Power of Culture Blog
Reflections of a state folklorist
In late September 2020, Mass Cultural Council hosted four listening sessions to embark on a restart and refocus of our work as it relates to racial equity. Here’s a summary of what we heard:
The listening sessions and subsequent survey reflected the sentiment that funding and resources for organizations led by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) is a necessary step in creating an equitable and inclusive sector. Power needs to be shared and by doing so resource allocation and decision–making such as review panels and boards must have diverse representation. As we create a more diverse power structure at higher levels in cultural organizations, we can evolve beyond representative diversity. This empowerment will simultaneously support a BIPOC pipeline of leaders in the sector.
There was also a consensus that collaboration is key and will help create the scaffolding needed for healthy practices in HR policies, board resolutions, hiring from the BIPOC community, and engaging predominately white audiences. These steps to empower change are important regardless of where people are along the racial justice continuum. It was also recognized that connections to community-based efforts outside our field that address white privilege in housing policy, transportation access, police violence, and wealth-building should be part of the scaffolding process.
In a survey sent to 398 listening session registrants, 33% of respondents indicated they were new to racial equity work and looking for places to begin. Forty-seven percent have had ongoing engagement in racial equity work (1-3 years of intentional resourced work) and 22% have been engaged in racial equity work extensively over a longer period. Regardless of where people are in this continuum, there was an expressed desire to move words into action in an authentic way. To do this, it was asked that the Mass Cultural Council provide spaces to convene, provide context for the work, and cite case studies of successful strategies from organizations that have integrated Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and anti-racism practices into their work.
As far as future resources, it was generally thought that creating new funding for on-going anti-racism training for staff and boards and other grants specific to racial justice work and support of BIPOC organizations was needed. And as a compliment, having a learning network for organizations looking to prioritize this work would be welcome.
Finally, BIPOC voices need to be amplified; voices that encourage, embrace, and celebrate the exploration of a BIPOC experience. It was acknowledged that the cultural sector is a natural platform to amplify those voices and should also be utilized to speak out against injustice and racism writ large.
Mass Cultural Council will use what we have heard in the sessions and subsequent survey to curate and create resources on racial equity and to provide opportunities for further conversations. Over the next quarter our staff and board will be participating in a professional development program with Multicultural BRIDGE focused on racial equity. We hope to share some of that learning with you in the new year.