Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 5

Good morning
"And the beat goes on................"

Concluding the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see Monday's blog for the introduction and participant's list).

Final Question:
Equity, diversity and race remain high level priority issues for the entire nonprofit arts field.  How are you addressing the challenges in your territory?  Are the issues such that solutions will likely require a larger map approach, and is it incumbent on the whole Bay Area to work together for truly meaningful change?  What are the principal roles LAAs can, and should, play, and what role does your organization favor?


Kerry Adams Hapner:  Racial and cultural equity are primary goals for local arts agencies as we serve all residents. This is true in San Jose, one of the most diverse US cities. Cultural pluralism and access are guiding principles of Cultural Connection: San Jose’s Cultural Plan for 2011-2010. We address equity through cultural funding and initiatives that focus on serving immigrant populations.

Income disparity and affordability are huge pressing issues in San Jose and the Bay Area now. The Ghostship tragedy has placed a national spot light on affordable, safe live and work spaces for artists. The San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs is currently working with the San Jose Housing Department to explore an affordable housing project in downtown San Jose, and we are conducting outreach to the arts community on their specific housing and space needs.

Silicon Valley Creates is developing a critical project in Japantown called the Creative Center for the Arts, which will provide rehearsal, production/studio, and administrative space for arts organization and creative entrepreneurs.

Community Arts Stabilization Trust, the Rainin Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation are among regional funders that, along with local arts agencies, are making significant investments to ensure cultural spaces are retained and sustained in the Bay Area.

Michele Seville:  These are critical issues, especially now. The Richmond Arts & Culture Commission just lost City funding for its Neighborhood Public Art program, which provided grants to a highly diverse group of youth and emerging artists. So, we are currently partnering with RYSE, a local non-profit serving youth to apply for funding, both state and federal(?), for projects similar to the ones we used to fund. Yes, I believe it is incumbent on the Bay Area to set the example of working together for change. We are leaders in the arts, and should act like it. Please help organize such collaborative events.  

Kristen Madsen:  First, we plan to watch the smartest, most thoughtful expert in this field, Roberto Bedoya, the new Cultural Affairs Manager in Oakland, and imitate everything he does that we possibly can.

But meanwhile, we are in the final planning stages for a new joint grants program, in partnership with Community Foundation Sonoma County.  The grants will fund arts education projects specifically serving diverse communities, neighborhoods, and organizations across the County.  Equity is a primary, stated goal of the grants and the guidelines are as broad and open as we can make.  Eligible grantees include arts and cultural organizations, and projects can occur in or out of schools and in non-traditional settings.  Partnerships with other community based organizations, including non-arts organizations, will be encouraged.

The next phase of work on this project will require us to dig deep into our communities to find the thoughtful work we know is being produced by individuals and organizations that may not have found their way to us on their own, and help them come in.  We are clear-eyed that the learning curve in Year One will be steepest for us as funders as we re-think our systems to be more open, inclusive, and impactful across the entire county.  And as two of the primary arts funders in the county, we hope that we are leading by example -- and are certain that the results of this work will make the case that the investment is more than worth the effort.

Tom DeCaigny:  Cultural equity is the San Francisco Arts Commission’s guiding value. In the past year, we have engaged Race Forward to train all staff members on racial equity principles and practice so that we are better able to advance racial equity through all the SFAC’s programs. We have established an internal cultural equity working group that is charged with researching promising practices in racial equity and analyzing the SFAC’s programs through a racial equity lens. The SFAC has also joined multiple SF City Departments in the Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE) program where we will be contributing to a GARE issue paper on equity in the arts this coming year.

The SFAC stewards the historic Cultural Equity Endowment Fund which was founded to support artists and arts organizations from historically underserved communities. The Fund, now approximately $3 million annually, is one of the only pieces of legislation in the country to specifically name cultural equity as a focus for public arts funding. Combined with approximately $2.5 million annually to support our city-owned cultural centers, the SFAC grants out approximately $6 million annually in support of cultural equity. We also continue to work closely with our partners at Grants for the Arts to ensure coordinated investments for our shared grantees and to respond to emerging needs in the SF arts ecology, most recently co-administering a $2 million nonprofit arts displacement mitigation program to keep arts organizations in San Francisco.

