The word “inclusive” has layered and nuanced meanings. At Inclusive Arts Vermont, we enter the broader conversation and work of inclusion through the lens of disability. As an organization, we believe in mutual growth and lifelong learning and therefore, we intentionally seek collaborations with organizations engaging diverse populations as we work to build inclusive communities throughout Vermont.
In 1986, our organization was created out of the disability rights movement. We were made to ensure that, through the arts, the voices of people with disabilities are celebrated and heard.
As our friends at Vermont Arts Council said last year, arts organizations “have a deep responsibility in the present moment, to stand against hatred and racial injustice. We often say that the arts promote empathy, that a great painting, sculpture, or poem has the power to lift us above our divisions and inspire us to transcend our personal point of view, to stand in the shoes of another. Now is the time to be true to those values.”Vermont Arts Council, June 2020
Disability does not discriminate. It affects all populations regardless of income, gender, location, or skin color. We recognize that people of color are particularly underrepresented in the arts, and within our own organization. We own this lacking and want the community to know that we are committed to changing it throughout all our systems: programming, messaging, staff, and board alike.
Last year, in response to the continued unjust killing of Black people and ensuing protests, we released a note to our community. In that message, we recognized that we had our own work to do to become not just friendly allies in racial justice work, but a truly anti-racist organization. We recognized that statements and good intent don’t change broken systems, actions and hard work do.
Here is what we’re doing to take action towards change within our organization:
- Our management team has immersed themselves in learning from anti-oppression experts. This includes reading, listening to, watching, and then processing. Our management team comes together monthly to discuss a resource, what we’ve learned from it, and how it applies to our own selves and the work of Inclusive Arts Vermont. You can view the resources we have discussed here. If you have suggestions for us, please don’t hesitate to contact Katie Miller.
- We have removed educational requirements from hiring practices. It is known that marginalized communities, including BIPOC and disabled people, have less access to higher education as a result of centuries-long systemic inequities.
- We list being an active participant in anti-oppression work as a requirement and responsibility on job descriptions for all new positions, and actively discuss this work in the interview process.
- During our next strategic planning section, likely in Fall/Winter 2021-22, we will update our mission statement and values to reflect our work in disability justice and anti-oppression.
- We are engaging with community organizations serving BIPOC communities to examine and expand the application and curatorial process for our exhibitions.
- Start With The Arts, our arts-based literacy program for preschoolers, has updated its recommended booklist to include more books written by BIPOC authors and that include BIPOC characters.
- We are committed to diversifying the leadership of our organizaiton to include more BIPOC, people with disabilities, and artists. Our management team and board are currently made up entirely of people who identify as women. Our staff and board of directors include people with and without disabilities. Our director is a white, cis-gender, queer, woman who experiences a learning disability and mental health challenges. She is the parent of a child with disabilities.
- Barriers to participation on the board of directors were identified as the requirement of in-person meetings, an emphasis on educational background and professional experience, and time of day. As of May 2021, all of these have been addressed.
- We are using our social media platforms to amplify the voices of BIPOC artists with disabilities. If you are an artist who wants to be featured, please contact Kat Redniss.
The Rootwork Project
Throughout the 2020-21 program year, two management team members participated in the National Guild for Comunity Arts Education’s Rootwork Cohort. According to the Guild’s website, “the Rootwork Learning Cohort is a small cohort that is coming together to study, practice, and document new models of community arts education practices that are informed by, and supportive of the many varied lived experiences of our communities in the unique context of our current moment. These six teams of community arts educators were selected to attend all 9 sessions of the “Rootwork | Grounding Community Arts Education Beyond the Pandemic” speaker series and then use the sessions as inspiration over the following five months to design new, adaptive models for community arts education that respond to our current moment. These models will be disseminated to the broader field.”
Through the Rootwork program, Inclusive Arts Vermont developed Bridging Justice – a tool that explores the intersection of accessibility and anti-racism work through comparing inclusive practices to the Antidotes Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture Characteristics.
Download the Bridging Justice tool draft here.
The tool is designed to be a living document, ever-evolving with input as we continue to learn from and work with the community. If you have suggestions or would like to learn more, contact Alexandra Turner.
We acknowledge that this work is a continual process, and we are committed to this ongoing work as a major tenet of our organizational practice. If you have questions about our anti-oppression work, or resources or thoughts to share, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We would love to listen to and learn from you.