Friday, November 2, 2018

Reflecting on alternative transportation

On occasion in the history of my blog, I have deviated from talking about arts, culture, philanthropy, cultural policy, to talk about other things on my mind. Many years ago, when I became a father for the third time, I wrote about fatherhood, and being an "older" dad.

Today, I want to share some thoughts on alternative transportation. I have been a lifelong bike rider, both for recreation and commuting. And in my family my wife and I share one car, so I am often using alternative modes of transportation. I was an "early adopter" of ride share programs like Uber and Lyft. Apologies in advance, because I am going to ramble a bit.

Growing up in New York City, using mass transit was also second nature - hardly anyone I knew owned a car. And despite the recent woes of the aging mass transit system, it is still the dominant mode of getting around. While there is now an active bike share program, and a much better network of bike lanes (thank you Mike Bloomberg), and of course taxis, Lyft and Uber, I feel like mass transit is still the beating heart of the city. It is also is a great equalizer - used by janitors and Wall Street traders alike. People of all races and classes literally bump against each other every day, and I think that has an impact on the culture of the city, and makes New York feel less economically and racially segregated. When I return to New York to visit, taking the subway is actually something I look forward to and marvel at how easy
it makes going pretty significant distances around the city and between boroughs. I remember Donna Walker-Kuhne telling the story of George C. Wolfe giving her a charge to make the theatres of The Public Theatre "look like a New York City subway car." What a perfect image for truly welcoming all people into our cultural institutions!

By contrast, when I lived in Philadelphia I was startled at how segregated the train system was, used largely by people of color, and students (Temple on the Broad Street line and Penn/Drexel on the Market Street line). When I would take the subway to meetings or events, there was often shock that I had actually taken the subway - the shock usually came from wealthy or middle class White people who would never dream of taking the subway. Much more than in New York, it seemed like in Philadelphia races lived in parallel universes. The largely Black and Brown areas of West and North Philadelphia never were seen by the White populations of Center City and the suburban Main Line areas. And I think the lack of physical interaction through transit fosters a culture where the largely White people with wealth can live in a bubble and never interact with or even see people who are poor, Black and Brown, neighborhoods that are dis-invested, commercial corridors where all the stores are boarded up. As a result, the people with wealth do not "own" or take responsibility for the fact that the City has a 28% federal poverty rate, a challenged under-funded public school system that limits opportunity for young people to break the cycle of poverty. New York is by no means perfect, but in New York I saw vastly more interest among people with wealth in addressing the challenges of poverty - look at the huge success of the Robin Hood Foundation, or Harlem Children's Zone.

So, now here I am in Denver, a thriving economically successful City that is trying to create a much better alternative transportation infrastructure. So regarding the social impact of transit, I feel like Denver is somewhere in between Philadelphia and New York, but much closer to the former. The light rail system is relatively new, and I think is still largely used by suburban commuters coming from middle-class communities downtown for work. Buses seem to be used more heavily by poorer folks and people of color. These are just my impressions - don't know what the stats are. I know that my grown daughter, who makes regular use of buses here, says that her Millennial peers are often surprised that she takes the bus. Denver is still rooted in car culture.

There is a growing network of bike lanes  but very few of them are protected lanes, and of the ones that are, even fewer are protected with permanent concrete curbs. Most have those flexible plastic poles. The result: even when there is a protected lane, it is frequently blocked by cars making left turns and delivery trucks. Even the city and entities like the Downtown Denver Partnership BID are guilty of exacerbating this problem. With all the events in Skyline Park, the trucks that are loading and unloading, delivering materials, etc., regularly park in the bike lane on Arapahoe Street. FedEx trucks park in the bike lane. Uber and Lyft drivers dropping off or picking up passengers pull into the bike lanes. Advocacy groups like Bike Denver have tried to shine a light on this, but I have seen no sign of enforcement - if anything it seems to be getting worse. And another big issue with the bike lanes is that they do not connect in any sort of logical way based on commuting patterns. Lanes randomly end, without even directional signage on how to connect with nearby bike routes, or dump you onto heavily trafficked roads where it is not safe to ride a bike.

Denver was lucky enough to have the first bike share program in the nation - B-Cycle, and it is a great resource, but one (like most City bike share programs) with some equity challenges. There is a high cost to each docking station installed, resulting in few docking stations in poorer neighborhoods, and poor people who could benefit from this low cost alternative to driving, are less likely to have a credit card to use the system. Even though I regularly ride my own bike to work, B-Cycle is a great option if you are going to need to mix up multiple transportation options, or do not want to hassle with locking your own bike. For example, I might use B-Cycle to go to work, rather than use my own bike if afternoon rain is in the forecast, or if I have an end of the day meeting in bikable distance to my home, and don't want to lock my bike up on the street.

Now we have electric scooters, adding a new alternative transportation option, as well as dockless electric-assist bikes (JUMP, owned by Uber). To promote competition, Denver has issued permits to multiple scooter companies - Bird, Lime, Lyft and Razor with more (I believe) to come - as well as more dockless bike companies. This makes using the scooters or bikes frankly challenging. No one company has any scale, so you need to have on your phone separate apps for each company, and sometimes check each company until you find a vehicle near you. THEN, because you cannot reserve the scooter in advance (JUMP actually does allow you to reserve), you must start walking to the scooter, and often it gets rented by someone else before you get there, and you have to start the process all over again.

I have used the scooters, and they are fun, easy to use and I think add a valuable new transportation option to the mix. I think they are especially useful for the "last mile" challenge of getting from a train or bus stop to your home or office, which might be a long walk away. And in my case I have, for example,  found them really useful to get from our offices in the D&F Tower to locations in the Golden Triangle or Santa Fe, which are not that far away (but a long walk), but not easily accessible by public transit from where I am. But there are clearly problems to be solved. In addition to the issue above, there are several others. Under Denver law, the electric scooters are treated as toys, and legally must only be ridden on sidewalks, which many riders (and pedestrians) are unaware of, and on crowded downtown streets a scooter going up to 20 MPH can be a safety hazard for all. Seems to me they need to be treated like bicycles, and be ridden in the street, and in bike lanes wherever possible. People are also often riding them recklessly and intoxicated, and with the small wheels, a pothole or bad crack (on the road or on the sidewalk) can result in a tumble; as a result scooter related injuries are on the rise. These issues was covered in this recent Denver Post story. I have actually especially
enjoyed using the JUMP electric-assist dockless bikes. They give you some exercise, but the electric assist means you can cover longer distances and hills without working up a sweat if you are using them to commute or get to and from meetings

Another big safety-related issue for bike share, and scooters, is that for the most part people do not use helmets. It is understandable - who can or wants to lug around a helmet with you all the time because you MIGHT use a bike share or scooter. One exciting development on that front is a new start-up company, Park and Diamond, that is developing a collapsible helmet that meets or exceeds all bike helmet safety standards - pretty cool! They have already far exceeded their goal on Indiegogo, and I have contributed and eagerly await my new helmet - delivery is expected in early 2019.

