world of arts, culture and philanthropy could share their perspectives; flex the muscles of power we possess, and utilize our talents and skills to expand opportunities for thriving in the business of the arts.
We envisioned a space where we could share our knowledge; information about available resources; create opportunities for mentorship, provide encouragement for self-care, and open up a virtual space for support. The result was the launch of At The Table.
At The Table is a group of African-American arts leaders responsible for organizing dynamic discussions that showcase and leverage our collective cultural and philanthropic power. Our goal is to offer:
- Opportunities for connections between arts and culture practitioners, spanning all creative industries;
- A platform for financial growth and independence of our arts and cultural sectors;
- An infrastructure for community building through the arts and sustainability, and
- Encouragement to engage in self-care, healing and wellness.
We envision that each discussion will be a clarion call to action, providing an opportunity for participants to determine how they can best apply what they learn to their specific circumstances.
Our first session was held this past week. The theme was “Liberation: Setting Our Own Tables—A discussion about Empowering the Black Community through Arts and Philanthropy.” Readers of Arts & Culture Connections can watch the recording of the webinar at this link.
The panelists were Dr. Indira Etwaroo, Director, Steve Jobs Theater; Maurine Knighton, Director, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; Sharnita Johnson, Director, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Nikkole Salter, Actress, Playwright and Advocate
Talk about a powerhouse panel—brilliant arts and philanthropic leaders, who selflessly shared their experiences, insights and wisdom about advancing the arts and what successful philanthropy looks like. I personally learned so much and absorbed every single word.
What was incredibly inspiring to me were the gems offered by each panelist at the end of the discussion:
Indira encouraged us to “keep the pressure on,” but also reminded us about the importance of self-care and doing things that bring us joy.
Sharnita reminded us of the cyclical nature of our efforts for access and justice over the past 25 years—from diversity to DEI, and now anti-racism. She urged us to be vigilant.
Maurine urged us to keep in mind the Frederick Douglass quote, “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” adding that we must decide, take action and remain hopeful that things will change. This is a marathon, Maurine said, and we each must grapple with discipline and we all have roles to play. Remember, it is the networks that matter.
And, Nikkole reminded us that control is never handed over. It has to be taken.
These amazing leaders also emphasized the importance of self-care; celebrating our own work, as well as the work of others.
This first session of At The Table is just the beginning, and I thank Durell and Shirley for their efforts to help make this webinar possible. We are determined to continue our gatherings, expand our networking, as well as salute our unique contributions to advancing arts and culture in the Black community.
If you would like to be added to the email list, send your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to your joining with us At The Table.