With the last year highlighting racial disparities related to the COVID-19 pandemic and inequalities among communities of color, county officials are turning to the role the arts can play in advancing racial equality.
Ruby Lopez Harper, vice president of equity and local arts engagement for Americans for the Arts, told members of NACo’s Arts and Culture Commission March 11 during the Virtual Legislative Conference that the arts have not been an outlier in the focus on equity. She said there have been numerous calls for the arts to diversity their leadership.
“What this has meant for the field is a renewed energy around anti-racist practice, adoption of statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise in transparency around how organizations are taking actions and not just delivering lip service,” Lopez Harper said.
County arts agencies can implement equitable practices in their role serving as the center point of arts and culture in communities, she said.
“They [county art agencies] have positional power and advocacy and mobilization muscle and at this moment, it is very important that we consider their place in recovery efforts and look at them as part of the recovery infrastructure,” she said.
Americans for the Arts is promoting and endorsing the adoption of a framework called the Cultural New Deal that provides specific measures to be considered to advance work when focusing on equity.
“I encourage you to be humble in this moment — listen, invite, open the door to what is possible and make space for business not as usual,” she said. “This is an energized moment that can push practice and capitalize on a dedication and commitment to making every community better.”
Axel Santana, an associate with Policy Link, a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity, said arts and culture play a more important role than just entertainment and serve as a tool to advance equity.
“Working with artists and cultural organizers and embedding creative practices into your work, we believe can help open up a world of possibilities in your journey to achieving equitable outcomes for your community,” he said.
Policy Link completed an analysis of cultural plans to see what strategies focus more on equity. The Cultural Equity Plan serves as a tool to provide guidance and resources for communities interested in forming a plan dedicated to accomplishing equity through the arts and culture.
“If cities and regions hope to build on this vibrancy and address the historical and under-investments in communities of color, it’s important to develop and implement cultural plans by bringing an explicit racial and ethnic demographic lens to planning,” he said.
Santana said this includes ensuring that all people are represented in the development of arts policy and that there are venues for the fair distribution of resources.
He added that creating opportunities for policies in the arts and culture sector aid in equitable development such as investing in artists of color, realigning public arts and culture investments for racial equity and creating alignment between investment and demographic populations.
To celebrate the accomplishments of county officials’ efforts in the arts and culture sector, Jay Dick, senior director of state and local government affairs at Americans for the Arts, presented the Public Leadership in the Arts Award to Shelley Taub, former Oakland County, Mich. commissioner and former Arts and Culture Commission chair.
Taub worked in Oakland County to appropriate $2 million in federal CARES Act funding to support cultural institutions that were impacted by COVID-19 and has been a proponent of the cultural and economic value of the arts throughout her career.