Monday, January 16, 2012

In Honor of Martin Luther King

While there will be many tributes today to the vision and determination of Martin Luther King, from artists and non-artists alike, I think the best thing the arts as a field could do would be to take seriously the Fusing Arts, Culture, and Social Change report and address the inequities that are built into the non-profit arts infrastructure.

Lately, we have seen the enormously negative effects of Big Money in politics through the creation of Super Pacs and the lifting of limitations on corporate political contributions as a result of Citizens United. Well, this situation has long been in place in the arts. The wealthy and powerful dominate governing boards, and major institutions court major donations from rich individual donors and their foundations. And then we wonder why the money is centralized in elite, white, urban institutions and why those institutions present art that appeals to that demographic.

It is important that CRADLE not fall prey to this pattern. Local CRADLE organizations should have boards comprised not only of town leaders and elites, but of people representative of the population as a whole. This means choosing board members not for their ability to contribute and raise money, but for the value of their viewpoint and wisdom.

In the book The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, authors John McKnight and Peter Block call on citizens to create powerful and competent communities based on three "universal properties":

  • The Giving of Gifts -- The gifts of the people in our neighborhood are boundless. Our movement calls forth those gifts.
  • The Presence of Association -- In association we join our gifts together, and they become amplified, magnified, productive, and celebrated.
  • The Compassion of Hospitality -- We welcome strangers because we value their gifts and need to share our own. Our doors are open. There are no strangers here, just friends we haven't met.
The latter is particularly important, as it promotes what Block calls a "welcome at the edge." It isn't only the rich and powerful who have gifts to offer, but those who have been traditional ignored or marginalized. And those must be actively sought out and celebrated.

We must not continue to waste the talents of our people. We must not continue to ignore the stories of our people. We must celebrate the richness that exists in all people. And we must create an artistic infrastructure that promotes these values.