One final note - with the introduction of scooters and dockless e-bikes, there is a bit of a Wild West feeling to getting around without a car these days. I see many scooter users and dockless bike users riding the wrong way in the bike lanes. Regular cyclists who use their own bikes or Bcycle know the rules, they ride more safely and know that bike lanes are one-way in the direction of traffic. These new users are often "joy riders" not used to alternative transportation, and they ride much more recklessly.

I think it is great that Denver is implementing so many alternative transportation options, but there is still much room for improvement. Here are my recommendations:

  • Expand the bike lane network, adding many more permanent protected bike lanes, and better interconnect the bike lanes. Add a dedicated protected bike lane to both 13th and 14th avenues, and create some dedicated bike lanes that go North-South (right now going North or South is very difficult via bike)
  • Introduce a Metro-card like system for RTD that makes it really easy to use buses without exact change, and have kiosks that make it easy to replenish the funds on the cards.
  • Ultimately settle on ONE electric scooter company to avoid the problems of having so many different providers.
  • Change the law so that electric scooters are treated like bicycles.
  • Educate the public about alternative transportation safety and begin warning and then ticketing scooter riders who disobey the rules.
  • Add designated Uber/Lyft pick up and drop off zones at poplar locations like the Performing Arts Complex. Right now it can be very confusing.
  • Strive to expand bike share, scooters and dockless bikes into poor neighborhoods, and provide programs that educate and even subsidize their use in those communities.
  • Continue to invest in building out the light rail system

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Commitment of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation to Equity

“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” are not just buzzwords, but the subject of critically important conversations among funders, nonprofits, cultural organizations, artists and civic leaders. These conversations – which are often difficult and even messy – can and should lead to action.
I have served on the Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) board for the past few years, and they have been a leader in urging arts funders to apply a racial equity lens to their grantmaking and operations. In fact, they developed and disseminated a Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy Statement of Purpose in 2015, and followed it up with dialogue and in-depth training through their conference, webinars and publications.
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance TheatreGIA has also been a leader in promoting the term ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American) as a replacement for the more common “people of color.” No terminology is perfect, and it is easy to get paralyzed in this work by the fear of using the wrong term.
There is a good articulation of the rationale for choosing ALAANA over other imperfect options in a study of how “to nurture thriving institutions of color” in New York City, conducted by Yancey Consulting and commissioned by Doris Duke Charitable Foundationand The New York Community Trust. And as we know, diversity, equity and inclusion are three terms now often lumped together that mean three very different things.
Frankly, I think diversity and inclusion are often bundled with equity to make the conversation palatable to some who might be hostile to the implications of an equity conversation.  Angelique Power, President of the Field Foundation and Board Chair of GIA, provides a great and succinct explanation of these three terms in this video.
In 2016 Americans for the Arts released a “Statement on Cultural Equity,” which I wrote about at the time in this blog post.  This statement also came about after a long process, and took a different approach than the GIA statement, as it focused on “cultural equity” as opposed to exclusively racial equity, embracing the need to battle other forms of discrimination and disenfranchisement, such as LGBTQ, disability, and gender bias.
This approach has its champions, as does the approach that says it is critical to call out racism as the core equity issue that overlays everything else. I believe with this divide, as with the language issue discussed earlier, it is easy to be dogmatic and feel there is only one right approach, or one right terminology. But, in fact, what matters is stepping in and beginning to do the work, with an openness to learn, a humility that you will never get it “right” and also a generosity toward others who choose a different strategy or language.
Last year the Helicon Collaborative – a consulting firm specializing in cultural issues – published Not Just Money, a new study supported by the Surdna Foundation that looked at equity issues in cultural philanthropy and was a follow-up to a similar study done in 2011. The findings? Not encouraging. Despite foundations getting much better at exploring and talking about this issue, the actual distribution of funding has, if anything, become more inequitable since 2011. Sixty percent of arts philanthropic dollars go to 2 percent of the organizations (those with budgets over $5 million), and this disparity is actually up 5 percent since 2011.  The 90 percent of organizations that have budgets under $1 million have seen their share of dollars decline from 25 to 21 percent.
Curious TheaterThe vast majority of cultural organizations whose primary mission is to serve communities of color have budgets under $5 million. People of color represent 37 percent of the nation’s population, but just 4 percent of all foundation arts funding is allocated to groups whose primary mission is to serve these communities. (An additional 2 percent of funding goes to “mainstream” cultural groups specifically to serve communities of color.)
This is all background to say that like our colleagues in Colorado and around the country, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation has been thinking deeply for some time about how we incorporate a commitment to equity in our grantmaking and operations. To date this work has been happening, but organically.
We have made intentional changes in our Livingston Fellowship Program, first broadening our pool of nominators, then entirely opening up the nominating process. We have also rotated the selection panel members and ensured a higher proportion of ALAANA individuals on the panel. Finally, we have become more accepting of leaders of smaller organizations, given that a much higher percentage of these groups are primarily serving ALAANA communities and are led by ALAANA individuals. The result: over the past five years, ALAANA Fellows have gone from a historical level of 20 percent over the previous 10 years, to an average of 50 percent. The 2018 class happened to be 80 percent. We have also encouraged the Fellowship cohort to embrace discussions of equity and racism as a shared value and critical environmental factor among all their organizations.
In our grantmaking, over the past five years the percentage of our dollars going to organizations primarily serving ALAANA or other traditionally marginalized communities has gone from 2.4 percent to 13.1 percent, a 275 percent increase in grant dollars. Our Board of Trustees has gone from never having an ALAANA individual on the board since our incorporation in 1962, to now having three out of nine members.
In 2015 we commissioned Donna Walker-Kuhne, a nationally-recognized leader in building more diverse audiences in the arts, to study audience diversity efforts here in Denver. Her findings became a valuable tool for many cultural organizations and also led to the formation of an arts and diversity task force, which continues to meet regularly, and recently came to the Foundation to support a new effort to build a more diverse cultural workforce in Denver, which we have funded. A comparable task force has now been formed, also with the support and encouragement of the Foundation, to work on equity issues in the arts for people with disabilities.
Even with these significant efforts and accomplishments, we recognize we have far to go. After a preliminary board conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion in April 2017, we have continued to do research and craft ideas about how we could more formally embrace this work, and these values. We began educating staff and board members, sharing research like the studies cited earlier. We had a much deeper full-day board conversation in April 2018, leading to the formation of a DEI committee. And after several months of work, the committee and staff together crafted a new integrated governing document, with a linked Mission, Vision and Values/Equity statement. The full text of this statement follows (and is linked here), and I encourage you to read it, but I want to quote what I think is a key section:
“We believe that access to the arts, as an appreciator, participant and/or creator, are basic human rights that should be enjoyed by all those who live in our community. We also believe that factors like racism, ableism, sexism, gender bias and lack of economic opportunity have prevented these cultural opportunities from being equally enjoyed by all. These factors have contributed to lack of equal access to leadership opportunities, within the arts and the entire nonprofit sector. We will ensure that we operate in a way that recognizes these inequities, and that we work to mitigate them.”
I am extremely proud of the board and staff of this Foundation for putting into writing what I think is a strong statement of our values that includes an acknowledgement of the structural barriers many in our community have faced. So how will we live these values? What will change? The Foundation is committed to ensuring that these are not just empty words but are reflected in our actions and operations. We are now in an internal process with board and staff determining next steps and will share more information in the coming months.
BSF Red Logo
Mission, Vision and Equity/Values Statements
Mission StatementThe Bonfils-Stanton Foundation is dedicated to fostering, through arts and culture, a creative, inspiring and connected community in the Denver region.
Vision StatementDenver is alive with vibrant, relevant, and compelling arts and culture that is accessible to all, and filled with passionate, collaborative and effective leaders whose efforts improve the lives of the people of the Denver region.
Equity/Values StatementWe believe that access to the arts, as an appreciator, participant and/or creator, are basic human rights that should be enjoyed by all those who live in our community. We also believe that factors like racism, ableism, sexism, gender bias and lack of economic opportunity have prevented these cultural opportunities from being equally enjoyed by all. These factors have contributed to lack of equal access to leadership opportunities, within the arts and the entire nonprofit sector.
We will ensure that we operate in a way that recognizes these inequities, and that we work to mitigate them. This includes our grantmaking, programmatic activity, and community engagement. We hope to inspire and cultivate an arts and culture sector that also embraces equity in their work. We recognize that there are significant societal structural issues that are beyond our capacity to change, but with the tools that ARE at our disposal will do all we can to ensure that our cultural community is healthy, artistically vibrant, equitably supported, and serving the full spectrum of our residents.
We also recognize that doing this work requires that we continually be alert to the necessity that our board, staff and vendors reflect the diverse nature of our community, and that our systems and procedures are examined for bias and changed if necessary.
We value open, honest communication with all our constituencies – grantees, potential grantees, Livingston Fellows, funding colleagues, and civic leaders. With grantees we will always strive to have the sort of relationship that, to the best of our ability, is transparent and collaborative, avoiding the pitfalls of the power differential dynamic.
We will operate our organization in a way that fosters collegiality, opportunity, fairness and honesty, in all we do, striving to maximize the potential of all our employees, trustees and team members.
Note: Originally published in the Fall, 2018 e-newsletter of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Reflections on Over 20 Years of Americans for the Arts Conventions

