I’ve been thinking for a year how to get back into organizing as I come out of illness. I knew participating at this Arts Equity Summit hosted by Arts Connect International (ACI) featuring local culture workers supporting grassroots efforts was important because during these rare moments when cultural institutions can come in contact with community organizing it is important leverage these conversations – made even more relevant as it dawned on me by February of the sudden rush of equity events at cultural institutions set for March that I began noticing. Of course by design. And not transparently announced. I had just attended a curatorial equity summit at the beginning of March which was patronizing to local curators and made it clear there was no understanding of local communities’ needs. Sensing a power imbalance, I started a social media campaign I’d been thinking of doing since January but felt shy about starting as I hadn’t been able to activate a formal group. I figured I’d do it on the go: better to have my neck out than to remain silent, so #supportcommunitycuration on instagram began encouraging followers to tag their own examples of excellent local community curation in anticipation for the broader conversation on #whatsartequity.
It was a lot of bated breath and work leading up to the Summit, but I’m glad we stuck with it. Participants reported to me that they were energized and rejuvenated – a few shared they learned fresh angles to observe and problem solve these generations-long issues. Panelists appeared to be elated and affirmed that this work at these intersections were important and happy we came together.
THE PANEL WORKSHOP
ACI organizers very attentive. One even gave me his laptop to overcome the proprietary nightmare that is laptop to projector adaptor connections.
We plugged in panelists and participants to whatever the heck we were gonna be doing as they arrived. We were organizing slides, drawing up visual aid for facilitation, setting up the room, arranging for water, and relating order of events.
We opened with land acknowledgement to the Mattakeeset people and insisted equity is fundamentally grounded in ultimately supporting indigenous sovereignty efforts.
McKersin then called in warrior energy into the space and facilitated a delightful interactive dance exercise that directly had participants confront displacement. Beautifully written about in this New Haven Arts article by one of the attendees.
Pampi led a grounding warm up rooted in basic posture care and dedicated an acknowledgement of most resistance labor and community survival born by Black femmes and people with marginalized identities.
They oriented workshop participants to the program zine/workbook’s Notes section, briefly touching on the difference between vulnerability and fragility
They facilitated a small exercise on capital access to directly name power and privilege in the room.
We identified that current practices put the onus on people carrying marginalized identities to do tremendous emotional labor for a chance at securing abysmal grants facing people and institutions leveraging substantial economic capital. That at our workshop we would ask those with financial capital to do the vulnerable and reveal themselves first.
Pampi asked people to refer to the graph and identify which side of the redline they grew up. We spoke to responsibility of those who did not face redlining growing up.
Kimberly Barzola then asked panelists to speak to a few questions: 1. when they were first alerted to different worlds 2. when they understood their power as a culture worker 3. what they think is necessary for arts equity. Quite a bit of what was testified by each panelist written about in this New Haven Arts article by one of the attendees (not all of it accurate. more soon).
Pampi facilitated a final group exercise about things people might do/find themselves doing as individual artists/ administrators for arts equity and how they might work collectively. The point of this exercise was to realize we cannot doing things sustainably unless we work collectively and ideally work in concert and accountably with local grassroots housing and divestment justice efforts. Though this was a bit rushed, people were engaged and stayed an additional 20 minutes.
In closing space, they offered and performed their reconciliation song on our complicated legacies with our own ancestors.
THE LABOR THAT GOES INTO PREPARING COMMUNITY PANEL WORKSHOPS
For the three months leads to the summit, I was hustling.
Because we were interfacing with people at cultural institutions, I knew I had to study up. Catch up on years of local and national organizing. So I started.
For the month of March I studied….U.S. labor and co-op history, redlining, Boston’s labor history, reached out for more recent organizing history from the 70s onwards, current housing and divest justice efforts, how artists enable gentrification, etc. Studies were conducted with a searching eye, scanning for connections, knowing this was something I needed to put some intellectual labor into.
I decided to make what I was learning publicly available in order so whoever follows my work can also read up and know the examples of communities in resistance facing horrible violence and to relay the history many of us don’t know because these struggles deliberately erased and minimized in order to justify the elite whiteness of this so-called nation’s history. I began #whatsartequity on instagram.
Labor history is in a weird dance with indigenous resistance because when indigenous people are displaced and denied their right to migration they are compelled to survive as laborers often undocumented. Labor history is unequivocally Black history. Femme history includes labor history. Labor history is led by LGBTQI folx. Labor history is fundamentally internationalist by people facing displacement from their homelands. Often without big media. Until we embrace and not just tolerate these struggles we will not be free. Spiritual freedom visions liberation 💛
A social media campaign spilled out of me – one where i might have been the only one witing and pressuring loving comrades to repost and write in as most no-roots campaigns go. Something inside me told me to put myself out there. That we must be vulnerable and share where we are coming from and not assume everyone on same page.
