The following notes accompany our feature article Making Sense of Cultural Equity, published on August 31, 2016:
(1) (Some) cultural equity pioneers
Our goal with this article is not to present a detailed history of the movement for cultural equity. Still, there are many artists, activists and arts institutions who have contributed significantly to this movement, and whom we would be remiss not to acknowledge. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a handful of pioneers and pioneering institutions whose work we have followed in our research, and to whom we owe a great deal:
- Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, founded in 1958
- Independent African American museums, established in the 1950s and 1960s, including the African American Museum in Cleveland (1953), the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago (1961), the Museum of African American History in Boston (1963), Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit (1965), and the Studio Museum in Harlem (1968).
- Free Southern Theatre, founded in 1963
- El Teatro Campesino, founded in 1965
- Douglas Turner Ward, who along with producer/actor Robert Hooks, and theater manager Gerald Krone established the Negro Ensemble Theatre Company in 1965
- Katherine Dunham, a successful choreographer, who established a formal training program for other black dancers in 1967
- Dance Theatre of Harlem, founded in 1969
- El Museo del Barrio, launched by New York’s Puerto Rican community in 1969 with funding from the New York State Board of Education
- AB Spellman, a poet and activist, who became the director of the NEA’s Expansion Arts Program in 1975
- The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, founded by Dr. Marta Moreno Vega in 1976
- The Asian American Arts Alliance, born out of the Basement Workshop in 1983
- The Association of American Cultures, established in 1985 to advocate for cultural equity issues
- The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, founded in 1989 to foster the development and advancement of Latino arts in the United States
- The Godzilla Network, established by Asian American artists and curators in NY in 1990, which challenged the Whitney about representation of Asian artists
- Joan Myers Brown, founder of Philadanco, who established the International Association of Blacks in Dance in 1991
- The Sphinx Organization, launched in 1997 in Detroit to create opportunities for black and Latino classical musicians
- The Silk Road Rising project, which was created in 2002 to advance the creation of, and expand access to, the works of Asian American and Middle Eastern American artists
- The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, created in 2007 with initial funding from the Ford Foundation
(2) Equity is not just an nonprofit arts concern
The mandate to make institutions more reflective of a rapidly changing country is one that transcends the federal tax code. The for-profit entertainment industry, too, has been forced to confront the status quo in recent years, what with #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsStillSoWhite, #StarringJohnCho, the gender pay inequality debacle, studies showing minorities and women lagging behind in all film and TV categories (with particularly low numbers of LGBT and Latino players), studies bemoaning the dearth of women on screen and behind the camera, and studies revealing a lack of diversity in the publishing industry, and in Hollywood writers’ rooms.
(3) What we mean when we say ‘mainstream’ and ‘of color’:
Language can be a source of great confusion in conversations about cultural equity, and many commonly-used terms are highly contested. In this article, we employ several key concepts that can benefit from further elaboration. Please consider the following definitions as you read:
Mainstream institutions: In the course of our reading, we came across the term “mainstream” institutions or organizations with some frequency. Although rarely defined explicitly, we infer that this term typically denotes nonprofit organizations that 1) were founded by white people; 2) do not have a focus on an art form or an audience connected with a specific community of color or other oppressed community; 3) receive funding from foundation and government sources; and 4) have some professional staff.
Target community: We generally understand mainstream institutions’ target community to include all people in a local geographic area.
Institutions of color: We use this term to describe cultural institutions founded and led by artists of color that successfully pursue growth and long-term financial solvency through the following strategies: recruitment of a board with fundraising skills and/or connections to wealth; recruitment of new individual donors; and cultivation of new sources of institutional funding, particularly from private foundations.
“Of color”: We consider this descriptor synonymous, at least in the United States context, with the Grantmakers in the Arts-preferred term ALAANA. ALAANA stands for African, Latino(a), Asian, Arab, and Native American people and communities.
The following sources were particularly central to our research for this article. We recommend them for further reading:
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Mauldin, B., Laramee Kidd, S., & Ruskin, J. (2016). LA County Arts Commission Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative: Literature Review. Retrieved from http://www.lacountyarts.org/UserFiles/File/CEII_LitRev_Final.pdf
Moreno Vega, M. (1993). Voices from the Battlefront: Achieving Cultural Equity. Trenton, N.J: Africa World Press.
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Americans for the Arts. (2016, May 23). Statement on Cultural Equity. Retrieved from http://www.americansforthearts.org/about-americans-for-the-arts/statement-on-cultural-equity
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