The Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County (AHCMC) held a dialogue at the Betty Mae Kramer Gallery of the Silver Spring Civic Building last Thursday to promote equity and diversity in Washington area cultural organizations and arts groups.
The guests of the event included major sponsors and Arts and Humanities grant recipients, who heard from speakers including AHCMC Chief Executive Officer Suzan Jenkins, Vice President of Local Arts Advancement for Americans for the Arts Clay Lord, and Field Education and Leadership Program Manager for Americans for the Arts Abe Flores.
Jenkins noted the importance of discussing diversity. “With the tragedy that happened in Paris, it’s really important that everyone feels included. As Montgomery County’s demographic becomes more diverse, it is vital that everyone is represented in its growing community,” she said. Nevertheless, many cultural and artistic organizations suffer from a lack of diversity– whether that means having a largely older, white-dominated staff to lacking familiarity with or attention to multiethnic artwork. Entire communities are harmed culturally when talented artists lack access to major regional artistic organizations.
Problems with a lack of diversity in arts groups are by no means easy to solve. Writing for Americans for the Arts, Clay Lord noted that concern over diversity within arts groups can easily lead to “a discussion of the systemic devaluation of the arts as a career option in certain populations, which may or may not stem from systemic inequalities in the American education system surrounding arts education, which in turn is representative of a society built from bottom to top on the creation of privileged class predominantly defined by the unequal distribution of wealth and access to opportunity across hundreds of years and dozens of generations.” For some, the complexities of the issue can prove overwhelming. “Suddenly you aren’t talking about a problem you can do anything about, and you feel either overwhelmed or off the hook,” Lord expressed. “What can I do about that, anyway?”
Every community requires a different solution to its problems with a lack of diversity. According to Lord, every community needs “a thousand tiny steps” in order to broaden access for artistic groups to a wide range of current and potential artists. Open discussion and careful monitoring are both crucial in this process.
Jenkins stressed that promoting equity and diversity begins with hiring and representing diverse groups of people, as well as by encouraging and supporting younger artists. “Students involved in the arts are reflecting the community and it is up to individual students to determine the best way to express themselves,” Jenkins observed. The Ida F. Haimovicz Award is one of several ways that AHCMC inspires students to express themselves creatively, and is given to a student who produces an exceptional visual artwork. Last year, the award was given to Malaika Temba, a graduate of Einstein High School, whose artworks captured the mental bruises that discrimination in schools has left on young people. Recipients of the award receive a $1000 scholarship and their works are exhibited in the Betty Mae Kramer Gallery.
Each year, AHCMC funds many organizations and individuals dedicated to promoting the arts and humanities around Montgomery County. More information about these grants can be found here: http://creativemoco.com/grants.
Article by Leigh Cook of Montgomery Blair High School