There is No “Done”: Place-Based Experiments in Cultural Equity

Mike Blockstein
Demone Carter
Shirley Ramirez Batun
Emiko Ono
Erin Salazar

Selected by Open Call
Organized by Mike Blockstein/ Public Matters (LA)

This is a discussion about bringing the margins to the center. America's getting browner, yet the art world, pop culture, and gatekeepers of public space are awkwardly stumbling (often falling backwards) when it comes to diversity and inclusion. This panel brings together a varied group of practitioners, diverse in age, race, experience—artist, activist, funder—in conversation about how we move in the direction of equity, even as we put to rest the illusion that equity has a finite endpoint. In truth, the work won’t end. We aren’t going to “solve” the problem, but we can make progress towards a more just, inclusive, equitable artistic practice. All panelists interweave emergent leadership training and opportunities for people of color into their practices. We will share our strategies, our motivation, our anger, and our dreams through our artistic, site and context specific experiments in leadership development. The panel will explore how to build effective partnerships with non-artists and non-arts organizations in communities of color to address substantive change.

Our work is place-based. Working in community-based contexts necessitates iterative methodologies. Risk-taking and experimentation are central to our artistic practices. We realize the importance of developing new leaders fluent in emergent hybrid, multi-sector arts and social change work.

MALI (Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute) is a leadership development program for people of color deeply engaged in the Silicon Valley's arts, culture, and entertainment sectors. Public Matters, a Los Angeles-based social enterprise, uses socially-engaged art to connect people to their neighborhoods; foster a sense of belonging and social purpose; and build the capacity of residents and local organizations to shape their communities. Public Matters’ Urban Futures Lab is,a two-year paid Fellowship program for young adults from L.A. communities of color. Exhibition District’s “Local Color” project aims to reactivate out-of-use San Jose buildings into art-hubs for artists, makers, and the local community. Moderator Emiko Ono’s work focuses on creating a more equitable and sustainable arts sector through philanthropy and leadership development.

We will use Robert Putnam’s social capital concepts of building, bonding, and bridging as a framework for sharing our work and as a touchstone for cultural equity conversations.

We begin by building capacity and skills, recognizing that systemic inequity cannot be addressed without growing the collective capacity of marginalized communities to address their own challenges. Students and Fellows learn communication, leadership, and community building skills while developing professional networks.

Deepening intercultural ties are extremely important for communities of color. We bond neighbors to neighbors, people to place, community-based organizations to institutions, students to community leaders through creative placemaking and neighborhood-based work.

We bridge ties linking people together across sociopolitical, economic, and racial divides. As an emergent majority, people of color need to be the tellers of their own stories. The stories are not an exotic aside but the new main event. Our work uses art to connect residents, government, and sectors including public health, urban planning, and equitable development, to serve neighborhoods, families, and youth.