It is important to work both at local and regional level because every city has unique challenges in terms of equity that might require customized solutions and policies. However, regional conversations allow us to share promising practices and a common language to discuss issues that pertain to all artists and arts organizations in the region such as displacement, which disproportionately impacts organizations working in communities of color and other underserved communities.

Olivia Dodd:  For us to see industry-wide change in our regional (and national) arts and culture field, we will need to work at all levels as well as from both within individual organizations and together through regional/national associations to address these issues. While reorienting an industry may seem a daunting task, it is also an incredibly exciting and necessary one. It is on each individual organization, speaking for our organization as well, to identify where you need to grow and to resolve as a whole to make the changes necessary to become more equitable and diverse. To address this, we have to be willing to look at and modify our representation in our own staff and board makeup, our development strategies, our choices in programming, and our audiences. This is also a process we as an industry need to support each other through by holding each other accountable, identifying common challenges, and sharing successful practices.

In Napa County, normalizing representation as well as diversity, equity and affordability are top of mind, not just for the arts but for our community as a whole, whether in local politics, education or business leadership. The arts, however, lag behind many other sectors in proactive policies and actions to address these needs. With that said, this is one of the aspects of our agency that needs the most strengthening. It is not only something we see as important to our mission but a great opportunity for our local arts to serve and make an impact. With thoughtful programming, an orientation to authentic relationship cultivation, and diverse creators, we believe the arts can flip our role to become leaders in developing equity and diversity within our communities. Specifically, we as a local arts agencies can and should be proactive centers to champion the work of those who are leading the way as well as provide connections, guidance and resources to arts organizations and artists.

Local arts agencies, whether representing a city or the nation, can help drive movement in our field by: 
  • Organizing conversation among local leadership and facilitating networking to bring new voices into the traditional structures; 
  • Providing or soliciting grants for local organizations to facilitate new transitions, outreach, and programs;
  • Gathering and disseminating demographic information, baselines to track progress, and facilitate data sharing;
  • Raising awareness for diverse voices and stories of those that are successfully evolving; 
  • Spearheading relationship cultivation across traditional boundaries;
  • And, Actively networking and promoting partnerships with sectors or programs that serve more  diverse constituents and help cultivate relationships;
Although we are early in our diversity strategy and have a long way to go in our agency, we have initiated a handful of services to drive conversation and action on equity, diversity and race locally. Beyond active recruitment for diversity within the institution and programs, we have established the ACNV Leadership Network in order to facilitate a united movement with our local nonprofit arts groups. Collectively this group, representing about 20 arts nonprofits, agreed that we do not currently represent our community and agreed that we want this to change. We recognize that these issues are institutional, not just a marketing challenge, and have begun a systematic approach to clearly articulate the specific issues for locally. This will enable us to have clear talking points, common goals, and the ability to share the initiative widely. 

The first phase is an assessment of our community demographics, our local arts leadership, and arts audiences/participants. We are in the midst of this process now so the profile is not complete, but what we can say is that our county is home to a population that is 23% foreign-born, over 30% Latino, 26% in poverty, with 50% of our students who are or were English Language Learners.  Meanwhile, our local arts administration is by a far majority made-up of college educated, upper-middle class, white, females and the majority of our audiences are white, native-born English speakers. This little bit is a powerful reminder of why diversity and equity rise to the top of issues facing our arts community. We know we have a lot to do to start seeing change, but are inspired by the vision of a more welcoming, relevant and representative leadership serving a greater diversity of voices and audiences in our local arts. 

Connie Martinez:  I think exchanging ideas and best practices around equity, diversity and race is better than a larger map approach. We favor experimenting with what works locally, with an emphasis on: 1) setting the table with diverse voices (network engagement); 2) paying attention to our pipeline of diverse leaders (genARTS and MALI – Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute); and 3) ensuring equity and diversity with our investments in people and organizations (Grants programs/Artist Laureates etc).

Deep thanks to all the participants on this Forum.

Have a good weekend.

Don't Quit