They smiled and hugged each other, their voices rising with excitement as they greeted new friends and people they’d known for years. For an hour and a half, a room in the Phoenix Center for the Arts belonged to artists of color.
The gathering, hosted by community organizing group InSite Consultants, included people from various groups in the Valley such as Trans Queer Pueblo and Aliento. They gathered on August 8 with one goal in mind: racial equity. Rather than racial equality, which gives out the same benefits to everyone, racial equity is based on serving the greatest amount of benefits to marginalized groups who need them the most.
There's a twist with the program, however. In order to facilitate the best possible discussion between the artists of color, the space was closed to white allies.
Cainan Jones, who is not an artist but attended the meeting to get more involved in organizing, thinks that it’s important for people of color to come together by themselves first and build a partnership, as they are often taught to be pitted against each other by society.
“With creating these spaces and being involved in these spaces, having them and actually being a part of them as people of color," said Jones, "you get the exposure you need and you get to express yourself and share your life with others.”
At their first meeting two weeks prior, they attempted to answer the questions “What could racial equity in the arts look like?” and “What are the barriers for artists of color organizing?” At this one, they were brainstorming actions that could be taken to address the answers to those questions.
The group had decided on four main categories that could help toward racial equity: value, sharing power, knowledge, and community spaces. After recapping the previous meeting, they broke into four small groups to further discuss what actions they take related to sharing power and value.
To Ashley Hare, one of the organizers and a member of InSite Consultants, sharing power is redistributing funds.
“It looks like more people of color at decision-making tables and not just as a token placement at a board room,” said Hare, “that our voices are actually heard, and when we give a solution or when we give suggestions that they’re actually taken seriously.”
Hare believes that artists have always been at the forefront of social change.
“It’s always been artists who are having these conversations about ways that we can all share power equitably and moving that forward,” said Hare. “We’ve always been at the center as artists in every movement and we’re just trying to keep that alive as we’re meeting together.”
She also believes that we should be using the term “accomplices” instead of allies when it comes to white people who are willing to stand by people of color even when it gets tough. She also thinks there are other ways society can talk about the discussions around race.
“Allies don’t want to talk about whiteness. How do we change that conversation?” Hare asked. “If we’re going to talk about black and brown organizations, how do we start talking about white organizations and not calling them traditional organizations, mainstream organizations?”
Sydney Jackson, a dancer by trade, stayed after the event had ended, chatting with some friends. She has recently been reconsidering what it means to be an artist.
“Art is a form of communication that has to be there and it’s already in us because it’s a tool,” said Jackson.
She doesn’t know exactly what a racially equitable Phoenix would look like, but she believes it means tearing up the current foundation and rebuilding.
“I don’t really know that things would successfully happen with the structures that already exist, because that’s not how it’s meant to work,” she said. “It would be very energy-draining to try and change something that wasn’t meant to work in the first place.”
Next up, the artists will have another meeting to work toward completing a plan for racial equity. Between now and the next meeting, they will be taking two actions: working to have their meetings at black-owned businesses, such as the Onyx Art Gallery, and attending meetings for the City of Phoenix Arts and Culture Commission.
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