"And the beat goes on............."
Americans for the Arts is touting its newly released Statement on Cultural Equity, a major effort culminating "a year of work and consultation with members, advisory council members, stakeholders in the arts field, board, staff, and partners throughout the nonprofit sector."
Here is the statement:
"To support a full creative life for all, Americans for the Arts commits to championing policies and practices of cultural equity that empower a just, inclusive, equitable nation."
It might seem that such a simple statement would not have taken a year to draft, but in this area it is incumbent on every group trying to establish a context for a high bar that will address the very complex and challenging issue of cultural equity to do due diligence in insuring that all viewpoints are heard. So AFTA consulted with scores of people in the field to try to include diverse perspectives and thinking. Even still, one can bet there will be criticism and detractors.
To give context on their process and to the Statement itself, AFTA included on its website the following additional materials: (There is even more information at their site: Click here )
Definition of Cultural Equity
Acknowledgements & Affirmations
- In the United States, there are systems of power that grant privilege and access unequally such that inequity and injustice result, and that must be continuously addressed and changed.
- Cultural equity is critical to the long-term viability of the arts sector.
- We must all hold ourselves accountable, because acknowledging and challenging our inequities and working in partnership is how we will make change happen.
- Everyone deserves equal access to a full, vibrant creative life, which is essential to a healthy and democratic society.
- The prominent presence of artists challenges inequities and encourages alternatives.
Modeling Through Action
- Pursue cultural competency throughout our organization through substantive learning and formal, transparent policies.
- Acknowledge and dismantle any inequities within our policies, systems, programs, and services, andreport organization progress.
- Commit time and resources to expand more diverse leadership within our board, staff, and advisory bodies.
Fueling Field Progress
- Encourage substantive learning to build cultural competency and to proliferate pro-equity policies and practices by all of our constituencies and audiences.
- Improve the cultural leadership pipeline by creating and supporting programs and policies that foster leadership that reflects the full breadth of American society.
- Generate and aggregate quantitative and qualitative research related to equity to make incremental, measurable progress towards cultural equity more visible.
- Advocate for public and private-sector policy that promotes cultural equity.
But it is indisputable that inequities impact a range of communities beyond racial and ethnic ones - including disabled people, LGBT and more. Equity ought to be a universal right, as the consequences of inequities know no limitations and bounds.
For some in our sector, equity is a community issue beyond the arts, that the arts can, and must, play a part in addressing. To some of them, the equity question has to do with the advantages and benefits of art and culture being available to all; that the arts can play a meaningful role in getting away from inequities and to a more universal equitable society. For many, cultural equity is a human right and a value of its own that needs to be championed. For some in our field, inequity should be first dealt with within the field before we move to consider our role in addressing the issue in the wider community.
But if the will is there, that ought not to take an indefinite period of time. Is the will there in the arts? I don't know. Like everywhere else, we talk a good game. But more talk doesn't breed confidence or trust, let alone hope, and while it may be a precursor to action, it is also a hinderance. As the current national presidential election has shown - people (on all sides) are fed up with talk. They may not agree on what they want or how to do things, but there is widespread frustration with the failure to act. The process of the dismantling the inequities in our field needs to begin, in earnest, sooner, rather than later. A timeline of some sort would be helpful and perhaps speed up the process somewhat. So too would have been accompanying specific steps being taken now to dismantle specific inequities identified thus far. Even if incomplete and preliminary.
The problem with striving towards equity, is that by its very definition, inequity implies that some are receiving something that others are not. Take money as the example. Funding has long gone (disproportionately as to the current overall population) to the larger, Eurocentric cultural institutions. To achieve equity, more funding ought to go to those "underrepresented, underserved" organizations who have gotten, and continue to get, the short end of the stick. But that means that those who got the big end of the stick will end up getting less because the total funding pie is only so big. Putting every consideration aside, that isn't easy for the funders, nor those who benefited unequally. But that is exactly what must happen if the commitment to equity is real. Moving towards Equity is messy. It won't be easy.
In the final analysis, there are two distinct groups that must consider this (and other) Statements on Equity and figure out how they are going to address the Equity question: those who have benefited from the way things have been, and those who have not. One hopes they can work together.