[Guest post by John L. Moore, III (Moe) of JOMA Arts & Consulting, Charlotte, NC]
About a month ago, I heard from Doug Borwick asking if I’d be interested in offering any commentary to the recent blog posts that, in one way or another, were looking at pluralism and/or “equity” in the arts. Ultimately I agreed to write something, as this particular corner in the arts and culture arena is where the majority of my career – and my life – has been devoted.
At the same time he sent me links to the pieces he’d read or been following as follows:
– Nina Simon’s writings about the Irvine Foundation’s difficulties in getting the proposals they’d anticipated for their Exploring Engagement program.
– Clayton Lord presenting concerns about the difficulty of institutional transformation, especially with respect to diversity as defined by race. (Diversification as Disruption and The Weight of White People in the World).
– Diane Ragsdale weighing in with On coercive philanthropy and change, acknowledging that funders and organizations need to be honest with themselves about the time and money required for significant institutional transformation.
– Barry Hessenius joining the fray–Coercive Philanthropy? Legitimacy v. Wisdom
– Ian David Moss on –Why aren’t there more butts of color in these seats?
In the spirit of full disclosure, I do not know any of these “bloggers”, although I have heard Diane Ragsdale’s and Barry Hessenius’ names bantered around. Then, Doug mentioned he’d asked Roberto Bedoya to pen something. Now, there’s a person I know – and have known – for a long time! I then decided I’d randomly select – and read, of course – the pieces that Diane, Barry, Clayton and of course, Roberto had written, then give my opinion thereafter.
Each writer is different, stylistically, and is offering ideas based on their own personal experiences, however, I found Clayton’s and Roberto’s the most compelling. Clayton’s because he looked at himself and the life he leads relative to his/the changing world around him. Roberto’s because he explored some of the psychological underpinnings that cause a certain view and attitude (aka whiteness) toward life.
Admittedly, I am not a writer but I am asked to write stuff from time to time. Last year I wrote a piece for the online magazine Charlotte Viewpoint, (See http://www.charlotteviewpoint.org/article/2810/Arts-leadership-for-communities-of color, by cutting and pasting in your browser.) That opinion piece spoke largely about leadership of cultural organizations in Charlotte, NC but, as it relates to the blog posts in question, it ultimately is about change. Below are the closing statements from it.
Yet, we still have many – including those who have the means to help make more change happen more quickly – who are slow to embrace a more enlightened view towards what is good for the broader community. When enlightened philanthropic leaders (even if they are enlightened with self-interest) meet and merge with charismatic, visionary, and committed cultural leaders, we all benefit. Sometimes immediately.
Therefore, when Charlotte changes from the inside out and not from the outside in, our good work in the community will see quicker results, and longer term and lasting benefits.
So, as I said to Doug, this whole conversation has humorous irony embedded in it. Because since I made the initial segue from actor/performer to now manager/consultant over 30 years ago, this conversation in one form or another has come up continuously. Roberto referred to it in his eloquently written piece. So, for me, the humor comes from the fact that we’re still – and maybe we will be continually – talking this talk that began with access, then to representation, now its equity. But it’s all one extension of the same.
Yes, change that is true and lasting takes time. And ultimately, it’s possibly an evolution of ideas, attitudes and mores that permeate society, over and through time. In the early 1970’s, I was nationalistic (fight ‘da man/build a Black nation) in my cultural philosophies, yet by the middle of the 2000’s first decade, I’d evolved to a more total humanity based life approach. (“Embracing humanity, on a continual journey to enlightenment … growth of the spirit AND learning my true destiny … lessening of self … Towards HARMONY, ACCEPTANCE and freedom of the human spirit …” This was taken from a piece I wrote a couple weeks ago.)
I’ll conclude by re-stating statements from a couple of colleagues whose writings inspired this post. Clayton Lord said in the clever work The weight of white people in the world, “But it is not enough to simply understand the existence of disparity, we have to be willing to actually do something.” And Barry Hessenius said in his Coercive Philanthropy? Legitimacy v. Wisdom, “It is hard to gauge what impact sustained effort has over time. Certainly, if one’s expectation is quick change, one is likely to be disappointed.”
And finally, a thought to keep us all moving forward.
From I am Willing by Holly Near:
I am open and I am willing
To be hopeless would seem so strange
It dishonors those that go before us
So lift me up to the light of change.
John Moore, III
[Editor’s Note: Recent blog posts on this topic include White Is Not Transparent (Borwick), The White Racial Frame (Bedoya), On White Privilege and Museums,, (Simon) and Giving Shape to Whiteness (Lord).]