At the Americans for the Arts Convention in Nashville

In 1993 I became the Director of New York Programs of the Arts & Business Council Inc., the national organization for the network of Arts & Business Councils and Business Volunteers for the Arts programs around the country, and in 1996 I became its President and CEO, the same year that the National Association of Local Arts Agencies and the American Council for the Arts merged to become what is now Americans for the Arts. 

As head of a national partner arts service organization of Americans for the Arts, I began what has become a very long association with the organization, and the Annual Convention, literally attending the first Convention under the Americans for the Arts name, and nearly every one since.

I have watched the organization, and its signature convening, the Convention, grow and evolve over time, responding to the field’s changes – and the external environment in which we all operate. There have been so many conventions, over so many years, it is hard to pull memories out of the haze, where they all blend together. I remember a cultural tourism pre-con at the Convention in Atlanta, where I learned so much about Atlanta’s African American cultural heritage, knowledge that helped me greatly when later I served as Chief Cultural Officer for the City of Philadelphia and worked on how to better support and promote that city’s extraordinary African-American heritage. Another memory that stayed with me was the public art pre-con in San Diego, where we toured the extraordinary UC San Diego public art collection, and also visited Louis Kahn’s iconic Salk Institute.
The Milwaukee Art Museum

I remember at the convention in Milwaukee being so impressed with the extraordinary Calatrava architecture of the Milwaukee Art Museum (as well as their excellent gift shop where I snagged my treasured Gee’s Bend quilt-inspired tie). There have been great sessions on our evolving understanding of the areas of “creative economy” and “creative placemaking.” And I have seen the various pre-cons and their supporting Councils grow into their own forces – especially the Emerging Leaders Network, which gives me such hope for the future of our field.

In 2001 I was the co-chair of the host committee for the Convention in New York City (with Nicolette Clarke, who was then executive director of the New York State Council on the Arts). We struggled with the challenge of how to ensure that all the Convention attendees fully experienced the cultural assets of New York and got out into neighborhoods. We felt it would be a huge loss to host the Convention and have the vast majority of our attendees spend their time just at the convention hotel in midtown, yet we also knew that visitors new to New York might feel uncomfortable travelling to unfamiliar neighborhoods and navigating mass transit on their own. So, we invented the ARTventures – organized excursions with different themes that extended the conference into communities all over the city. I love that this has become an established and cherished part of the Convention to this day. Also, in 2001 the Arts & Business Council, which had created the National Arts Marketing Project with significant early support from American Express, mounted the first National Arts Marketing Project Conference. With the conference taking place in October of that year in San Francisco, right after 9/11, we were expecting a very poor showing, and even considered cancelling the conference. Instead we experienced a surge in registrations as arts leaders from around the country sought out the opportunity to be with colleagues in that difficult time, but also to learn how to communicate with the public about the value of the arts in the face of tragedy. This reinforced for me the huge value of convenings like the Convention and the NAMP conference

