More than 80 people attended The Mixer on Aug 28, the final community conversation in a series of four in which artists and creative professionals were invited to help shape the City’s vision for the local creative economy.
Seattle Arts Commission Chair Priya Frank welcomed guests to the Northwest African American Museum to discuss advancing equity in the arts. She encouraged candid input (real talk) from everyone during the discussion portion of the evening to point the City toward solutions that will change the status quo, particularly for artists and creatives of color.
Sara Porkalob (award winning artist-activist and creator of the DRAGON CYCLE) moderated a conversation with speakers Dani Tirrell (Black, Queer choreographer, curator at Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, and 2019 Mayor’s Arts Awardee) and Reese Tanimura (Music Commission Chair, musician, and Managing Director of Northwest Folklife). Read more about the speakers here.
In order to have real talk, Porkalob established group agreements to create a safe and brave space for authentic conversation. She then shared an overview of the four levels of racism and other types of oppression – interpersonal, institutional, structural, and internalized – and how White Supremacy Culture, which upholds values like individualism, either/or thinking, and worship of the written word, is counteracted through Relational Culture, which rewards team work, embraces complexity, and values multiple ways of communicating.
The three speakers explained their perspectives as arts leaders and creatives of color working against White Supremacy Culture and outlined their strengths: maintaining a sense of humor (Porkalob), bringing people together and holding space for them (Tirrell), and being tenacious about recognizing and fostering the potential in others (Tanimura).
Porkalob then led attendees through a series of creative storytelling exercises, aimed at modeling relational culture and stimulating imagination, listening, and creative thinking. She concluded with a reminder that there is real power in storytelling, and imagination and connection are essential tools to mitigate racial disparities in the creative economy.
Breakout Sessions: What the City can do to advance equity in the arts
The storytelling exercises propelled individuals into a creative mindset, and resulted in the following themes and suggestions to advance equity in the arts and creative ecosystem.
Focus on building career pathways in underrepresented communities, including mentorship, apprenticeships, paid internships, more artist residencies, and professional development.
- Arts and creative can be perceived as not “valid” career paths, especially in immigrant families or by older generations
- The expectation to do unpaid work to break into a creative field often presents a greater barrier for people of color
- Create a job bank to centralize opportunities and allow employers to find more diverse talent
- Provide resources for gig workers, including healthcare solutions
- Utilize new technological platforms that have positively affected communities of color to build new audiences and garner attention (such a YouTube)
- Offer “workshops to learn how to market our unique skills and stories”
- Provide access points for immigrants and provide resources in languages besides English
- “I need a success model in my creative field” (POC participant on the need for representation)
- Educational opportunities are often out of reach, financially or geographically, for creatives of color
Change the status quo of white-dominant spaces; unwelcoming environments and insular networks are barriers for creatives of color.
- “I could not assimilate into the ‘white boys’ club’ so I quit doing film.”
- “Breaking into the creative industries as a person of color is one of Seattle’s biggest challenges.”
- Opportunities are built for people who “have white dads in the [film] industry.”
- “Privileged white dancers are getting paid more, and immediately.”
- Workplaces that uphold White Supremacy Culture don’t accommodate different communication styles.
- “When I bring my all self in a space, I don’t feel welcomed… [P]eople can honor my work but don’t respect or value me as a person.”
- There is a lot of POC talent but who controls the market sets the value and opportunities.
Tie funding and incentives to equity advancement.
- Reparations: “Additional funding should be given to communities of color to make up for a lifetime of inequity.”
- Educate and incentivize employers to increase diversity in creative workforce and diversify leadership (e.g. on boards of directors), but also beware of tokenism.
- Create opportunities for participatory budgeting.
- Meet communities of color on their terms – go to the community, rather than asking them to come to you (e.g. when holding meetings, offering educational opportunities, building career pathways).
- Due to Seattle’s high cost of living, many people have to commute from outside the city to access jobs in creative fields.
Change the narrative.
- Rather than focusing on deficits when talking about arts and culture, focus on assets.
- Tell a more inclusive story of the city (e.g. aside from grunge, highlight Seattle’s jazz, indigenous and POC punk music history).
- Talking about artists as an “endangered species” doesn’t serve them in the long run – focus instead on empowerment, skill development, and artists’ own agency.
If you attended any Mixer in this creative economy series (May through August), thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas. Please be on the lookout for a survey with a few more questions, and stay tuned for news related to the City’s creative economy strategy.
Please join us for the next Mixer on Sept 25 at Northwest Film Forum.