I met Amy Hunter in St. Louis in October 2014, less than 3 months after the shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson. At the time, she served as Director of Racial Justice for the YWCA of Metro St. Louis. Today, she serves Children’s Hospital in St. Louis Missouri as the Manager of Diversity and Inclusion.
The St. Louis Regional Arts Council paired us to lead a frank conversation among leaders of the region’s major arts & cultural institutions on issues of race relations, diversity, inclusion, and social justice. Since then, I’ve stayed in touch – admiring her activism and seeking out her knowledge and insights.
With extreme gratitude, I’m delighted to be able to share her thoughts…
- Let me ask you to reflect on what’s changed in and around St. Louis during the 2 1/2 years since Ferguson? Where do you see progress on the front of race relations and social justice?
The first major impact is the art of protesting. I am convinced that the strength of the protestors and their tenacity, youth and middle aged leadership, and predominately Black female leadership has led to a movement that encourages voice and protest for change. The movement in Ferguson helped the Black Lives Matter phrasing to become a globally understood problem of oppression, locally and internationally. On the legislative end, there was a ruling at the Federal level that police now have to announce they are going to tear gas or smoke bomb an area prior to discharging the gas towards protesters. That is progress.
As a storyteller, my TEDx talk seems to have helped institutions begin having a conversation about Ferguson and race in general: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdX8uN6VbUE
- There’s obviously a lot of work that still needs to be done. In the St. Louis area, what are the most immediate priorities to which you are devoting your time and effort?
My number one priority is helping people see the intersectionality of issues and the need for individual activism and interconnected movements and organizing that will increase positive change and equity. Systemic racism impacts the arts, education, law enforcement, healthcare, and citizenship. There is a need to not only understand each other, there is a need to work together for change.
- I know that you’re being asked to speak nationally on topics of race relations and social justice. In a recent note, you stated, “I have loved the ‘artivism’ that has surged since the election.” What are you witnessing? I imagine that you see the efforts of individual artists. Do you also see arts organizations asserting a leadership role that you admire? Who/Where?
I would love to see the arts organizations asserting more leadership in increasing understanding of diversity. This is a great opportunity for the humanities to reflect on the use of art, the definition of artist and to ensure multiple art lenses are being reflected in the work. The ‘artivism’ allows people to see the issues in a loving, firm and artistic manner. It allows for the stories to be heard, felt and inspirational. The film industry is putting forth some amazing works Ferguson 365 short by Maverick Media, Selma, Fences, Hidden Figures, 13th, and I am Not Your Negro are all great examples of films that inform, educate and impact the audience.
- What advice do you have for arts & cultural organization leaders who are responsible sustain the support of Board members, donors and other stakeholders possessing a myriad of political agendas? Especially in today’s sensitive environment, what practical advice would you offer to help organization leaders manage such situations?
Black and Brown artists need funding for projects, the process cannot mimic hazing, it has to be warm and inviting. Leaders in the arts community may need better outreach to artists of color. Board members may need to connect with communities of color to see and meet the artist, there is major art being created without the mainstream’s eye. This art could be shared, sponsored and celebrated, the bridge between the arts community could easily be the bridge to understanding and healing.
Practical advice includes: give tickets to people that would not normally go to a venue, take the art, actors, leaders to schools especially if they look like the students in urban or inner ringed suburbs, fund art programs in schools and be prepared to respond to situations with art. That might mean organizations open their doors to the community to process situations through art, improve acting or visual art for healing or poetry nights for spoken word or music of hope and resilience.
- Lastly, understanding that the readers of this interview are likely arts administrators, artistic directors, curators, arts marketers, fundraisers, Board members and volunteers of arts & cultural organizations of every possible size and genre – might I invite you to suggest 3 “homework assignments” – specific tasks that their organizations should undertake within the next 30 days – as a meaningful step toward advancing the cause of social justice in their communities?
Review your process for supporting artists of color. Not just the people served, there are several white artists making art in Black and Brown spaces, inspect what barriers exist for Black and Brown artists to share in this work
Review the diversity of your staff and board. Review the people in positions of power and decision-making capabilities not merely and numeric count of how many people of color you employ.
Review and diversify the kinds of artists and art you promote. If you are a theatre do you have a diverse season which includes people of color as actors along with plays written by people of color?
Art is everywhere and for everyone. It changes the world.
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