Then, in 2005, the Arts & Business Council began discussions about partnering more deeply with Americans for the Arts. In the middle of those discussions Americans for the Arts learned of the significant Ruth Lilly gift, and the discussions shifted into a conversation about how we could utilize that enhanced capacity to be more impactful at the national level in fostering private sector support for the arts. Ultimately Americans for the Arts and the Arts & Business Council Inc. merged, creating the new Private Sector Affairs department, with the Arts & Business Council of New York being born (or re-born) as the New York City private sector chapter, operating under the umbrella of Americans for the Arts. Thus, began my phase as part of the Americans of the Arts staff, serving as the first Vice President for Private Sector Affairs. Not long after, we also merged with Business Committee for the Arts, creating the strong private sector programs and leadership that continues to thrive. So, for the next few years I was not only attending the conference, I was organizing the Private Sector programming that was a part of it, as well as continuing to grow and strengthen the National Arts Marketing Project and its conference, that had come under Americans for the Arts management as part of the merger.

In 2008, the Convention came to Philadelphia, which ironically happened to coincide with the election of Michael Nutter as Mayor, who began recruiting me to serve as his Chief Cultural Officer and head the City’s new Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. It was actually at the Convention in Philadelphia that I sat down with Bob Lynch and broke the news that I would be leaving Americans for the Arts.

But of course, the connection did not end there, because as head of Philly’s local arts agency, I was still a part of the Americans for the Arts family, and ultimately served as a member of the Steering Committee for the US Urban Arts Federation. And again, the Convention became a valued part of my learning and professional development every year – connecting with colleagues, hearing great speakers and artists, visiting and learning about new communities. Over the years I remember having the opportunity to hear such inspiring artists and speakers as Anna Deavere Smith, Malcolm Gladwell, Alejandro Escovedo, Sir Ken Robinson, Ben Cameron (to name just a few).

My career took another turn in 2013, that once again kept me in the Americans for the Arts Convention “family.” I became President of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation in Denver, Colorado, and in that role have become one of the hosts and funders of the 2018 Americans for the Arts Convention here in Denver. We are so excited to be hosting this conference, and know that the content will be informative and inspirational, and that the City and its cultural assets will enchant. I hope that my decades of experience being a part of the Convention in so many different capacities has perhaps helped shape a convention that will make the investment of your time and resources well worth it. 

And don’t forget, just like the importance of the “19th hole” in golf, some of your most memorable experiences may take place NOT in organized sessions, but in the bar at the end of the day, in random conversations in the hallway, or in follow-up after the Convention with connections you made while there. We also hope you will take away a deep and abiding love for Denver and for Colorado, and will return to experience our culture, community, and exquisite natural beauty.

Note: This post originally appeared on ARTSBLOG, the Americans for the Arts blog site.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Foundation - a new spoken word film about the elemental power of the arts

This spring was especially exciting for Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, between the announcement of our first ever “Arts in Society” grants, the Road to Results Forum we presented in partnership with the Wallace Foundation, and our 32nd Annual Awards Celebration.
Now that we’ve officially wrapped up the excitement surrounding the Awards Celebration, we can take some time to reflect on the event and all of the elements that made it special, from the inspiring honorees and tribute films, to a flash mob performance by Central City Opera to pay tribute to our long-time chair Lanny Martin who was stepping down, to one particular moment at the event that had guests stunned – in a good way.
When planning the Celebration, we knew we wanted to include an artistic element into the program. After all, that’s one of our core goals as a Foundation – to provide funding for some of Colorado’s best arts and cultural organizations. Little did we know when planning the performances, that we would be struck with something so profound and beautiful that it’s hard to describe through this article.
We commissioned Jovan Mays to create a spoken word piece to kick-off the programming for the Awards Luncheon in May. Now, we knew Jovan wouldn’t disappoint. He is, after all, a former Poet Laureate of Aurora, National Poetry Slam Champion and TED speaker and director of Your Writing Counts (a youth poetry program throughout Denver that has 200,000 students annually). Jovan takes words and spins them into gold.
In talking with him about this commission, we had asked Jovan to reflect on the power of the arts in our community, building on the work the foundation had done last year to answer the question “Why Arts?” on our website. What he did was go much deeper than we had expected, through soaring word and metaphor conjuring the elemental, literally prehistoric human drive to create, to express, through language, paint, clay, dance, and voice.
Jovan’s spoken word piece was so well-received, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation wanted to capture it visually so we can share it with others in a way that did it justice – not just as written word but as a performance and visual work. We’re excited to present The Foundation, a short film created by Sam Pike Films around Jovan Mays’ artistic piece. We are “the foundation” but the arts are THE Foundation! We hope you enjoy this piece and feel free to share it…

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My Life As a Shameless Lover of Museums: Toto Pulls Back the Curtain

I recently gave the keynote talk for the Colorado Wyoming Association of Museums annual conference in Boulder, CO. This is the text of my remarks (you will understand the picture after you read the piece):

In thinking about what to speak to you about today, since you are all experts in museums and I am more of an observer of museums, I decided what might be most helpful is to share my personal reflections, based on my experience and a lifetime of interacting with museums. There is probably nothing I can tell you about the technical aspects of operating a museum, dealing with curation, conservation and management that you don’t already know.

I grew up in New York City, in Manhattan, with parents who while not working in the arts where stereotypical New York City culture vultures. From a very young age I was being taken to museums – MoMA, the Met, Museum of Natural History, the Whitney, Guggenheim. I also grew up in an era when even New York City public schools had regular art class for all students. Museums for me became these places of magic, of mystery, and also in many ways, an alternative playground.

At a young age, perhaps about eight, I began taking art classes at the Museum of Modern Art, which at that time had an art school as part of their education program. This whet my appetite for art even more, as I began actively making art, not just looking at it. A few years later, when I was maybe about 11, my great aunt Selma took me on a visit to MoMA, when there was a major retrospective of Diane Arbus – and this story has now become part of my family lore. As we strolled through the show, my aunt became more and more concerned because of the challenging nature of Arbus’s photographs. I, however, seemed totally unperturbed until I looked at one photo, read the wall signage, and then said “Aunt Selma, what’s a transvestite?” Neither of us remember exactly what she answered, but it clearly caused considerable consternation for my aunt as she struggled to find a way to talk to me about transvestites. But isn’t that a great example of what is great about art? We were enjoying an intergenerational bonding experience, and appreciating the art of photography from an aesthetic perspective. But then we were also having a serious, honest conversation about an important subject, gender identity.

