Sunday, January 22, 2017

Act now! Brittany Williams launches challenge to arts leaders


by Brittany Williams (choreographer/dancer; movement organizer)

The urgency for artists, art organizations, art-cultural organizations, gatekeepers, and funders to come together to collectively activate, strategically plan, and organize is greater now more than ever. Arts, culture, and creativity, for the next four years, will play a vital role in the creation of self-sufficient governing infrastructures for black and brown communities that can boldly push back against President Trump.

The start of January marked a new year and a new beginning like no other. President Trump’s inauguration has kicked off Trump’s first 100 days mandate. Trump's mandates burst open a dark wound of state-sanctioned violence, creating a new era that digs up the dark ancestry of the birth of the American nation built on white privilege and terrorism against people of color. It is a wary time for Muslim, LGBTQI, and black and brown communities as well as women, immigrants and First Nation indigenous people. This new era of white male militant-patriotic, racist, hegemonic fascism is blended up and embedded in nearly every single person recruited to join Trump's cabinet, and it has many citizens in fear and scared for their very lives.
However, I would like to encourage us in the art field to take some time to reflect and then actively get involved in constructive action. The need for artists, cultural leaders and art and cultural organizations to deeply invest in a racial and economic justice model is critical because all communities including white America will depend upon it. White people and white cultural institutions and leaders, it's time that you get your hands dirty in the struggle. It is time to put aside fragility and dive into fugitivity. It's time to put your whiteness on the line and organize your people. We need maroonage. The requirement for white fugitivity and maroonage is self-examination and a full investment in black liberation.

Maroonage historically refers to those independent societies formed by African slaves who escaped from the plantations during slavery. Many of these communities rose to become independent city and state republics that had to be recognized by white colonial powers. Many partnered with indigenous Native American nations. There were dozens of successful Maroon settlements all over the New World throughout the 300 years of chattel slavery. In modern terms, maroonage refers to the creation of sovereign self-sustaining institutions independent of the state and the dominant powers that be. These institutions by necessity have a special relationship to the 'Indigenous' and the concept of the 'Local' whilst having a global sense of context and work. The idea of being disconnected and sovereign from the dominant culture is important as it leads to decisions of self- sustainability, integrity of vision, and larger ideas of communities of like minds.

White fugitivity refers to the conscious physical, mental, social or institutional abandonment of the dominant culture by a member of that same culture.
Maroonage and fugitivity as a commitment requires that cultural leaders, arts organizations, funders, gatekeepers internally invest in temporal reform with incremental steps to dismantle their own internalized white supremacy structures, hierarchies within their organizations to ensure racial equity, economic sustainability for black and brown people. In short – white artists, cultural and art organizations and funders have long benefited from black bodies, arts, creativity and communities and if you are really about change it is time that you pay in full your debt for the use of our property, bodies and brilliance. We need reparations in form of dismantling your own racist practices, sharing of wealth, and or funding organizations, allies in cultural leaders who have done this work for years, and also we need you not to be the leaders when making decisions for us (black and brown artists and communities).

This call is for you to do more than create space for us to heal, to do more than give us space to talk to other artists about the issues we are facing. This is a call to change and most importantly disrupt the power dynamics. This call is for cultural leaders, art-organizations, funders, and gatekeepers to do more!

Here are my following questions:
•    Do you, as people who hold power in the arts, have a clear analysis of what is at stake going forward?

•   What are your goals in ensuring the safety of the people made most vulnerable by the Trump election?
•    What are you willing to give up, share, and restructure within your organization that will make a positive impact in the lives of black and brown people, immigrants, Muslims, women (black and brown women), LGBTQI people--today, not tomorrow or next week?

We need this type of commitment to these communities and artists of color and immigrants.


When we look at the boards and staff compositions of most cultural organizations, the majority are white men and women.

Staff and volunteer demographics at the average LAA2:
•    83 percent of staff are non-Hispanic white,
•    6 percent are black/African-American,
•    4 percent Hispanic and other races constitute 7 percent.


•    Ninety-five percent of LAAs have a board of directors, commission, or another type of oversight group.
•    Of those, less than one in three have written diversity policies for their boards.

•    29 percent of LAAs have a written diversity policy for their board of directors.
•    46 percent consider diversity in their board operations but have no written policy.
•    25 percent do not take diversity into consideration when recruiting members.

Staff and board members are vital because they are the people making collective decisions. They are the gatekeepers. We need to hold them accountable for their expertise and how they are building relationships and challenging donors and foundations when it comes to how we collectively build power- and disturb power as well. They are hired to be "the experts." However, coming from a racial justice lens, I would like to challenge this "expertise," because I deeply believe if we want to make a collective change, we need people with power and resources who are most impacted by the targeted circumstances. We do not need white people's dreams of "reciprocity" or "benevolence" to be the "giving mechanism" married to a perception about black and brown people which label their communities and limits them to these labels. Labels such as “disenfranchised,” “poor,” “youth at risk,” “crime prevention targets,” “no culture,” and “illiterate.” Ya, feel me?

How can we change this practice and these ways of culturing within the art field? Simple. Put those that are closest to the problem in the position to conjure solutions! They are the experts. In need of power and resources. This is an open challenge to all art institutions.


•    How can we use this call and response to create a coalition of art and cultural organizations, funders, and gatekeepers to look at their own internalized/external system practices and make a commitment to change their practices and ways of culture to create leadership roles for more than one black and brown person in their organization?

•    How do organizations, funders, and gatekeepers collectively build collective power with black and brown people to create agency and access to authority roles and resources?

•    How can art and cultural organizations, funders, and gatekeepers create accountability structures--to the community and to each other-- to reform and or dismantle white supremacy within their organization?

SUGGESTION: SET A PLAN IN ACTION OVER Trumps Next 100 days with short-term goals and incremental markers for the next four years and 10+ years.

•    What can you do right now to re-imagine and implement racial equity and sensibilities that in turn liberates resources needed for and by artists and communities that will become most vulnerable under the Trump administration?

•    How can cultural organizations and funders find an equitable solution to address the needs of black, brown, LGBTQ, Muslim artists facing white supremacy hegemony, racism, xenophobia, and the haunting history of America?

•    What role do we all play in this change?

The Bessie Awards call for organizations to restate their mission and values publicly to the Trump administration was a great effort, but this is not the time to state your claim or disassociate from racism and hegemony. Patrons, this is the time to do some introspection and fix it! We do not need a public statement; we need short term, long-term plans/platforms to ensure safety! We you to stay in the frying pan! We need radical risk-taking, fierce gatherings, and collaborations to rehabilitate, protect, and empower communities. We need real spaces of marronage.

This is epecially timely, since the next report out will find art organizations more racist now than 10 years ago.

Please do take my words to heart because, at this point, I have everything to lose--including my chains, friends, loved one, job and community.

And if you made it to the end of this article and you are really about dismantling and standing as an ally for black liberation from a creative racial justice lens, please fill one of the forms below.

Black and brown individual or organization (Please note: you do not have to be located in New York city or the US to sign on) interested in signing on to the document, fill out this document:

Gatekeepers, funders, arts organizations, cultural leaders interested in shifting your power dynamic within your organization, please fill out this document:

Warm regards and with love,
Brittany Williams
Founder |Executive Director | Dancing for Justice
Founder |Obika Dance Projects
Core Supporting Team: 
Rubadiri Victor (Trinidad & Tobago)
Michelle Murray (Miami FL)

Preach R Sun  (Detroit)

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