We must build together – the knowing

We must build together – the knowing.
Barak adé Soleil

Building Equity in Support for Individual Artists (Preconference)

Carlton Turner of Alternate ROOTS, and our host for the day, welcomed us into the space and kept the day moving with the right amount of earnestness and seriousness. He let us know we’d be asked to think in terms of transforming self, institutions and systems and asked “Where are you in the process of developing equity?” Then we were off…


Melissa Dibble from EmcArts started off with an explanation of their Innovation Lab process, conceived to help organizations handle complex challenges and dislodge entrenched ways of being. The thrust is not to create space for incremental improvement, she explained, but “hard left turns” — the kind of change that results in new value and impact. The process is grounded in author/Professor Ron Heifetz’s principles of adaptive leadership and Dibble laid out a few of the fundamental principles including getting on the balcony to see patterns and identify complex challenges, regulating stress and using generative conflict and making space for leadership voices from below or outside.

Eyenga Bokamba described the Innovation Lab as a tool that allowed Intermedia Arts to surface and address the inequity buried within the organization. Her big questions: “How do we ensure equity and inclusion are at the core of our curatorial process and financial models?” This questioning process ultimately led to a new position within the organization. Director of Equity and Public Programs replaced the more traditional role of Artistic Director and was charged with piloting new ways of sharing power and accessing resources with the artists and communities the organization serves.

Caitlin Strokosch of National Performance Network stepped in for an ill Esther Grisham Grimm and began by urging attendees to look outside of the arts for examples of inclusivity and how to modify the systems artists with disabilities encounter. She stressed the importance of building a lens that is holistic and pervasive. Newly named 2016 3Arts Fellow Barak adé Soleil asked funders in the room to consider, “What is the real way of grounding ourselves and opening the space?”

adé Soleil explained that making work as a choreographer and being a person who uses different devices to get around has bestowed a deep sense of space. He also encouraged us to consider the “deepening complexity of identity” (he identifies as a black, queer, disabled and cis gendered) and to strive to understand the unique needs of each artist with disabilities since he believes it will give us the opportunity to open and expand.

As part of a new initiative, AZ Art Worker is also funded by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation throughout Arizona. Jenea Sanchez has become a partner helping to design convenings, workshops and the occasional coffee and pan dulce conversation. National and international artists and scholars connect to and mentor emerging artists, artists of color, those working in rural communities and community members interested in arts based strategies. Ana Teresa Fernandez has taught site specific and interactive artworks and Dr. Maribel Alvarez has taught asset mapping as a tool for empowerment. The knowledge sharing and access to high quality training are meant to enrich local artists, form networks and connect communities.


Lori Pourier of The First Peoples Fund spoke of supporting the work of culture keepers and tradition bearers by investing in individuals, families and communities. The Fund created Native American Financial Institutions modeled on Muhammed Yanus’ Grameen Bank and the Native Arts Economy Rebuilding Project has spurred access to markets, supplies and technical assistance for Native entrepreneurs.

David Nicholson of Headwaters Foundation for Justice spoke of advancing equity by keeping community at the center of grantmaking. The Foundation recruits and trains community members to become panelists and a high level of trust develops when awardees feel they are seen, heard and supported by members of their community. Transparency and accountability are essential.

This year the new Intercultural Institute received 335 applications for 25-35 fellowship positions, María López De León of Nation Association of Latino Arts and Culture told the preconference group.

The goals of the Institute, a collaborative program of Alternate ROOTS, First Peoples Fund, National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) and Pa’I Foundation are to surface common values, new knowledge of socio-political and economic structures and a new understanding of each other.

The program advances social justice and equity and emphasizes how we move in our communities and our shared memories. Funding is in place for the next 3 years. By then they expect to have 90-100 new leaders working in the field.


It was a wonderful dense day, and I along with several participants lamented how little time was left for reflection.

Ideas about cultivating new modes of adaptive leadership, surfacing covert and overt inequities in organizations, making difficult left turns, creating space for artists with disabilities and networks, finance tools and leadership pathways to support creative lives swirled. Much to consider, much to do, but really at the end of the day I’m left with a feeling of steely optimism, intention and the mural/poem on the back wall of Intermedia Arts.

In this moment of Urgency, We come together answering a call for Compassion.

In this moment of Urgency,
We come together answering a call for
In this time of global and local emergency,
We acknowledge the temptation to stay at Anger.
Amidst a barely recognizable Uptown,
With ongoing police violence,
And feeling upheaval and uncertainty of our world at large,
We choose Creation, Courage and Connection.
We turn poison to medicine.
Like bees working together to create honeycomb,
We bring forth ourselves and our art,
Not separable
In co-creation
In this mural we experience the sweetness of community.
Here, see our honey…