Understanding Issues of Cultural Equity and Social Justice In the Arts

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others, along with the demands for racial justice across the country have underscored just how deep inequity, unchecked police brutality, and systemic racism have permeated our culture.  Inequity is clearly very much alive in America, as is the desire to use this moment to create an equitable future. Now is the time to understand how inequities have been perpetuated in and addressed by the arts. The mural of George Floyd and the images shown in this summer’s protests underscore the power of the arts and reveal how critical it is for prospective arts managers, artists, and those interested in joining the field, to come to grips with these issues and learn how to address them to create lasting change.

George Floyd mural in Minneapolis by Cadex Herrera, Greta McLain, and Xena Goldman. Photo top: Vicki Meek

The Arts Extension Service’s Cultural Equity in the Arts online course guides students to explore their personal biases and develop a deeper understanding of how to make the changes needed to better serve artists, institutions, staff and board, and communities.

Sculptor and arts manager, Vicki Meek, is the instructor for Cultural Equity in the Arts. She brings decades of experience creating art about inequity and social justice, as well as 40 years of experience working as an arts administrator in the Dallas, TX area. In a recent interview with AES, she said, “We have come to a point in America, where it seems as though we’re pivoting away from institutional impediments to dismantling racism thanks in large part to huge public protests. It appears as though every sector of our society is examining its role in this dismantling effort, and the cultural sector is no exception.”

"The days of seeing ‘community outreach’ as the only pathway to addressing communities of color are effectively over. Arts administrators of color are demanding more sincere and systemic changes.” 

In traditional art institutions, “the arts'' have been defined through a Western European lens. Vicki shares, “What is critical now, however, is having ways to address historical disenfranchisement that results in authentic equity and not the cultural field accepting superficial bandaid solutions. The days of seeing ‘community outreach’ as the only pathway to addressing communities of color are effectively over. Arts administrators of color are demanding more sincere and systemic changes.” 

Arts leaders who wish to actively dissect their own, and their organization’s biases and take meaningful steps in making their institution equitable, are looking for support and training to ensure that historically underrepresented voices are included and uplifted through systemic change. Vicki said, “Equity is at the top of all cultural organizations and institutions lists of issues to address, now more than ever. This course provides context for the discussion as well as practical application models for achieving cultural equity.” You will have the opportunity to participate in educational and insightful discussions with your peers, who, as Vicki recollects, “are working in environments where staff members are grappling with this issue.” This course will provide insight into how current arts organizations are handling cultural equity and why some institutions, adds Vicki, “haven’t been successful in their attempts to achieve it.” 

Vicki has been busy updating her readings and discussion questions to address the nation’s current racial tensions, as she prepares her upcoming class.  She plans a deep look at the role that funding and foundations play in addressing, or perpetuating inequity, and demonstrating how powerful and influential the arts and arts management can be.

AES is committed to nurturing an equitable and inclusive space for all, and is fortunate to learn from Vicki, as we address systemic racism and inequities in the arts through our courses, events, and advocacy. All of our courses are being updated to address cultural inequities and the pandemic and how they are affecting the field of arts management. Internally, and together as a field, we are working to develop clear actions to address systemic racism and inequities in the arts. We invite you to share your thoughts and concerns with us directly at aes@acad.umass.edu

If you are ready to take the next step in your own understanding of the issues of cultural equity and social justice and are interested in learning effective approaches to dismantling inequity, register for AES’ Cultural Equity in the Arts today! This online class begins on August 24.