Luzene Hill: Grounding Art in Cultural Understanding and Lived Experience
The multi-media Atlanta-based artist Luzene Hill, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, was one of five Fellowship artists chosen by the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis in 2015 and featured in their exhibition Conversations (the other artists honored in 2015 were Brenda Mallory, Da-ka-xeen Mehner, Holly Wilson, and Mario Martinez). Certainly, the work of these artists reaches a high formal and aesthetic level, as well as being informed by complex contemporary cultural, social and political realities. Luzene Hill’s work draws deeply personal and difficult experiences related to violence against women and Indigenous cultures. In creating museum and site-specific installations, she helps her audiences understand complex issues on a deeper level. In communicating about tough issues, she also manages to create visually stunning work. During our current period of tremendous social, cultural, and political upheaval, artists like Luzene Hill bring needed attention to key issues while engaging our hearts and minds to consider more effective ways to respond to the serious work that remains to be done.
Arts Spaces for Queer BIPOC During COVID: The Show Must Go On
For queer-BIPOC identifying individuals, the endless and unique intersections of one’s identities can make it difficult to find yourself authentically represented in the arts. Working to carve out space for marginalized queer artists, The National Queer Theatre (NQT) elevates those who have been historically, and continue to be, underrepresented in the theater field. The NQT houses a unique initiative known as the Criminal Queerness Initiative (CQI), which focuses on highlighting the narratives of queer identifying international and immigrant playwrights—specifically, the censorship or criminalization they may face within their countries. The efforts of the artists are then celebrated in a culminating event, the Criminal Queerness Festival (CQF). In addition, they host the Criminal Queerness Lab: a (virtual) residency that seeks to elevate playwrights on an international scale by providing rigorous support in the writing and production of new work. I had the pleasure of speaking with Adam Odsess-Rubin, founder of the National Queer Theatre and the Criminal Queerness Initiative, about the initiative’s origins and the importance of conversation surrounding the varying degrees of censorship queer-identifying individuals encounter on an international scale.
Six Steps to Building a More Sustainable Organization
How can arts organizations ensure that the maximum benefits accrue to all aspects of your operations, beneficiaries, and stakeholders, regardless of what external forces come into play? Here are six ways that you can lay the groundwork for successful performance management initiatives and work toward long-term sustainability in 2021.
Member Spotlight: Tom Werder
Located in Morristown, New Jersey, Morris Arts builds community through the arts via arts in education programs, arts programming in the community, grants, scholarships, advocacy, creative placemaking events, and support for artists and arts organizations. Since 2012, Tom Werder has served as the executive director of the organization, directing and administering all programs, operations, and policies, supervising staff, managing the annual budget, and leading the strategic planning process. “I’ve loved my time at Morris Arts—it’s hardly possible to think that I’m in my ninth year. I think the thing I’m proudest of at Morris Arts has been to expand our presence both in our community as well as in the field. Through the connections gained with my involvement with Americans for the Arts, I’ve worked as a grant evaluator for a number of arts councils across the country as well as participating with a small group of arts leaders in advocacy work in Congress on behalf of the field.” 
Highly Favored: If You See a Bandwagon…
Civic leaders are recognizing more and more that the impact of the arts goes beyond cultural and aesthetic enhancements. The hope is that civic engagement—artists working on location in studios, museums, galleries, music, and dance performances—will attract people, and their economic infusion will foster the development of neglected downtown areas. Public art is now trending as reparations for African Americans and women. In this watershed moment—spurred by the massive uprisings and protests in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and too many others—we understand that bridging the deep racial and ideological chasms for environmental justice will require creative solutions and funding. I want to be counted as a catalyst to meet this moment as I continue to advocate for my public art practice by creating awareness to deepen the knowledge of the people of color’s struggle for equity. “How do we get more women and people of color into the public-art arena?” Time magazine asked me, last year. I retorted, “It’s not going to be easy!” It’s not. Of the 5,000-some-odd representational-figurative public artworks in the United States, less than five percent have been created by women; and fewer than that have been created by Black people. 
The art beat goes on at Creative Clay
For Member Artist Gina K., Creative Clay is more than the place she goes three times a week to create exhibit-worthy art that is sold online and in the Good Folk Gallery. “It broke my heart when Creative Clay closed,” Gina said. “That’s the truth.” On March 19, 2020, Creative Clay was forced to close its physical location and cease regular programming due to COVID-19. The St. Petersburg, Florida nonprofit’s two largest programs, Community Arts and the Art Around the World inclusive summer camp, were closed. Before COVID-19, Creative Clay’s Community Arts Program served 50 individuals with neuro-differences, ages 18 and older, Monday through Friday. As many businesses reopened in late spring 2020, Creative Clay remained closed out of an abundance of caution to protect member artists. With a grant from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and a donation from Creative Clay board member Hal Freedman and his wife, Willi Rudowsky, Creative Clay Connects virtual classes launched. Donations from several other Creative Clay board members and donors helped fund individual artist kits and pay teaching artists. “I felt really happy because I was able to do art on my own, and it meant that I got to do more art,” said Member Artist Marissa H. “The classes allowed me to expand my art-making abilities.” Through Creative Clay Connects, Creative Clay has honored its vision of arts access for all. While members haven’t been able to meet in person, it doesn’t mean they aren’t connecting.
