Wednesday, June 6, 2007

art and politics

Culture minister David Lammy MP called the cultural sector in England ‘too white’ and, along with Arts Council England, has taken steps to rectify “the problem” helping to create new outlets and resources for artists of color. I’m constantly searching for art work to feature in our issues (by the way, if you’re artistically inclined and interested in contributing please feel free to email us; and in my search have come across various organizations based in England, all fired up about supporting “under represented” art and artists. They’re largely part of initiatives set up by Arts Council England, and have raised almost as many questions as they have hopes.

It’s no mystery to anyone who works in or has worked in the non-profit sector that the field is as much about rubbing shoulders and scratching backs as it is about an organization’s mission. Those who fund organizations have concerns and goals, not unlike advertisers in magazines. Those in charge of non-profits must be as savvy and double minded as ad-sales reps; understanding the needs of the organization and the concerns of those who provide financial support. Many of the council’s programs in England, even if they state their aim to be “color-blind,” are being asked to fill quotas to maintain eligibility for their endowments. The presence of quotas and their affect on goals and practice have caused many worry that as opposed to searching for artists of merit from various backgrounds, organizations will invert that process; making the ability to check all ethnicity boxes their priority, leaving consideration of artistic merit secondary.

Sonya Dyer's report, "Boxed In: Cultural Diversity Policies Constrict Black Artists" was recently published by the Manifesto Club. In it, she addresses many familiar questions about the purpose and effect of diversity initiatives. Dyer maintains that programs (which she refers to as "schemes") like the Arts Council's, Inspire and Decibel programs create dependency, and have negative effects on the very people they set out to assist. The concerns Dyer puts forth are not completely unfamiliar. Many of her arguments are similar to issues we’ve heard raised stateside about similar diversity-driven programs: Namely, Affirmative Action, which is not an entirely different and very large issue.

Programs like Affirmative Action are designed to be temporary. Set up to be a means to an end, not a solution in and of itself. What seems to occur, however, is an eventual slowing of the processes that would end the dependence on the original program. Many argue that Affirmative Action in the US has led to applicants being placed in positions for which they are unqualified and/or under prepared. It is upsetting, however, that there seems to be more exploration into the presence of unqualified minority applicants than research regarding the reasons why there continues to be a divide in the quality of education.

Dyer has been criticized for her stance on the programs being established by Arts Council England. Nonetheless her concerns are not unfounded and should not be dismissed. There should be a constant questioning of the long-term goals of initiatives being established in he name of diversity and equality. It is often easy to see the merits in such programs but it is the responsibility of those who benefit from and participate in them to ensure the progress of their original intentions.

- And, on that note, here are some arts events and organizations for you:

* Scourge showing June 8th and 9th at LIU
by Marc Bamuthi Joseph
with Chinaka Hodge and Dahlak Brathwaite
Get tickets here while they're available

* Soul Arts Movement

- Ashleigh Rae

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