10 Takeaways on Inclusivity in Arts and Culture in Akron

Brittany LaPointe \
October 10, 2022

One step at a time.

For the past several years at GAR, we’ve been working to incorporate equity in everything we do. We examined and re-examined our understanding of how racial injustice and systemic racism can show up in nonprofit work. We know that tackling issues of this multitude and magnitude must remain an ongoing effort. It’s a journey for every individual and organization.

We know, too, that we don’t have all the answers. But we’ve got our laces tied and double knotted for the road ahead.

Put it into practice.

In November 2020, we created a Community Voice Committee to deepen our understanding of how GAR’s work “lands” in Akron’s Black community. In philanthropy, we know that blind spots develop if we do not intentionally create a feedback loop.

In establishing this committee, we hoped not only to better understand the Black community’s needs but also to get perspective on where our grantmaking is and is not meeting needs. We also saw this as an opportunity to understand what some unintended consequences of our work or the work of our grantees might be and how we can mitigate those consequences. We hoped to diversify the perspective that informs our strategy and grantmaking decisions.

We wanted to do more than learn about DEI strategies and obstacles. We wanted to know what it means to be diverse, equitable, and inclusive as an arts funder, so we could put it into practice and share how other organizations can run with these findings, too.

We convened. We engaged. We listened.

Over the last two years, we have invited the Community Voice Committee to engage in dialogue around each of GAR’s strategy areas. We worked to create conditions for free-flowing conversation, sharing a bit about GAR’s approach, but mostly listening to their input, feedback, and life experiences related to the strategy area in question.

Here are 10 takeaways on inclusivity in arts and culture:

Take action. Many arts and culture organizations voice a commitment to communities of color, but the best ones are taking action to live out their commitment.

Remove barriers. Bring arts, festivals, and activities to Akron neighborhoods. Doing so removes transportation barriers and builds a relationship with people where they live and are most comfortable rather than asking them to come to a different, potentially intimidating environment. Bringing art to neighborhoods communicates that those neighborhoods and their residents deserve great arts experiences.

Be welcoming. The way a Black or Brown person is welcomed to an event or space is a “make or break” part of the experience. One rude usher or volunteer can ruin the experience permanently.

Represent. Representation matters! Seeing Black artists and the work of Black artists is powerful. It can be uncomfortable being the only person of color in a space.

Be intentional. Arts and culture events that are intentional about representation – in the featured artists, vendors, and workers – are the most appealing. But more, events that have Black and Brown residents at the decision-making table during development naturally create inclusive programming.

Outreach. The most effective outreach strategies will bring in a critical mass of people of color, thereby creating a more engaging, comfortable experience.

Create space. There aren’t many neighborhood music venues other than bars; we can create more opportunities for shared arts experiences in neighborhoods using creative placemaking.

Build relationships. Develop authentic conversations and build relationships with the Black community instead of making assumptions about what the Black community wants.

Engage. Invite Black people to engage through trusted messengers, such as fraternities, sororities, and community organizations. Use a mix of communication tools.

Be an advocate. Supporting Black arts organizations also sends a powerful message – that this art is worthy of support.