When I was in middle school, I will admit I was not the most diligent student and a group of us kids would sometimes skip school (I know – a shocking admission!). Where did we go to hang out, especially if it was too cold or rainy to go to the park? The Museum of Natural History, which was right across the street. I spent many hours roaming the halls and exploring the exhibits, and probably learned more than if I had been in class.

I later went on to attend LaGuardia High School for the Arts, as an art major, so of course this deepened even more my immersion in art. I remember we had a special January break program where we got to do special projects outside of the school. One year I spent time experiencing the conservation and storage side of the Met Museum.  I also remember visiting Push Pin Studios, the graphic design firm of Milton Glaser, a LaGuardia alum, giving me an introduction to the commercial side of art.

This was also the height of the anti-war movement, the Black Panthers, the Puerto Rican independence movement, the Chicano movement, so we were all steeped in both art and social action. I think this stayed with me as an influence, and increasingly artists and arts organizations are working at the intersection of art and social justice.

In some ways, this deep career-driven immersion in art from a very young age also ended up in some ways damaging me. What do I mean by that? I felt that if I were to be an artist I must be a Michelangelo, a Picasso, a Jackson Pollack. Just making art and seeing where it might go did not work. The pressure I put on myself as an artist eventually became so great I could no longer really make art, and I began to explore other art forms like theatre. I also became more interested in politics. I spent a year abroad in England, studying British literature, theatre and cinema, and of course also visiting museums.

But when I returned to the States and graduated college I ended up working for a United States congressman, seemingly leaving the fine arts for the political arts, though as the “arts guy” on staff I was given the job or working on any arts-related issues. This included working on a project that many years later became what is now The High Line. One day, the chief of staff for the Congressman asked I would be interested in doing a side project. A good friend of hers was directing the education department of MoMA, which was presenting its first big blockbuster show, Van Gogh at Arles, and the education staff was overwhelmed. So, I began moonlighting at MoMA, working to create slide lectures to be used by teachers bringing in school groups. Remember slide carousels? All of a sudden a light bulb went off – despite having grown up around art as a consumer, and even as an art maker, I had never really thought about the fact that museums were also businesses, that there were people writing press releases, balancing budgets, creating education materials, raising money. For me this was the “Toto pulling back the curtain and exposing the Wizard of Oz” moment. This got me rethinking my decision to leave the arts and I began exploring graduate arts administration programs. These programs may be ubiquitous now, but back in the 70’s there were maybe half a dozen of them in the country.

I ended up doing the Masters in Arts Administration Program at NYU, and thus began my professional career in the arts. Don’t worry, I am not going to recount my entire career in excruciating detail. But I am going to try and touch on moments, stories that relate to my feelings about museums.

After a few years and a few jobs largely in the theatre world, I ended up with my first job in philanthropy, running the capital funding program for the New York State Council on the Arts. This work proved especially influential for me. It involved extensive travel for site visits throughout New York State, including very rural communities, as well as communities of color.

This is when I got to know museums and cultural groups like the Adirondack Museum (now the Adirondack Experience) on Blue Mountain Lake, the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, the Albright-Knox in Buffalo, Eastman Museum in Rochester, the QueensMuseum, the Bronx Museum, the Corning Museum, the Fenimore Museum, and AliceAusten House on Staten Island.

I developed a much deeper appreciation of the riches available in every corner of our country, and the outsized role that museums and cultural center could play in the lives of rural communities, as well as poor urban communities.

I also developed a deeper understanding of the facilities aspects of museums. Perhaps more than any other art form, museums are about buildings, about this envelope, this receptacle, that must contain and protect the art, but also must be comfortable and welcoming. I remember one particular project very well, where a major regional art museum had been renovated with a new climate control system. Years later they noticed that some of their paintings in certain galleries had developed a filmy coating that required cleaning. After it became clear this was not an isolated problem but systemic, they tried to figure out what was causing it and were stumped. Finally, a maintenance person figured out that the climate control vents had been installed along the edges of the walls in certain galleries, with the return registers along the floor directly below. So, air was being, in effect, washed along the surfaces of the paintings 24/7, where even minor impurities were building up deposits on the canvas.

We also supported some very big projects, like the restoration of the Guggenheim Museum. There I learned that on top of the many challenges of the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright Building, like the outward slanting walls along the rotunda, that they were also having major water infiltration problems. This was not just due to the age of the building. The big problem was that Wright had designed the exterior of the building to be pure poured concrete, but after it was built someone had decided the building needed a waterproof coating, and this coating over time had trapped water in the concrete, which with freezing and thawing had opened up cracks in the concrete. Our support helped strip the offending coating, repair the cracks and restore the exterior closer to the way Wright had intended.

Later jobs helped me develop an even broader appreciation of museums and their extraordinary civic value, and also the growing diversity of types of museums – places like Dia Beacon, Mass MoCA and Storm King that were entirely about large scale art, or temporary installations or outdoor sculpture and earth art. And working at the national scale allowed me to go far beyond New York and get to know museums like the Milwaukee Art Museum, LACMA, the Perez Museum, the Gardner Museum, Seattle Art Museum, SF MoMA, the Wing LukeMuseum, Art Institute of Chicago, National Museum of Mexican Art, again just to name a few. I have probably visited literally hundreds of museums, large and small, rural and urban, art museums, science museums, children’s museums, history museums and historic houses. I was trying to calculate how many states, and I think I have visited museums in about 40 states. I became such a connoisseur of museum gift shops that a few years ago I actually wrote a whole series of blog posts about my favorite museum gift shops through the country, and became a connoisseur of museum gift shop ties, one of which I am wearing today.  

During five years in Philadelphia as Chief Cultural Officer for the City, I served on the boards of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, so I developed a Trustee’s perspective as well. Now I serve on the board of the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, which our foundation played a major role in creating.

While in Philadelphia the board of PMA grappled with a major leadership change with the sudden passing of a long-time beloved director, as well as a serious debate about the merits of a long-standing huge capital project designed by Frank Gehry. Would the $500-750 million total to be raised for the capital project be better spent on investment in programs and digital technology? Was the focus on the building distracting from needed attention on innovative programming? Were these goals mutually exclusive? There was a serious debate about this at the board level. 

