The dirty not-so-secret secret of the arts world is the forced ranking of artists and organizations: white artists and large, well-funded spaces/organizations are considered “world-class”; well-connected artists of color and organizations that have the resources (money, people) to play the game of grant writing and code-switch marketing are held in a second tier of regional recognition; and then the base of the pyramid, the iceberg under the ocean: the millions of individual artists of every color, orientation, gender, preference, and artistic genre who are creating meaningful art, either by themselves or with similar-minded people, hopefully for a small committed audience. Their numbers are legion; their accolades, few.
Going backwards through the last century, the NEA (as fabulous and necessary as state support of national art should be) fosters such rankings by their onerous grant approval process, made all the worse by political maneuverings in the 1990s over freedom of speech and artistic license. As fantastic as the non-profit idea is, it still is crafted under the oversight of toxic capitalism to mimic the roles, mechanisms, and output of for-profit companies. A brief moment during the Great Depression saw government willing to support a range of artistic voices across America, albeit predominantly anglo-saxon ones.
It boggles my mind that it is 2020, and with our copious resources of money, technology, connection, and education, artists are STILL being forced into rankings based on their level of these things.
Art is art. Human is human.
As our nation deals with a political system that is functioning the way it was intended to–to perpetuate the financial success and ruling power of a select few white people–the same questions of how to dismantle the system must be asked in the arts world. I include myself and the Color Of project in this. How am I contributing to the system? How can I contribute to its dismantling?
How can I contribute to something better? Something equal? Something that truly values all artistic expression?
“Richard Hamming was a mathematician at Bell Labs from the 1940’s through the 1970’s who liked to sit down with strangers in the company cafeteria and ask them about their fields of expertise.
At first, he would ask mainly about their day-to-day work, but eventually, he would turn the conversation toward the big, open questions—what were the most important unsolved problems in their profession? Why did those problems matter? What kinds of things would change when someone in the field finally broke through? What new potential would that unlock?After he’d gotten them excited and talking passionately, he would ask one final question: “So, why aren’t you working on that?””http://rationalitydojo.com.au/resources/how-to-dojo/hamming-questions/
I think this trio–how am I contributing to the system as it is, how to dismantle, how to create something truly egalitarian–are the most important questions in the arts world currently. Everyone in this community needs to be working on them. If we believe in our own humanity and our shared world, we must find a way to stop restricting help and start living into the abundance that exists for all.
Art can change minds and hearts. If we make sure that all art is included.