Chicago, IL

Chicago Nonprofit Tackles Systemic Barriers in Arts Community Leadership

Synthia Stark

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In Chicago, Illinois, there is a nonprofit out there that was created to address the lack of leaders of color within the arts and cultural system. This same nonprofit has added a new program where it imagines how Chicago would be like without the inequities of theater, art, and other related institutions.

Enrich Chicago is now in the first phase of a program called Imagine Just and it begins this month. You can read more about it in the post below:

If we take a look at the Enrich Chicago website, it will tell us that it is an arts-led movement to discourage the act of racism. Bringing awareness to such issues is important, as ignoring a major problem is never good.

Instead, art is the medium that is being used to raise awareness of the systemic barriers that many people of color face.

Furthermore, it seems that the program promotes anti-racism learning, anti-racism capacity building, and helps fund further equity research. For example, you can look at a summary report surrounding their findings on inequality and inequity:

Some of the findings of the report suggest that majority of the leadership within the arts and culture community is not reflective of the multicultural diversity of Chicago. Thus, decisions made by leaders on behalf of artists and the greater community may not always reflect the view of its people.

Other findings suggest that arts and community hubs, particularly those run by people of color, are more likely to work with their local community in a closer manner, so that's good news on that end.

Anyway, veering back onto the topic, this series of brainstorming sessions (surrounding the new program of Imagine Just) will require many artists, performers, and other Chicagoans to imagine a world where arts and culture have equity, and what such a world would look like.

They will be asked to envision such a world.

The co-director of Enrich Chicago is Nina Sanchez, and this project is being seen as an extension of the organization's focus on anti-racism training and education, especially within the arts and cultural community of Chicago.

Back in 2014, this organization was founded by former leaders of the Joyce Foundation and the Auditorium Theatre. To date, Enrich Chicago has over 50 arts and cultural organizations as partners.

Due to ongoing world events, such as the pandemic, and widespread activism, inequities have been highlighted in many fields, disciplines, and locations, including Chicago's very own arts community.

Imagine Just will be that attempt to gather the voices of artists of color and amplify them in such a manner that they will be heard clearly by everyone. While only one-third of Chicago residents are not people of colour, a disproportionate 70% of these individuals are board members of such organizations.

There is a disconnect since the majority group is not being represented with people who have had similar or shared experiences. This means that there could be more leaders of colour to more accurately represent the voices of artists in Chicago.

According to Nina Sanchez:

“From my point of view, artists and cultural workers have always been at the forefront of social movements. What happened last summer showed how that is still true. We shouldn’t be doing this work without leveraging the tools we have. And what we have is an abundance of creativity.”

The initial seed funding came from the MacArthur Foundation. Cate Fox, their senior program manager, hopes that this strategy will become the model for other people looking for systemic change across other institutions and possibly, industries as well.

Cate reportedly stated:

"With the twin pandemics really laying bare the inequities in our society, we have an opportunity for change — to not just fix and tinker at the edges of systems,” Fox said. “We’re really invited to construct something new.”

Once August comes along, the community session will wrap up, and from there, the organizers can determine how to pursue the common goals of participants.

For now, four artists will observe each of these sessions and create a work of art that is based on the ideas generated by participants, whether it is in the form of a dance, a song, a photograph, or a painting.

Of course, there will be more plans in the works.

As Nina reportedly mentioned:

“When we’re successful, people living in all parts of the city will have affordable access to the arts and experience creations that reflect their lives, particularly residents of color. All those books about anti-racism were bestsellers. I hope people read them and are ready to live them. That can be the hardest part.”

Hopefully, cultural leaders and city leaders will be more than prepared to tackle such issues compared to years ago. With the way the world is right now, the people of Chicago, Illinois should be allowed equal opportunities to enjoy what the world of arts and culture has to offer.

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