The Uncomfortable Truth
The Arts & Science Council (ASC), the local arts agency for Charlotte-Mecklenburg in North Carolina, for nearly 60 years engaged in practices that led to inequitable funding to organizations and creative individuals. In June 2019, ASC’s Board of Directors approved a Cultural Equity statement. It creates a framework to set organizational policies and practices and offers external visibility for the organization’s commitment to cultural equity. It also guides ASC’s decision to cap operating support grants for large institutions to fund small and mid-sized organizations so they can build their capacity and thrive. The board agreed that if it is committed to doing this work, ASC must report to the community on its progress. The report was not done in a vacuum. Experts in the history, equity, cultural transformation, philanthropy, and public relations space served as external readers. Their feedback was valuable. When the report was published on February 24, 2021, it felt liberating. While I knew the facts in the report were startling, I never thought I would experience so intimately the uncomfortableness, the defensiveness, and the scaredness of white people reacting to the unvarnished truth.
Activating Support for the Arts from Donor Advised Funds
Philanthropists around the country are trying to make an outsize difference during the COVID-19 crisis with an initiative called #HalfMyDAF. The group, founded by Jennifer and David Risher, has banded together to offer matching challenge grants when others join them in committing to distribute at least half of the money in their Donor Advised Fund accounts to charities. The initiative spurred the distribution of $8.6 million in DAF distributions that were matched by $1.8 million in matching grants in 2020. So far $3.1 million is available in matching grants for 2021, but those funds will support the arts only if arts philanthropists step up to participate. Below is the story of one arts organization that benefitted from the initiative in 2020, Ashland New Plays Festival, which received a matching grant that provided a significant additional financial boost in a difficult year. Could this growing movement do even more for the arts in 2021?
If you aren’t including the AAPI experience within your anti-racism efforts, are you truly
As a Korean adoptee facilitating anti-racism workshops within the arts field, I have experienced many artists who view race and racism as a black and white binary. I have noticed terms such as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) being weaponized against People of the Global Majority by organizations when they are only referring to the Black community. Now, don’t get me wrong. We do need to center the most harmed and impacted communities which are the Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. However, that does not mean communities such as the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander), Middle Eastern North African, Latinx, and Mixed should be forgotten. If your anti-racism work is not intersectional, you are still upholding white supremacy. This has shown up in the arts community even when artists are practicing and actively becoming anti-racist. I have had conversations with individuals who question if we should call the hate crimes the AAPI community is experiencing because of COVID-19 “racist events.” I have also had to explain that AAPI individuals who are light skinned do hold power but not enough to define, protect, and pass laws to protect our own community. When conversations and topics like these come up, my proximity to whiteness is questioned. This is white supremacy showing up. Not all Asians look like me. Not all Asians have a similar experience.
Why the Arts Matter to Counties (now more than ever!)
Why do the arts matter? If you ask 100 people this question, you will most likely get 100 different answers, but each of these answers will be authentic and personal to that responder. This is what makes the arts so powerful and diverse. There are over 5 million people employed in the creative economy in America. The arts, along with tourism and restaurants, are some of the hardest hit industries as a result of the pandemic. Even after incredible federal, state, and county assistance, 27% of musicians are still unemployed, along with 52% of actors and 55% of dancers. Every county in America, large or small, urban or rural, has the arts as part of its collective experience. Artists live everywhere and their work seeks to engage their fellow humans to ask questions, to look at a topic in a new way, to foster dialogue, or to bring people together. As an arts advocates, it is up to us to recognize and educate others about the value that the arts bring to any county, to encourage it, to highlight it, and even to help support it. The arts will always be there to be part of our nation’s narrative—we just need to listen and to act.
Member Spotlight: Billy Ocasio
Located in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture (NMPRAC) is the only museum in the country outside of Puerto Rico dedicated exclusively to Puerto Rican arts and culture. Under Billy Ocasio’s leadership as executive director, the museum’s budget has tripled, staffing has grown, and visitor attendance has increased 67%. In 2012, NMPRAC was named the latest City of Chicago’s Museums in the Park, making history as the first new addition in over 20 years. “At NMPRAC, our vision is to be the premier organization that both influences and connects diasporic arts, culture, and history to evolving generations. Supporting both local and national Puerto Rican artists has always been important to the museum. To this day, finding new and creative ways to engage with our communities remains a top priority and can be witnessed through our programming, including the annual Barrio Arts Fest, various workshops, lectures, and panel discussions, as well as through exhibiting work from Puerto Rican artists.”