An Opportunity - and Charge - for Arts Organizations to Reflect Deeply about Power

On behalf of GIA’s team and our membership, I am writing this blog post as a response to Quanice Floyd’s recently shared article, The Failure of Arts Organizations to Move Toward Racial Equity. First, to Quanice – Grantmakers in the Arts hears you. Your statement offered our community the opportunity and charge to reflect deeply, specifically about power.

As a membership association of grantmakers, we are a seat of power. The easiest thing to do when a colleague like Quanice critiques our field is to evade or dismiss the critique or to defend ourselves, to list the good things we’ve done. But that is the opposite of listening and learning. It is the opposite of committing to justice as a practice and a process.

To quote our senior development manager, Sylvia Jung, we at Grantmakers in the Arts know that providing racial equity content does not mean racial justice has been achieved. As a Philanthropy Serving Organization, Grantmakers in the Arts is complicit in perpetuating and upholding White supremacist, patriarchal, misogynist, ableist, and hetero-normative systems and cultures. We acknowledge our part in perpetuating these systems and acknowledge the need to be deliberate about challenging these dynamics with our choices, behaviors, and actions. We can only do this well by listening, by centering and amplifying voices like Quanice’s.

I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn from my team members and board members. It is thanks to these colleagues – such as our vice president, Nadia Elokdah and program manager Sherylynn Sealy– that we have had successes centering the voices of BIPOC colleagues and organizations in our programming, encouraging the field to increase funding to BIPOC artists and organizations, hosting Racial Equity in Arts Funding workshops, as well as other successes. And, these successes are not excuses to avoid constant and continuous self-examination and correction. If the process of hegemony is constant and continuous, the process of counter-hegemony must be constant and continuous.

Even when we are well-intended, we make mistakes. As we establish at the start of each and every workshop we facilitate, we can honor intent while acknowledging and attending to impact. In fact, we must. Often in our desire to center the voices of folks who are harmed by our actions, we risk burning them out by piling work on them, asking them to execute the education and labor to fix our mistakes, and to place these increased responsibilities on top of their already considerable emotional labor. In our desire to share the work of BIPOC organizations and communities, we open them up to others’ copying their work without crediting them as the innovators they are. As we center marginalized groups, we risk tokenizing them. I’ve certainly made these mistakes, as well as so many other mistakes, and am working to correct them.

Grantmakers in the Arts, as a member organization, and I, as a person, commit to remain humble enough to listen, recognize mistakes made, and to continuously try again. This listening and self-correcting is the process. When it comes to executing its work equitably, Grantmakers in the Arts is in process. We will never be done. We invite our peers to join us in reflecting and evolving.