Alongside Black Lives Matter, we “recommit to healing ourselves and each other, and to co-creating alongside comrades, allies, and family, a culture where each person feels seen, heard, and supported.” This cannot be questioned and is essential to our mission of identifying and cultivating the next generation of arts leaders by developing inclusive systems for creative and personal growth.
Our creative practices both validate and create our identities, providing an anchor, a process of clarity around the self. In times of a global pandemic, recession, and civil unrest, it may seem that we are now even further away from a clear identity or personal practice. “Who am I?” is now more intimately layered with the complexity of “Who are we?” We are presented with the challenging task of understanding who we are in relation to a society fraught with injustice. We may also be called to soberly look at how we have contributed to injustice on a personal level. And what if we don’t like who we are when we look at ourselves through this lens? How can we cope with this identity?
Give yourself permission to be ok with not fully understanding your identity. To allow it to change every day, even every minute, as you take each day at a time. Perhaps by not feeling guilty for what we didn’t do, or proud for what we did, we can learn how to be accepting of where we are and see a clearer path forward. The more we can sit with our feelings and situations that are less than clear in these moments, the better we will be able to hear the message of healing, both from ourselves and our recovering society.
Let yourself unfold and even lose yourself in these times. It is understandable. It is important. You will find better answers. Answers for your wellness, for providing allyship as we communally evolve, and for your art practice, which is the intersection of these two worlds.
Art can be a catalyst for and contributor to social change. Art exists to help us know where we’re failing, what we’re losing, what we’re gaining, what we need to do about it… and also gives us tools for processing, reacting, speaking out. As Sue Bell Yank once wrote for Open Engagement, art “produces ways of doing, knowing, and being” which are “not the end [in and of themselves,] but they do represent a way forward.”
Yet, we recognize that the arts have upheld and contributed to systems of oppression throughout history. Racist policies, programs, and practices have served as barriers and hurdles for Black people seeking entry into and representation within the arts world. We understand that we must work towards being better allies in the fight against inequality and systemic oppression, not only for Black people but for all those marginalized through practices rooted in white supremacy.
We encourage all emerging artists and arts leaders who find themselves in a position of privilege to take on this critical work as well. While resources and compilations abound, here is a living document where we’ll be adding those that spoke to us.
However, we feel it is important to point out that while the call to action of Black Lives Matter may feel new and urgent to some, it has been urgent to others for scores of time and before hashtags even existed. The long history of violence and injustice is lived experience for many; we do not encourage placing the burden of education on your BIPOC peers, nor do we stand behind efforts that are surface level or tokenizing.
In our own reflections and questioning as an organization, we acknowledge we have been guilty of this ourselves, despite the best of intentions, trainings with The New Philanthropists, and existing work towards equity in the arts.
Some specific actionables we’re taking on in the next month to address and improve include:
Define our organization’s values list, and share it publicly.
Revisit our existing Non-Discrimination Policy, ensuring it is comprehensive, and sharing it publicly.
Revisiting Mentee/Mentor experiences and feedback as a full board and prioritizing a clarity of written best practices for their experiences.
Collectively considering how our small and budding non-profit can best support Black artists and communities of color as we define a way forward, including fundraising and financial support that is mindful of decolonizing wealth.
We share these in an effort to be more transparent. We recognize that performative allyship can do more harm than good, and that contemplation is different than silence. Some outward and public work is essential, but most of the necessary work is invisible, uncomfortable, and without “rewards.” It will not have an end date; it is ongoing and required perpetually. We acknowledge the complexities, responsibility, complicity… but more importantly, we will make space for the history, truths, pain, and lived experiences.
As we grow as an organization, we commit ourselves to upholding and amplifying under-heard and underrepresented voices within our community through all our programming and particularly our mentorship program. We trust that we will emerge with things much more lovely, powerful, and potent, as long as we can share in this path towards healing and change together. We want you at the table, and welcome your input on what we can do better. To a more just future, The Austin Emerging Arts Leaders Volunteer Board