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Atlanta Arts Community Confronts Issues of Equity and Diversity at ARC Cultural Forum

Posted on: Aug 05, 2016

Left to right: Brea Heidelberg, Rebecca Burrell, Roberto Bedoya

Artists, arts advocates, nonprofit professionals and others from the Atlanta region’s arts community filled the Egyptian Ballroom of the Fox Theater on Aug. 3 for a lively panel discussion on cultural equity in the arts.

The Atlanta Regional Commission, with help from Mail Chimp, organized the event as part of its Cultural Forum series, which provides opportunities for the arts and culture communities to convene around pressing national issues, hear from national speakers and consider the regional context for these issues.

Three speakers from around the country came together to ask questions about cultural equity in the arts, inspire the audience to envision a more culturally equitable regional arts community and challenge them to consider how to make that vision a reality.

Brea Heidelberg, as assistant professor of arts administration at Rider University in New Jersey, got the conversation started, giving an engaging and humorous presentation on the new language of diversity and equity. Explaining terms like “woke” and “microaggression” with photos and memes, Heidelberg encouraged arts administrators to become fluent in the vocabulary of diversity.

Rebecca Burrell, director of strategy and development at Portland Community Media, examined the state of diversity in the arts, pointing out that 95 percent of museum directors, 86 percent of local arts agency staff and the vast majority of stage and orchestra performers are white.

Burrell challenged the arts community to become “woke” to issues of equity and lack of diversity in the field. “Oppression lives in salary and opportunity gaps,” she said, highlighting the importance of equitable hiring practices.

Roberto Bedoya, a writer and cultural activist from Tucson, shared examples from his work in the arts community in his native Pima County, Arizona. Bedoya focused on how art can be used to create inclusive community spaces and start conversations on difficult community issues.

In Tucson, that means talking about Latino and indigenous populations and violence at the US-Mexico border. In a recent public art installation, a large string of balloons floated over the border, “suturing” Mexico and Tucson together, if only temporarily.

The provocative panelists then took questions and comments from the audience, who brought the discussion of diversity, inclusion and equity back to our regional context.

Waverly T. Lucas II, co-founder of Ballethnic Dance Company, spoke about his twenty-year struggle to bring diverse representation to Atlanta’s ballet. Bem Joiner, Community Relations Manager and Creative Culture Curator at the Center for Civic Innovation, talked about the value of Atlanta’s world-famous hip hop legacy. And Angela Harris, Executive Artistic Director at Dance Canvas, shared her experience with “education fatigue” as a person of color working in the arts.