The language was mostly fiery and featured on prefigured images of landscapes – after the prosaic style of the ubiquitous inspiration posters. Harm-reduction with a side of tongue-in-cheek. I began using the hashtags #supportcommunitycuration #whatsartequity .and encouraging people to share. repost and contribute with their own thoughts. Though I am well aware social media is limited and silo’d, since it is accessible only to people with social media access following particular institutional language, I use it as a practice space.
What emerged was a definitive understanding of how to relate that the horrifying redlining practices continuing and that a lot of work needs to be done by the people most benefiting – specifically the people with equity in their mouths at a talking point.
The week before the summit I shifted my head to look into consolidating all the research and whirling thoughts just where they stood for practical reasons into something workable for a summit. I sensed and knew to expect a mixed group. I knew i had to baseline grassroots culture work without question and without allowing that work so vilified to be questioned. In these moments, I know to just keep working faithfully and trust that something will emerge – and to wait for that moment. In that moment I know the facilitation will come together just fine. That moment did emerge. Two things emerged: an infographic and the touchbase with panelists.
In this process, two images manifested, one I shelved to finish soon and chose instead to focus on the other, which – given the time constraints – was the more important one to finish. I began by just drawing and drawing the one I eventually shelved – and from that the idea for a second image dawned. I knew I had to make a simple graphic – one similar to a ubiquitous one people are familiar with, so I shifted my focus to drawing that graphic. I found that moment of resonance. I realized in insisting on doing this exercise – knowing there was no new knowledge and yet persisting, what I was unpacking was what would convince me of my responsibility. Decidedly. After all these years of intellectually knowing. What would grab me? So that i would no longer continue becoming ambivalent after a while by these insidious mollifying myths. Light: The graph that emerged surprised me! I had simply drawn out the whole system. Something simply not done or easily found. I needed a tool and the tool was literally shining a light on a section of knowledge deliberately obscured in images. What I was contributing was another way of looking at things.
This infographic depicts how middle managerial class fits into and supports the violent pipelines we are so accustomed to seeing represented #theotherhalf#designedtobeinvisible to #eraseaccountability
I now had a defining tool for the summit and something powerful to incorporate into the program zine I was continuing to design – this zine was presented last fall at the New England Museum Association’s Centennial conference. It keeps developing.
The second defining moment was the phone conversations panelists and I were able to make only days leading up to conference. I’ve been listening and experiencing disenfranchisement for years but it’s important to be reminded by people doing systemic resistance work. I respect the incredibly emotional labor grassroots organizers and culture workers do even talking to me. Their testimonies were the hardlines I was determined to baseline at the Summit.
McKersin from the moment of joining was brewing something up. I was ecstatic when he related what he wanted to do. Nervous would we be able to streamline it at this late point but elated because I knew he was on the same page with respect to the power of performative facilitation at such gatherings. Again nothing i do is new: it is more that I insist we can and we must try on alternate modalities of comprehension for ourselves and our communities.
WHAT WHO WHERE HOW WHY
What began this adventure was reading Marwa Arsanios’s zine (Nov 2018) “Towards a feminist organization” that brilliantly puts together how artists made complicit in gentrification – through a stunning analysis of late stage neoliberal urban planning and development. She just had the words that kept escaping me. the Arts Equity Summit Call for Proposals appeared a few weeks later.
This zine was on Beirut but I kept imagining Boston – our #right2remain campaign and how artists might and must #resistgentrification through action – it got me thinking on an installation. i reached out to people.
I submitted a proposal for a workshop panel at the Summit that would insist that no real equity comes from anything but organizing with grassroots housing and divestment justice efforts (if equity is what these sudden equity summits hosted by cultural institutions all over new england are professing) for the Arts Equity Summit hosted by Arts Connect Intl (ACI) as a space holder proposal end of last year in order to highlight the culture work in the City that typically doesn’t get seen in professional arts spaces.
How and what do we facilitate at panel that would make such an effort absolutely useful? In a space being created to center conversations on arts and equity? In a space with people administering arts institutions and people interfacing often for funding. As we are forced into genuflection through grants that dance of asking we must do, can we do so with self determination? Declaring to ourselves it is not okay the current system forces us in these positions to beg? How do we relay the only access to dignity we have in exercising power lies in organizing?
