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Change: Another Thought

John L. Moore

I think the issue of our time is “changing how people see” … but let me come back to that.

John Killacky wrote two posts for ARTSblog in late June/early July that said:

“… many funders did not feel equipped to judge quality outside of their own world views and experiences. I know that was a problem for me. Excellence matters — and there was not a lack of artistic excellence — but what was missing were the multiple perspectives in philanthropy needed to judge excellence in culturally specific organizations.

As a result, a separate “other” track was created for these organizations, a kind of affirmative action track with far less resources. By creating this separate track, we may have unintentionally entrenched a two-tiered caste system.

… Maybe philanthropy should have taken a page from venture capitalists’ playbooks …”

This sub-section of John’s piece compelled me to offer my own.

I began my career as an actor in the mid-70’s. However, when I segued into arts management as a career path, I began working in leadership positions with both community-based organizations and major institutions.

Over the years I’ve been a grantseeker and a grantmaker and as a result, there were many things that I once “saw” one way, I began to “see” them differently.

At The Association of American Cultures (on whose Board I currently sit) we argue for three principles in equity around:

1) Funding for institutions of color,
2) Leadership, and
3) Participation in policymaking.

The Institute for Cultural Democracy says the concept of cultural democracy comprises a set of related commitments (in abbreviated form):

  • Protecting and promoting cultural diversity, and the right to culture;
  • Encouraging active participation in community cultural life;
  • Enabling participation in policy decisions; and
  • Assuring fair and equitable access.

Most of us who have been cultural warriors for at least 20 years know of the Expansion Arts Program. The National Endowment for the Arts launched this program in 1971 to specifically fund U.S. minority, tribal, and rural organizations only. (Subsequently a few State Art Agencies developed programs to address funding and capacity building for minority arts organizations.) Expansion Arts was cancelled in late 1995, yet, since its demise a limited number of national foundations targeted funding for minority organizations or promoted diversity as a funding priority.

Part of this is what Killacky speaks about.

All of the instances I cited are key issues/platforms/viewpoints that lie at the intersection of the arts and race. Unfortunately this has always tended to be a “sticky wicket” and we are still trying to figure out how to level that playing field.

I believe we need to be dedicated to and entrenched in the long term – no quick fix – process of helping those who have difficulty seeing truth or enlightenment, see. It is an internal struggle that will produce change in some but may not in others.

To be more specific, all of the policies we can attempt to promote, all of the funding programs we can design/create, and all of the equity we can advocate for will not ultimately change those people that hinder progressive thought. Because these actions are external to the individual.

We change from the inside out, not from the outside in.

In the meantime we still are going to be a data driven, fact oriented – butts in seats – society looking at these factors regarding equity, diversity, funding, policies, quality, leadership, etc. To really effect how people and organizations of color become lesser on the margins, we do it one sightless person at a time.

So tell me, what do you think?

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