Equity in the Arts Can't Wait.

Teaching Artist Guild and Association of Teaching Artists stand in solidarity with Quanice Floyd of Arts Administrators of Color Network and the AFTA Arts Education Council in calling for organization-wide change at Americans for the Arts

As the largest arts advocacy organization in the country, Americans for the Arts has failed to respond to urgent calls for transparency around racial equity, even from its own advisors, as Floyd has outlined. In addition, AFTA has not adequately responded to credible allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation from former employees. No organization can position itself as a national leader in the field when it can not take a clear-eyed view of its own contributions to systems of oppression and hostility in the workplace.

We join the AFTA Arts Education Council in calling for the immediate removal of CEO Bob Lynch and other members of AFTA’s leadership team, who have participated in stalling change and silencing critics. We further call on President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris to remove Lynch from their transition team, and to seek counsel instead from BIPOC Teaching Artists working every day to combat multiple pandemics of COVID, systemic racism, misogyny and transphobia. 

TAG and ATA are not surprised to see Teaching Artists like Floyd and members of AFTA’s Arts Education Council take leadership in speaking out around critical problems at AFTA. Teaching Artists serve at the forefront of social change and community development. During this year of crisis, the most important work in our field has been undertaken by BIPOC Teaching Artists, leading the way with creative tools to address social injustice and trauma through the arts. We call-in our non-BIPOC TAs to follow their lead and lift up their voices. 

As corporations and white-led organizations like AFTA have commodified “equity and inclusion” as a means to fill their coffers, through advertising and fundraising campaigns, BIPOC Teaching Artists have done the real work on the ground. The COVID crisis did not create the economic insecurity so many Teaching Artists live with, but COVID has surely exacerbated this insecurity in devastating ways. Nevertheless, BIPOC Teaching Artists have answered the call for anti-racist arts curriculum, striving to reach students in ever-challenging new digital formats, and patiently helping educators recognize and grapple with their own white supremacist and colonialist perspectives. We recognize this work as critical, and we have poured our hearts into it. Also, we are tired.

Teaching Artists–like our colleagues in the wider arts field–have understood the arts should be a safe common space. We pride ourselves in providing equitable opportunities for self-expression and honoring all voices. So, it is beyond distressing to learn that Americans for the Arts–with all its resources and high level connections–has been silencing voices and retaliating against critics seeking a more just, equitable, and transparent organization. As we read story after story of Lynch and other AFTA leaders burying complaints and tabling initiatives towards meaningful change, we are tired.

Nor has this criticism of AFTA emerged in a vacuum. In this extraordinary year, we have repeatedly heard powerful, heartfelt and important critiques from our BIPOC arts community. And we notice the commonalities: white supremacy and privilege, racism, cissexism and heterosexism have damaged our work and negatively impacted all of us. The largest burden of that pain has fallen on the backs of BIPOC Teaching Artists. We are tired.

In June, Teaching Artists Guild published marcus d. harvey’s open letter to boards of arts education organizations. Harvey captures how exhausting, demoralizing and even frightening it is just to exist as a BIPOC Teaching Artist within an organization framed top to bottom by white supremacy and privilege. As harvey wrote:

“I am NOT asking you to make room for me at the table where you currently sit. I am asking you to examine who’s at the table, dismantle the table and build a new table that will make room for people like myself to sit.”

We need systems change. We need real action. We need the AFTA Board of Directors to actually listen to BIPOC advisors like Quanice Floyd who are pushing them to reinvent and reimagine themselves as an advocacy organization that truly represents us all. We need to take this fight beyond AFTA and lift up the voices of BIPOC Teaching Artists everywhere in meaningful ways–by actually making the changes they call for and hiring them into leadership roles where they can put vision into action. That’s how we move towards a world where all voices are actually heard and celebrated–a world where mutual respect helps us weather pandemic(s) with shared values aligned with day-to-day action. 

We stand alongside the coalition of arts leaders across this country supporting this petition from the AFTA Arts Education Council, calling for Lynch’s removal and other critical changes at AFTA: http://chng.it/SQXGZcwLbc 

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