Open Dialogue IX
San Jose, California
Getting and Keeping Artists Engaged in the Discuussions and Development of Arts Policy
Millie Lee, Papo De Asis, Betty Garza, Mai Bui
Evonne Coleman, in her comments and descriptions of the beginnings of TAAC, told of a conference designed to discuss the inclusion of minorities in arts and culture, yet, clearly had excluded people of color from these discussions.
Afterward, ten people of color gathered by the banks of the Mississippi River nearby the conference and vowed, "No more would there be conversations about us without us!" Thus, the seeds of TAAC were sown.
The topic area of this discussion group grew out of the notion that if there are movements designed to influence, impact, discuss and develop arts policy, it is imperative that artists be present and actively engaged in the process, from beginning to end and along the way. Below are thoughts shared in the session.
- Artists engage the soul of the nation. Whether they realize it or not, they have a much bigger role to play than just creating and selling their art. Each artist has his or her own objective(s). It can be to purely express themselves, or to serve as a role model, use art as a tool to organize the community, help people to know their roots, empower them to be whole and maintain that wholeness as they integrate into the mainstream society. Artists may share some common objectives. There needs to take place an education of the artist that reinforces this notion of public responsibility. There is a responsibility for everyone, including artists, to use their gifts and talents for the common good. For, we are all in this together and the artist has a vital role to play.
- We must listen to and talk with artists. This should be combined with talks about how to help artists, for artists need resources. Artists should not only be the solution to the problem or problems, but artists should also have their problems and needs addressed. As an artist of color, the challenges are even greater. You appear on the scene as an alternative culture and you have to penetrate the dominant culture if you want to achieve larger awareness and appreciation of your work. In addition, these artists must penetrate the dominant/mainstream culture to create new cultural arts policies to change the view from a Euro-Artistic criterion to a more alternative/sub-cultural artistic criterion. We also need to empower these artists in our communities and prepare them to assimilate and change our artistic mainstream culture. Cultural institutions are mostly not open. We need to inform our mainstream culture that art done by the people of color does not have to be an alternative art "Sub-culture or other art" and that this type of art is necessary to create a complete cultural community.
- A possible approach would be to begin by working with artist organizations that are already formed to urge them to participate in policy discussions and development. There is a real advantage to working with organizations already formed. But, this does not preclude sponsoring forums and providing a place for artists to meet and discuss important issues.
- An important component of this is public dissemination of information. We could start with public gatherings of artists such as the black arts festival that is now to be held on an annual basis in Atanta, Georgia. We may also make information available at exhibitions, dance festivals, various artist conferences, etc. There are many venues of artist gatherings that provide opportunities for identifying and arranging to Dialogue with artists and get them to engage in policy discussions.
- Artist directories and artist registries are excellent resources. An example is the artist directory developed by the Association for Viet Arts. That organization has developed an artist registry. In addition, it actively seeks to engage artists in board meetings and retreats.
- As we push ahead in dealing with artists and arts issues, we must have a clearly articulated purpose and we must get out of the mold and box of thinking of poverty. We must think in terms of abundance in this very rich country of ours. And art and artists are a major component of that abundance.