Dallas — At the end of last year, I was invited to be a part of a new initiative designed to create a safe space for cultural leaders of color from around the country to explore models for developing leadership and strategies for attaining cultural equity. The brainchild of four organizations, Alternate Roots located in Atlanta, Georgia, National Association of Latino Arts & Culture (NALAC) located in San Antonio, First People’s Fund located in Rapid City, S.D., and PA’I Foundation located in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Intercultural Leadership Institute(ILI) was launched on February 21, 2017 with a teleconference for the 30 cohorts selected from a national applicant pool of 326.
The Core Partners of ILI offered these goals: “ILI is an opportunity to meet and work with a diverse group of culturally grounded emerging and master artists engaged in arts and social justice work across the nation,” says Vicky Takamine, Executive Director of the PA’I Foundation. Lori Pourier, President of First Peoples Fund, adds, “Through ILI, arts leaders will come together in solidarity to learn about the intersections of our political histories and their implications on our families and communities. ILI provides an opportunity to align our shared values and deepen our collective roots across cultures and communities.” Maria López DeLeón, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) states “The Intercultural Leadership Institute will create new capacity and knowledge by weaving the values, cultures and historical perspectives of the nation’s diverse communities together with leadership and skill building,” and Carlton Turner, Executive Director of Alternate ROOTS, says, "ILI represents a shift in the field of arts leadership development in that it takes its cues from the leadership that is found in our culturally rich communities.”
My initial interest in being a part of this exciting new initiative was to connect with likeminded cultural leaders who were, like me, engaged in efforts to affect cultural equity in their communities. I was also interested in forming alliances with younger people who are new to this work but who have demonstrated a commitment to it in the work they do daily in their respective communities. As one of the elder members of the Institute, I knew I had a lot to contribute but I also knew I had a lot I could learn, so I was anxious to participate in the first gathering that took place in Jackson MS for a week in late March. I have long sought to be a part of a group that was focused on redefining how we work towards gaining cultural equity through a model that is self-determined as opposed to prescribed by the status quo. ILI promised to provide the national coalition I have been wanting as I continue to battle for equity in Dallas. So it was with great excitement that I ventured to Jackson to meet my new comrades!
Well I could not have imagined the many ways in which just the initial gathering of ILI would affect my spirit! The people of color from 18 different states that I am now connected to range in age from 20 somethings to 70 somethings representing various Indian tribes, indigenous Hawaiians, Africans and African Americans, Asian Americans, Central Americans and Mexican Americans, Caribbean Americans, and Arab Americans. Some of these people’s ancestors are fifth generation inhabitants of the USA and some are recent immigrants but all are ardently engaged in social justice work whether through an institution or as practicing artists. Our commitment to ILI is very strong in that we meet monthly for several hours via ZOOM teleconferencing and three times face-to-face for a week in three different locations where the core partners reside. The first face-to-face meeting allowed me to learn about a variety of cultural practices I was totally unfamiliar with but that I related to nonetheless. How many of us have a real understanding of Hula and the depth of this cultural tradition? My only exposure to Hula has been via commercial media and we all know how diligent this source is about being culturally accurate when it comes to the cultures of people of color! I also gained a deep appreciation for the healing rituals Indian people practice when faced with the kinds of trauma they’re currently experiencing daily in places like Standing Rock because we had to witness such during one of our sessions when one of our beautiful cohorts from that region had an emotional episode.
What is abundantly clear to me after spending a week with some of the sharpest minds and committed spirits I’ve had the privilege to work with in years, is that breaking out of a Eurocentric frame is not nearly as easy as it sounds when every leadership model we’ve been saddled with comes out of this frame. For us as cultural workers of color to redefine ourselves in our own image means doing some deep soul-searching about what this means. What are those values that come out of our ethnic-specific communities that define leadership and that have served to perpetuate our traditions? How comfortable are we in truly challenging the status quo when that means potentially losing funding support from the establishment funding sources? Are we prepared to organize within our own communities to gain their support for those program initiatives that may never be fully understood by the establishment funders? I see so many areas that in the coming months we will need to explore as we trek down this new path toward self-determination and I hope all of my new comrades are up for the challenge. I know I am not only up for it; I am ready to jump on this ILI imperative with both feet! The future of cultural equity demands that those of us who it is supposed to benefit need clarity around what equity looks like framed in a model we define, not one defined for us. A luta continua…
» Vicki Meek is a former arts manager, a practicing artist and activist splitting her time between Dallas and Costa Rica. ART-iculate explores issues around race, politics and the arts. You can also keep up with Meek's musings in her blog Art & Racenotes.
» ART-iculate runs on the last Wednesday of the month.
- Vicki Meek ART-iculates (April 2016)
- On Dallas and Cultural Equity (May 2016)
- Equity vs. Diversity (June 2016)
- An Arts Super PAC? (July 2016)
- Too Big to Fail? (August 2016)
- It Isn't Us Against Them (September 2016)
- Another Missed Opportunity (October 2016)
- Neighborhood Arts Center: Not a New Idea (November 2016)
- Save Our Summer Programs (Decemeber 2016)
- The Creative Community in the Trump Era (January 2016)
- Being a Black Artist in a White World (February 2016)
- Expanding Our Cultural Horizons (March 2016)