On Monday, Rachel Y. DeGuzman of 21st Century Arts, and a coalition of fellow Artists, Arts Administrators and Educators gathered to present “At the Crossroads – Art Power Symposium,” exploring and addressing the important issue of diversity and inclusivity in the Arts. Attendees included around 45 artists and arts administrators of diverse ages, ethnicities and genres of art.
It is a fact that people of color have long lacked cultural equity in the Arts. They have been misrepresented when portrayed, and under-represented when included at all. Funding has historically been woefully lacking to showcase or help develop projects or works by people of color.
While this is fact, it also seems to be a topic that is difficult for many to confront. Ms. DeGuzman indicated she’d had challenges finding a venue that was willing to host a symposium on this topic. Fortunately, Rev. D.J. Robinson held no qualms, and welcomed the event.
When I entered the New Horizon Faith Center (formerly the Frederick Douglass Resource Center), I had no set expectations. After all…how does one address the enormous topic of Equity in the Arts through a Symposium?
As the day progressed, we explored the topic through powerful poetry by Tokeya C. Graham and by Reenah Golden and some of her students. Activities such as “Columbian Hypnosis” (also known as theatre of the oppressed) led by Annette Ramos, and the seated dance exercise led by Sean McLeod offered a physical and visceral approach to the topic. The presentation about an upcoming exhibition by Henry Avignon called WTF AmeriKa, which interwove the story of his life, addressed the issue of cultural equity and activist art with particular poignancy. Toward the end, we viewed a half hour of Ava duVernay’s film 13th and the breadth of the topic unfolded in discussion, led by Thomas Warfield. In the final three-part exercise, we each identified ways in which we saw racism being manifested, other ways in which it had been successfully subverted, and finally, ways in which we each intended to address the issue in our own personal art and actions.
As the day evolved, each one of these segments brought us a little closer to a more in-depth experience and robust vision of cultural equity in the Arts. At the outset, I might never have suspected we’d end up with such a rich treatment of the issue, based on any one segment. But that is how Activist Art work. Art seldom drives home points with hammers and nails. It allows a message to wash over us like waves over boulders, slowly and determinedly changing the landscape. That is why the Arts have long worked so successfully to address social issues.
The struggle for cultural equity in the Arts will be long-term. It has no overnight solution. One of the most effective ways for those who understand its importance is to introduce the message, through their work, into communities and populations that may be less aware of its importance. After all…when all have a voice, everyone is enriched.
Many thanks to Rachel DeGuzman, Thomas Warfield, Sean McLeod, Henry Avignon, Tokeya C. Graham, Annette Ramos Reenah Golden, Rev. Robinson, and to all who came together to make this event possible. The organizers of this symposium plan to host another that continues the conversation in February 2018. If you have the opportunity to attend, I guarantee it will be a most enlightening and enriching experience.
This editorial, written by Carol White Llewellyn, t does not necessarily represent the views of RCTV Board, Staff, Members or Producers.