C4 Atlanta is committed to the needs of a thriving arts community in our city. To that end, we’ve been working over the last few months on exploring power dynamics and distribution within our own arts ecology and within the organizational cultures of our arts organizations. Inequality in our city is well researched and well-documented. A Bloomberg study in 2018 found that Atlanta had the worst income inequality of any major city in the United States. But wealth is only one form of power. In an industry where so-called “diva” behavior is not only accepted, but even encouraged, we wanted to see what other organizational pressures and disparities our community had faced. What had Atlanta artists, arts administrators and arts organizations experienced, and what resources existed to help us create the arts environment that Atlanta deserves?
This first blog post is dedicated to the first of these two programs which occurred at Hammonds House Museum on May 19, 2019. A second post will be forthcoming on our second program at the Center for Civil and Human Rights on August 22, 2019.
C4 Atlanta, in partnership with our friends at Alternate ROOTS, invited artists, art administrators, and community members to take part in a conversation about power in the Arts Community at Hammonds House. Over 40 arts workers showed up on a Sunday evening to share their stories and experiences in working with and within the Atlanta arts community. The conversation was facilitated by Christine Gautreaux and Karimah Dillard, both members of Alternate ROOTS. Both Karimah and Christine have backgrounds in social work and the arts. In an effort to avoid triggering events and past traumas of attendees, groups were asked to focus on broader systemic issues rather than personal encounters. Here is a summary of what the event timeline was, what came out of this conversation, and what are the next steps.
The meeting began with a grounding poem titled “Invitation to Brave Space” By Micky ScottBey Jones and A Call to Acknowledgement read aloud by Jessyca Holland. Terms and definitions were dispersed among the attendees for common vocabulary that might be used. The group at large collectively agreed upon “community agreements” (collective rules of conduct for the evening) by unanimous consensus.
Attendees were divided at random into six Story Circle groups. Story Circle is a device commonly used by members of Alternate ROOTS for sharing stories in a group. The Story Circle worked like this: 1) Each group had a designated scribe assigned to listen and write down themes of what they heard shared. 2) Each person in the group gets a set specific amount of time to share whatever they would like based on the question asked of the entire group. 3) The only person allowed to talk during this designated time is the speaker. All questions or comments must be held until everyone has had a turn to speak. 3) Once everyone has had a turn to speak, the scribe summarizes common themes back to the group. The entire group can comment on the themes shared, provide clarity and ask questions.
Group responses were recorded on large flip board charts for all to see in the space.
Break-Out Session 1:
“Why are you here tonight?” OR “Why do you feel this was important?”
Collective Responses (Edited for brevity by C4 Staff):
- I am here to intentionally acknowledge that harm has been done.
- I want to continue to offer freedom to collaborate but mature as leaders and be an ambassador to community values.
- There is a trend of prioritization “saving face” and PR, rather than authenticity.
- I want to be involved in the reshaping of how we want the arts community to viewed going forward.
- Arts professionals/artists have been forced to silence self to be complicit in order to succeed.
- People are listening and are present but still not responding.
- Addressing abusive personal/professional relationships.
- Taking responsibility for your own role in community.
- Recognizing trauma
- Wants to see an ethical handling of complaints/transparency.
Break Out Session 2:
Prompt is “I wish…” or “My solution is…”
- Take more responsibility for your own role in community. How you’re perpetuating or contributing to those narratives.
- Shift from solution based to progress based.
- Continuing having conversations across community to protect your own and provide spaces to heal.
- Thinking of ways to share power outside of financials.
- Hold leadership accountable.
- Have a designated person on an org’s your Board for sharing the grievances of those you serve. That way, if folks are not comfortable talking to staff, there is someone else to listen.
- I wish Atlanta artists didn’t feel so undervalued because we default to patterns of people we see in power.
- Close the gap between artists and administrators so that administrators have access to artists’ experience as foundation to the work.
- I wish more people were willing to listen.
- Process a community as call-in vs call out culture.
Additionally, facilitators captured some topics that we had heard artists tell us they had experienced in the past. The facilitators developed a colored dot system where dots corresponded to personal experience with each issue. Artists were asked to place a dot next to any of the issues that had affected them in some way. Below are photos of this exercise.
After this event,
C4 let participants know that a follow-up on power distribution within organizational culture in the arts with Dr. Brea Heidelberg would be forthcoming. Stay tuned for the update from this event coming soon!