April 17, 2022—The Creating Change Network recently held its in-person 2022 Conference to discuss and define what accountability and action mean to the process of building, cultivating and supporting the development of a more equitable, just and anti-racist arts community in New Jersey.
As readers of Arts & Culture Connections may recall, the Creating Change Network held its inaugural conference last year. The program was launched and hosted by the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and ArtPride New Jersey, with support from the Grunin Foundation.
Guided by a steering committee of arts professionals and social justice leaders, the Creating Change Network offers ongoing opportunities for learning and collaboration to advance Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access (EDI&A) practices in the state’s arts sector.
In the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the numerous pronouncements of support made by corporate and cultural organizations to address systemic racism, the question remains: What are the next steps? The Creating Change Network’s steering committee, of which I am chair, decided that the key is building a culture of accountability, which became the framework for this conference.
What is accountability? In my remarks, I used the framework outlined in an article written by Create Forward founder Piper Anderson in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Piper writes: “Accountability requires communication, negotiation of needs, the opportunity to repair harm, and the chance to prove that we can change and be worthy of trust again. Organizations committed to racial equity must recognize that this work requires new practices for talking about race and racism and new strategies for addressing acts of racial harm that seek repair and strengthen trust.”
Without that culture, she adds, “any effort to prevent racial harm or provide proper redress when it occurs will fall short of accomplishing repairing the harm and deepen distrust and disconnection among staff. She also notes that environments where accountability is lacking impacts employee retention, collegial relationships and team performance, and it thwarts those organizational efforts to advance racial equity. For a further understanding of accountability, I highly urge you to check out Piper’s article on accountability at this link.
The keynote was presented as a discussion with Bahia Ramos, Director of Arts at the Wallace Foundation, and Sola Winley, Executive Vice President, Commissioner’s Office & Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for the Major League Soccer (MLS). I served as moderator.
Bahia noted that more than half of Americans responding to a national survey said that arts and cultural organizations are important to them, up from 37-percent before the pandemic. The top four concerns were:
- Increasing accessibility and new works
- Embracing equity and inclusion
- Places of belonging and welcome
- Deepening community rootedness
She urged participants to use this opportunity for “new thinking and new learning” so as to create arts and cultural spaces where the stated concerns are addressed.
Sola screened a segment from Good Morning America, which featured the story of solidarity protests following the murder of George Floyd, which were initiated by Black MLS players and their allies. Soon after, more than 170 MLS athletes formed Black Players for Change (BPC), and their efforts led to Sola becoming the highest ranking person of color in MLS’s executive suite. BPC also has engaged in voter registration, education outreach and launched an initiative for MLS to invest $25-million in black-owned banks.
The conference included several “deep dive” workshops for arts organizations, visual and performing artists, as well as arts educators. And there were working sessions to help formulate equity statements; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) plans; human resources policies; board engagement in DEI issues, and equity in the arts classroom.
The process of building a just, equitable and anti-racist arts infrastructure is hard, emotional, and labor-intensive work. However, I am grateful to say that from the depth of the discussions and the enthusiasm of the conference participants, there is no turning back; we will continue to advance. Special thanks to the steering committee for your behind-the-scenes efforts to make this conference possible.
It is my hope that our continued efforts to engage in the complex and necessary dialogues that challenge the biases that cause us to see difference as “other,” rather than “equal,” will become the catalyst for shattering the barriers that divide us and lead to a new level of understanding our common humanity.
I think the five action steps that Sola shared as part of his closing remarks are important for all of us to ponder as we continue to advance our efforts for EDI&A in our respective areas of work:
- Do the the right thing
- Do it well
- Do it with love
- Do no harm
- Do it again
As always, I would like to know what you think. I invite you to share your thoughts or comments below.