And the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the nation’s oldest art school and oldest museum, historically devoted to classic figurative art like Eakins and Cassatt, had to grapple with two big decisions – would they begin teaching and exhibiting new art forms like digital art, conceptual and performance art? And the acquisitions committee proposed the purchase of a major work of video art (Bill Viola's Oceans Without a Shore) – the first piece of video art ever to be acquired by the museum (and a piece I happen to love). In the end, the board authorized the acquisition, but not without considerable debate and concern. Here we had two major museums with deep histories grappling with how to best serve the art and communities of today. This change is not easy, and there are often Trustees who may resist change, who see themselves as the keepers of a tradition, a legacy, who may not understand or appreciate new art forms or new ways of connecting art to the public.

Over the past fifty years or so we have seen an incredible geographic democratization of art, with important museums and collections much more uniformly distributed throughout the country. There is no such thing as a flyover state from an art standpoint anymore.

We have seen the growth of single collection museums – not a new phenomenon of course. Institutions like the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum have been around for a long time – in their case since 1903. And in Philadelphia we had the Barnes Collection.  But now we also have the Nasher, the Broad, the Brant Collection, and here in Denver the Anschutz Western Art collection. I am not sure this is necessarily a bad thing – as I said, it has always been with us. People who amass large collections will sometimes want to donate it to existing museums, but I can understand that sometimes they may feel they assembled work with a cohesive collecting vision that would be lost if it was absorbed into an existing museum, and if they have the money and ego to build a building and properly fund staff and endow their own museum, why not. Personally, I really enjoy getting insight into a collector’s personal, idiosyncratic vision of art. Whether Barnes, or Gardner, or Broad, it is just a different kind of museum experience.

Here are some of my museum memories – images or experiences that have stayed with me…
  • The extraordinary beautiful collection of classic Adirondack lake boats at the Adirondack Museum
  • The beautiful setting and eclectic collection of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, especially the folk art circus collection
  • The wings of the Santiago Calatrava designed Milwaukee Art Museum opening on a beautiful sunlit morning, reflected in the water below.
  • The Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, where you have no sense it essentially extends on a bridge over a highway.
  • The awe-inspiring Richard Serras at Dia Beacon
  • The Gees Bend Quilt exhibition at the Whitney
  • The Aboriginal Art Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne Australia
  • The Asian Art collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, including the pillared temple hall from India and the Japanese teahouse
  • The diorama cases at the American Museum of Natural History – as old-fashioned as they may seem, I still love them – part of my childhood
  • The medical oddities of the Mutter Museum
  • While it is more about the architecture than the art, walking up the staircase at the Aspen Art Museum between the outer woven wall and the inner wall of the museum.
  • Watching my toddler daughter fall in love with Nick Cave’s art at the Denver Art Museum
  • Hanging out on the roof of MCA Denver with Mark Mothersbough listening to a local band play, and talking about art, music, and cities.

I feel like museums have been a thread, a through-line for my life, the imprinted memories functioning almost like invisible tattoos that I carry with me. I am sure if I was younger, I would be covered with actual tattoos! I wish that experience for everyone. And while I have had the privilege of growing up in a family that nurtured my love art, and also have the privilege of special access through my work, this is not an experience, a way of life, that is reserved for the privileged. What do I see as the trends in museums, from my vantage point as a funder, a policy person, an avid consumer of museum content? What are the barriers to having museums for all people as much a part of life as going to work, or going to the supermarket – or to speak to the specific community we are in, as much a part of life as skiing, hiking or mountain biking? Here is a list, in no particular order:

·      The cost barrier – While it is not just about the money, we can’t ignore that money is a factor. When the Denver Museum and the Children’s Museum of Denver eliminated price barriers for kids and families, visitorship spiked. On SCFD “free” days, visitorship at the major museums reflect the diversity of our communities, and they are so crowded that members and other donors try to avoid those days. How do we ensure that every day is like that? I know it is complicated, that having a cost can place a sense of value on something, and that having admission also drives memberships, where free admission is a key benefit. I don’t have an easy answer but I do think we must continue to explore how we can eliminate cost as a barrier for those for who cost IS a real factor.

·      The image barrier – Museums, especially art museums, are perceived by people who did not grow up with exposure to them, as intimidating, as scary – not something that could ever be a comfortable part of their life. A blogger just wrote a piece called “Ten things in the arts that shoulddie” and one of them was hovering gallery guards who treat you as a criminal and not so discretely follow you around the museum, like a security guard in a department store who stalks you as a potential shoplifter. This is real, and I have seen it happen, most recently when I was at MFA Houston. Here is a non-museum example: I was attending a meeting at a country club with several other people. Three of us happened to arrive independently but at the same time, all walking from our cars to the front door simultaneously. One of the group was a woman and the third an African American man, dressed, as I was, in a jacket and tie. The guard at the front door walked straight up to this man and asked him why he was there. Did not even attempt to question me or the woman. The moment the guard saw that I and the woman knew this man he backed off, but it was a stark reminder that people of color, no matter how successful, deal with these “micro-aggressions” every day. So while this phenomenon is not always about race, it can be. Museums must relentlessly impress upon their staff and volunteers to always make visitors feel welcome.

·      Related to my previous point, everybody is part of the customer service team – my experience at a museum is immensely enhanced by staff that seems happy, enthusiastic, knowledgeable – but not too pushy. Many larger museums may outsource security, custodial or food service to outside contractors. Even if in the short run this is cost-effective I think this can be a huge challenge as you lose control of the customer service piece. They are no longer part of your team, but part of someone else’s team.

·      It’s OK to have kids in the galleries – abouth three years ago Judith Dobryzinski, an art critic and blogger, wrote a piece about how too many art museums these days were overrun with children, making it harder to enjoy quiet contemplation of the art, specifically citing an experience at the Denver Art Museum - I pushed back a bit in a comment [you can see the whole exchange in the link]. My position is that while it can sometimes be distracting, and some parents can do a better job of ensuring their kids don’t treat museum galleries like playrooms, I will take those downsides ANY DAY. Please do not limit kids and family programs to specialized education areas far away from the galleries. I LOVE that the Denver Art Museum has family activity areas spread throughout the museum, and their backpack program where young children can explore sections of the museum with their accompanying adults through a sort of activity treasure hunt. And I see the delight on the faces of most visitors without kids when they see kids doing an activity in a gallery. We need MORE, not LESS of this. 