From the start I wanted to continue developing a model of panel workshop that breaks up the panel format to be more interactive. AIC offered two versions we could pitch: a panel or roundtable workshop. I was heartened for I was imagining a mix of both that I had tried earlier last fall at the New England Museum Association NEMA centennial conference, which I came out of feeling good.
I insist on the workshop because I know it is important to process real-time a bit of what we hear panelists testify to and to do so together in community. 1.5 hours never enough time so I facilitate as if we are modeling what could be. We sit enough to get a taste. i’m always struggling with if a condensed tasting actually makes it more overwhelming. Is it a disservice? This time i invited panelists to consider – if they had time – a nontraditional way of presenting. I told them they would each get 7-10 minutes air time total and can use it however they wish with no expectation – because I knew it was extra labor I couldn’t necessarily compensate.
Submitting this proposal, too, was – if accepted – as much to see who are the current players in the cultural scene and what they make of the current situation. I was notified in January the proposal was accepted.
How not to get Chump-Changed: The Artist’s Role in Housing and Divestment Justice #right2remain#divestBoston
In this workshop, local culture workers will explore how artists might organize to support housing and divestment justice efforts in ways that fortify and celebrate the neighborhoods that support our resilient arts communities. Working artists are made complicit in gentrifying their own neighborhoods: in exchange for pithy arts funding our “public” works become cosmetic facelifts that hide devastating disparities. We believe that to be truly equitable, we must push this city to meet the needs of the communities battling displacement as a result of decades-long city-sanctioned development initiatives that drive up our cost of living. This workshop aims to explore how we might value our labor and stand together. In valuing each other and understanding the power we leverage, we hold our ground, slow down the predatory forces driving displacement, and redirect resources for more livable futures for ourselves and our neighbors.
March is a pivotal month bookended by two summits on equity, one I just attended on curation and one Im arranging a panel for on intersectional arts equity in a few weeks. .
When cultural spaces negotiated by organizations with city support are suddenly pushing conversations on equity it’s most likely a cosmetic appeal (value systems and the root motivation often diametrically opposed between state-sanctioned and grassroots folks – people with institutional support always carry the kind of capital power that can quicken situations so their systemic impact greater).
I immediately met with the ACI team. It is difficult to make any change from the inside but I can appreciate people doing what they can to leverage their access to these spaces and trying to do so in some good way. Though tickets to attend were pricey, ACI provided stipends to their presenters – something most arts conferences I’ve observed in this City do not practice.
As I’ve been chronically ill these past few years I have not been able to follow much on any front in Boston’s changing civic landscape aside from burgeoning skyscrapers in places where notably zoning laws changed overnight overturning policies to resist such changes that were in place for generations. Also, the affordable housing units built – that as anticipated by housing justice organizing before foundations laid – are not affordable by any realistic means.
Leading up to the Summit, I invited people who I felt are working at the intersections of this conversation.
Featuring the work of this amazing panel of culture workers at Arts Equity Summit #AES19 … aaand facilitating a workshop to continue getting organized, worker artists! #whatsartequity#supportcommunitycuration Sat Mar 23. Thoughts below. More soon. In the mean time tag older posts with #supportcommunitycuration of favorite examples.
Most of the challenge was being responsive to ever-present deadlines for this that and the other that a thoughtful admin team feels compelled to ask in interval moments to set up for a large conference and simply waiting for panelists to be on board and make time. It ended up taking till the week before the summit for me to be able to secure even 20 min with each panelist about what they’d like to speak to and where I was coming from. While I am often on the margins of everything, I know panelists I invited know I am committed to flesh out something that is useful to liberation work, and that it is only together that this offering can come together. If it’s not rooted in liberation, why do it, right?
So I waited till the week before for the whole team to be able to make time to figure out what is necessary for this event. If nothing else I wanted to make clear no one would leave patting themselves on the back for having a conversation on equity in any space discussing equity we were occupying.
MY PERSONAL TAKEAWAY
Not only had I found the tool for this workshop, I found an incisive focus for my culture work contribution that I can devote my life to. The other half is designed to remain invisible. No more. Only way to take ownership is to be presented without a doubt how those of us with settler privilege are irrevocably responsible, embroiled, complicit in colonialist violence. Everything we are taught works against this clarity and truth so we can hide behind proxies even when we intellectually know. And i finally and definitely know my work is it uncover the particular empire myths; offer the work of grassroots organizers as solutions and saving graces; and model how to plug in in a good way so we come to organize for liberation without fragility and internalized violence. Let’s bring our shining selves!