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Local Cultural Councils Focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Timothea Pham, Program Officer

Man with dark, curly hair wears a mask while painting a mural
Johnny Miranda, Chair of the Chicopee Cultural Council, paints a mural. Photo Courtesy of Western Mass News.

With the current pandemic; a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement; and the growing energy around social justice, racial equity, and accessibility, Local Cultural Councils (LCCs) are exploring what this moment means for them and their communities. Here are a few examples:

Cultural Equity and Council Priorities: Medford Arts Council

Every year, Mass Cultural Council encourages LCCs to develop their own council priorities in addition to the state criteria that they use for grant evaluation. Not only do council priorities help to support projects that best meet the needs and priorities of their communities, but they also encourage LCCs to think about what it means to diversify their reach, membership, and impact.

The Medford Arts Council has included the following cultural equity statement as their first council priority for the new fiscal year:

Cultural Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Projects that elevate the voices and experiences of historically-marginalized groups to highlight the current and historical diversity of Medford. Projects should create opportunities for artists and community members who identify as Black, Indigenous, POC, LGBTQX, refugee, immigrant, or person living with a disability. Projects may include coalition building, research, leadership, and youth development.

Developing council priorities further allow LCC members to think about creating subcommittees or smaller groups to focus on particular tasks or areas. These groups help actualize ideas and give LCCs more structured roadmaps for action.

Similar to Medford, the Worcester Arts Council is also giving special weight to cultural equity, diversity, and inclusion. Read their priorities.

BIPOC Grants and Opportunities: Somerville Arts Council

With the support of Mayor Curtatone’s office, the Somerville Arts Council has launched a new grant program to support the local BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community with a special emphasis on serving the Black community and celebrating Black culture.

Additionally, SAC will produce a public art project featuring local BIPOC photographers. SAC Events Manager, Iaritza Menjivar explains, “Both programs are intended to amplify voices and provide a much-needed representation of black and brown voices in the arts.”

Two men, wearing brightly colored caps, stand back-to-back, leaning against one another, in the grass
Photo by Claudio Eshun aka Don Claude. Part of Somerville Arts Council’s BIPOC photo exhibit.

Young man in a light colored hoodie and shorts sits on a chair in a construction site. A helium balloon is tied to the chair.
Photo by Djessy Kung. Part of Somerville Arts Council’s BIPOC photo exhibit.

BLM Mural Projects: Chicopee Cultural Council

Upon the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others at the hands of police, artists are working with their communities to fight for racial justice in many ways. Murals are being created all over the world and across the state to honor them and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

In April, the Chicopee Cultural Council (CCC) worked with the Mayor Vieau’s office to put out a public art call for artists to create a Black Lives Mural Project in Downtown Chicopee. In their call, the CCC asks for designs for two murals influenced by the Movement, “One in memorial of the countless lives lost due to police violence, the other in celebration of the sweeping solidarity this movement has produced.”

Along with the BLM murals, the CCC is unveiling two additional murals representing the city’s history at the Chicopee Art Walk on Sept. 26, 2020.

Other cities with BLM public art projects include Springfield, Worcester, Cambridge, and Boston.

Engaging the Community in Discussion: Melrose Cultural Council

Because Local Cultural Council members are responsible for distributing public dollars, councils need to collect local public opinion about how to best distribute funds. Through community input, LCCs should have conversations with their community to collect diverse viewpoints about the community’s resources, interests, and needs.

This summer, the Melrose Cultural Council ran its community input survey. According to Arleen Frasca and Eileen Christiansen of the Melrose Cultural Council, “Many of the responses expressed interest in having the cultural council prioritize grants to projects that address anti-racism and social justice. In response, we are planning to host a virtual panel presentation that will engage a discussion around these themes.

The presentation will focus on the role of artists in addressing complex social issues, such as anti-racism, inclusion, human rights, and social justice in their work. While art has intrinsic value, artists can use their voices to increase empathy and inspire change.”

Meanwhile at the state level, Mass Cultural Council is hosting a Listening Series from Sept. 22 – Oct. 1, 2020 to inform a restart and refocus of our work as it relates to racial equity.

For more community stories, please follow the Community Initiative on Facebook and subscribe to Community Initiative News. If your Local Cultural Council has any ideas or questions about what is possible, email them to your regional staff contact.

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