·      Get out of your building – Museums are by their nature place-based, about buildings and real estate as well as art. And we spend so much time trying to get “THEM” into our buildings. But one thing research has repeatedly shown is that poor communities, communities of color, really want cultural opportunities in their neighborhood. Figure out how you can get more programs, even less fragile/valuable objects from your collections, out into the community. Think about community satellite locations, or touring exhibitions to community centers, schools, social clubs.

·      Take Equity seriously and make it a total organization commitment – This can be difficult work and can make many board and staff uncomfortable. Someone commented recently about the growing presence of “diversity, equity and inclusion” in arts conferences, that “this is not a track,” meaning conference should not be creating equity tracks, where attendees can choose whether or not to attend such sessions. It should be woven into the fabric of the conference – keynotes, staffing, sessions NOT on equity topics. I have often heard from the staff-people running diversity or community outreach departments at museums that they feel marginalized. They may be the only professional staff of color. They may feel a “box was checked” by hiring them and creating such a program. Does the organization, from the Board, to the President or Director, to curators and department heads, embrace this work. Are these issues something you think about in hiring, in vendor selection, in marketing and communications, in wayfinding and facility design? And related to this, if to reach communities of color you partner with organizations from those communities, truly partner with them and pay them for their time. Another thing I hear often from smaller, culturally-specific arts organizations is that now every major arts organization in town wants to partner with them on both programming and marketing. However, there is little recognition of how much these partnerships involve in terms of staff time, for organizations already stretched thin with less access to resources.

·      Have Fun and Take Risks – Museums can be thought of as stuffy, serious places. How to you blow up that stereotype? Adam Lerner at MCA Denver has been a master at this, and in fact they just got a big grant fromMellon to sort of share that secret sauce with museum staff from around the country. Not to be flip, but “Be Like Adam.” I remember when I was in Philly the Philadelphia Museum of Art did very traditional opening gala receptions for all major exhibitions – business attire or black tie, cocktails and canapes, maybe a chamber ensemble playing lovely classical music. The guests were trustees and patrons. Average age of probably 75. But one year they decided to give their first ever solo show to a local artist – photographer Zoe Strauss. Zoe specialized in photographing the people of Philadelphia who the patrons of the museum probably never see, as well as the people of poor, challenged communities in places like Mississippi and Louisiana. To Director Timothy Rub’s credit, he realized the traditional opening party would be wildly at odds with the values and work of Zoe. So, he assembled a cross departmental team of the 20-somethings on staff, gave them the opening reception budget and said – throw the kind of party you and your friends would want to go to. And they did. Tickets were $10 and it was promoted entirely via social media, selling out easily. Patron types and board members were basically told, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to come. The people who came were almost entirely in their 20’s and 30’s, many of whom had never been to the museum before. The entertainment began with one of the city’s top drumlines and dance teams from a local largely-Black high school marching through the crowd and parting it like the Red Sea, followed by a dance party DJ’d by Questlove of the Roots. It was an amazing party, like nothing the museum had every done before, and opened it up to a whole new audience.

·      Signage – I know a lot of curators don’t like to distract you from the art with signage or labels that are too large. But speaking as a fairly sophisticated museum-goer, I like signage that helps give me more info and more context, and is large enough to easily read. Now imagine the experience of someone less comfortable with the museum experience. I also really appreciate signage that helps put work into historical or cultural context. I think sometimes curators or exhibit designers take too much for granted. Because something is obvious to them they forget it may be less obvious to others. I think they also tend to shy away from what can be difficult conversations. An anecdote here – a museum mounted an exhibit of beautiful paintings of Southwestern scenes from the early 20th Century featuring many paintings of local Indians. The artists were not themselves native. While I very much enjoyed the work, I found it interesting that there was no signage talking about the issue of cultural appropriation. What did the Indians feel about being painted in this way? I happened to run into the Director and asked what the Indian community thought of this work, or the show, and was told “Oh, they hate it of course.” Now I am not arguing that this means the show should not be done. But what if there was an information panel in the exhibit that presented a contemporary Indian point of view on this work?

·      Hours and Amenities – Be Starbucks. Now by that I don’t just mean serve over-priced coffee – many of you probably do that already. What I mean is take a cue from the famous Starbucks “third place” goal – being the third place for people to hang out, after work and home. Have free WiFi in all your public areas, have comfy sofas and chairs. And stay open later. Can’t tell you how many times I rushed to get to a museum by 3:30 or 4 and then am hustled out at 4:45 as the museum tries to clear the galleries by 5. I know there are costs to this, but I am urging you to find a way to make it happen, and not just on a first Friday once a month, or even every Thursday or Friday as some museums do. Experiment, find out what works, and don’t forget to also let people know you are doing it. And be patient – it takes time for people to modify their default behavior. A non-museum example. When the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis opened their new theatre a few years – a significant very cool building that included a glass bottom cantilevered bridge over a river – they designed it to welcome people all day and late into the evening, even on days and times when there were no performances. The building had full free WiFi throughout. It also had many seating areas. You did not have to have a ticket to get into the building, only into a theatre space itself when there was a show. They had one or two coffee stations that switched over into bars in the evening. They had a full service restaurant that again was open regular restaurant hours, not just ties to when there was a show. The Guthrie became a hugely popular place in the city just to hang out, to meet people. Now I don’t have stats on whether it led to a measurable increase in audiences, but I can tell you being in that building just felt right, and when I did see a show the audience looked more like the crowd hanging out in the lobby areas, sipping a latte and working on their laptop.

Of course, many museums already do many if not all of these things I am recommending, but many do not. And as I said at the outset, I speak as a passionate layperson, as a consumer and supporter of museums, not as a museum professional.

I believe deeply in the power of museums to educate and enlighten us, to challenge us, to spark dialog and conversation, to connect us with the sweep of human civilization and natural beauty this world has to offer.

So, I close by saluting all of you, for what you do, day in and day out, to make that magic happen, often toiling hidden behind that curtain like the Wizard of Oz.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Silence - sharing a beautiful post from Grant Oliphant of the Heinz Endowments

I have been silent on my blog for quite a while - a combination of the usual press of work and family obligations that can push writing to the back burner, and a sense of shock and impotence in the face of the political discourse of our times.

I am sure I will be back soon, sharing thoughts on the arts and creative enterprise, philanthropy and cultural policy, but for now I share this excerpt from a recent post by Grant Oliphant of the Heinz Endowments:

There are truths that need to be spoken now, spoken out loud and unapologetically by people who know them to be true. Spoken with love, yes, but also fierce conviction—truths about the validity of science, the perils of climate change, the nature and price of injustice, the insanity of racism and all the other isms creeping out from beneath their ill-concealed rocks, the importance of civil and human rights and why they matter for all of us, how worsening poverty hurts everyone, the opportunities before us to create and innovate our way to a better future.

These are not partisan truths but rather human truths. They belong to no political party and can be declared off limits by no lawmaker or grandstanding commentator. And they are where we as a sector, foundations that presume to offer a vision for the future, must find our voice, in holding them out not as criticism but as the True North we still must point towards, the star we still see and hold steady in our gaze despite attempts to obscure it in tawdry distraction.

I encourage you to read the entire post. Here is the link.

Thank you, Grant, for breaking the Silence with your voice. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Some Thoughts on the Americans for the Arts Statement on Cultural Equity

You would have to be living under a rock to not be thinking about equity these days, and all its related terms/concepts - structural racism, inclusiveness, privilege, etc. Just having the conversation can be a minefield, especially as someone who comes to the conversation from a position of privilege. Am I using the "right" language. Am I being aggressive/forceful enough in my approach? Am I being too aggressive? Will I offend someone by being too timid? Will I offend by being too threatening? If I verbally commit, then what will I actually do to make that verbiage actionable?

Those charged with looking at the "big picture" of the cultural life of our communities - service organizations, funders, local arts agencies - have a special imperative to think deeply about these issues and take action, both to examine their own operations for bias and inequity, and to foster these values in the field. Over the past few years Grantmakers in the Arts went through an extraordinarily thorough process of developing, approving and disseminating a Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy Statement of Purpose. This helped trigger really thoughtful conversations and change in the funding community. Every foundation is different, and many are driven by elements of legacy, history, family control that may limit - or accelerate - such dialogue and change. What the GIA document did was empower foundation staff to at least have the conversation, and have a "field approved" document to help guide that conversation. And most importantly, the document was backed by concrete action. All staff AND trustees were now required to complete the "Undoing Racism" training of the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond. A study was undertaken of the entire operations of the organization through an equity lens, special convenings were held, and equity became a thread woven throughout GIA's signature annual conference. And to paraphrase Vu Le's recent Nonprofits With Balls post, equity is not a "track."

So now Americans for the Arts has just released its "Statement on Cultural Equity." It is an important milestone and something that all who care about the arts should read. It was developed through a long process engaging board, staff and field leaders. Is it perfect? No. Has it been a long time coming - perhaps too long? Yes. BUT, as noted above, fear of not getting it perfect should not prevent taking action, and I applaud Americans for the Arts for taking this step - it is exactly what they need to be doing in leading our field. The Statement leads with: "To support a full creative life for all, Americans for the Arts commits to championing policies and practices of cultural equity that empower a just, inclusive and equitable nation."

It is my hope that this Statement will inspire others to dig in and make this work a priority, as the GIA statement did. Already, IDEASxLab in Louisville, Kentucky has adapted the Statement for their organization. And Americans of the Arts has already begun to make equity an authentic part of their annual convention and other programs. I think the challenge Americans for the Arts has is that it has a senior leadership team - CEO, COO and eleven VPs - that is entirely White. While there is ample diversity below that level, the fact remains that the face the organization presents to the world with its senior leadership team is not reflective of our society. Having been one of those White faces for a while, I understand the challenge. Virtually that entire senior team has grown up with the organization, many there for ten or even 20+ years, and they are extremely competent and experienced. There is considerable - though vague - language in the Statement about taking specific actions, internally and for the field. So I think for many observers, the proof will be in how the Statement is made actionable - will it shape budget priorities, staffing and board decisions, programming?

Americans for the Arts - again, to its credit - has encouraged a robust dialogue in the field around the release of their Statement, opening up their ArtsBlog to an array of other voices, including this thoughtful post by Roberto Bedoya, and this post by Lindsay Tucker So. Other bloggers like Doug Borwick, who writes Engaging Matters, have also written about the new Statement, again encouraged by AFTA. Clay Lord of Americans for the Arts has written a particularly thoughtful blog post on this effort, titled "The Humble Step."

I am very sensitive to the situation Americans for the Arts is in, having once been part of the senior leadership team there, and now running a private foundation with an excellent - but not diverse - small board and staff. We do not have term limits which makes achieving a more diverse board a special challenge that will take time and patience. And the staff - which I inherited and is excellent - has not had any turnover so no opportunity to diversify yet. But that does not mean that action is impossible. We were able to expand the board by two "community trustee" slots that are term limited to two years and are designed to add new voices to the board - artists, diversity, youth. Over the past year we added our first artist to the board. and our first trustee of color.

And we have taken many specific actions in our programs and funding. The theme of the annual retreat for our Livingston Fellowship Program - a high-level leadership program for nonprofit CEOs - last year was racial equity. It was a very powerful, uncomfortable and moving experience for all the participants - not perfect, and generated much raw emotion - but, again, the conversation started and has only deepened since. We brought in Donna Walker-Kuhne to engage in a series of focus groups with local cultural leaders on how to better serve the full diversity of our community, resulting in a very informative report and the formation of a cultural equity working group that has been meeting regularly to learn, share, and advance this agenda. And we have made equity an important component in our funding decisions, adding grantees or expanding grants to an array of culturally-specific and disability-focused organizations like Su Teatro, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Phamaly theatre company and Museo de las Americas. We have also made review of accessibility and outreach and internal equity efforts a part of the review of our general operating and project support grantees. We have made a conscious decision that with our grantees we won't provide special funding for diversity initiatives - to echo Vu's point, we do not believe equity is something you only do if you get special funding to do it. It needs to part of the fabric of how you operate. (The exception is that we may fund special initiatives that benefit the larger community, rather than a single organization, like our work with Donna).  These are just a few of the actions we have taken.

So I hope the field will not dismiss this Statement from Americans for the Arts because it is not as aggressive as they would like, or uses the word "ability" instead of "disability", or includes fewer specific action items than some would like. As Clay notes, let us all engage in this work with humility, with the knowledge that there is no perfect way to do it, that we are flawed, that many of us bring to the table our privilege, or our hurt and pain at living with bias every day. But fear of difficult conversations, fear of not saying (or writing) the right thing or using the right language, should not stop us from the conversation, the journey. To be honest, the future of the cultural sector, and of our society as a whole, depends on it. Inaction is not a viable option.