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Race and the Arts: does this matter?


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Interesting article -- what do you think?

A great cultural divide

City a melting pot, but top institutions lily white

It's the secret shame of the nonprofit world.

In a town where blacks and Latinos make up a majority of the population, New York City's world-famous cultural institutions are run predominantly by whites.

From Lincoln Center to the Bronx Zoo, from Carnegie Hall to the New York Botanical Garden, minorities play only a fringe role in guiding dozens of beloved organizations.

The boards of directors that govern the nonprofits, set their strategic visions and raise millions are often bastions of exclusivity whose makeup bear scant resemblance to the demographics of the city.

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I think it is a matter of supporting what you see...

There are many "moneyed" people of color in the U.S. particularly in New York and surprisingly in Boston, but from what I have heard form people I know, they aren't interested in spending time or money with any organization who doesn't do much to promote" their kind"

Ballet and the Arts in general have long been thought of as an upper class ,white,elitist pheniomenom that didn't really want to include anyone else into their circle.

Even though there have been baby steps made to include minority members into companies, the practice has virtually remained the same....Use them, but not too much...It is a fundamental issue that needs to change in order to gain more support...

I live in Boston where I can tell you the support for black and Latino dancers and artists is slim.OK , there are people who will come out in droves for example to see Alvin Ailey or to suppoort and up and coming black Opera singer from the Conservatory, but that is because they are being featured for what they have..and history has already proven that they would be accepted..( Roland Hayes, Paul Robeson, Marion Anderson,Alvin Ailey, the late Elma Luis( who started a performing arts program for the black communityand whose recent funeral had people in the thousands mourning and merited television coverage)

Those same people will not support Ballet however, because if its failure to do anything with its black dancer(s) or to even bring in more than one...

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Funny comment there Mel...

Who really knows the answer to these questions that seem so obvious to us, yet they elude the rest of the population...

I suppose it doesn't help that the economy is so shaky I mean,even the well off are feeling pressure to stay that way, so perhaps they are cutting back on the frivolities...

I know that unless a minority is born with money, their focus will be to hold onto what they have, so when it comes to supporting the arts, they'll want to make sure it is worthwhile...

I wish the United States had the kind of support for the Arts that they have in Europe.this might promp more people to have interest in the Arts, but since we don't it is a series of checks and balances...Does that make any sense???

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What bothers me about these discussions is the notion of "my" art and "your" or "their" art. to me, one of the good things about being an American is that it's all mine. My family has no connections to New England or the West, yet their literature is my literature. I don't want to feel that Langston Hughes or Richard Wright belong to Somebody Else, and I don't want to be made to feel embarrassed if I'm caught reading Hawthorne.

I think this is where the good intentions of the 60s has gone bad -- what was meant to be inclusive has become exclusive. I want people making decisions about the arts who know and care about art. Know what it is, know who the greats are and why, and aren't there to smuggle in "their" people -- women, the handicapped, the elderly, white, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, the young, the middle aged. No quotas. Just art.

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It would be nice if it could be "just Art"...

Come to think of it, maybe it could be...

there is a population that welcomes just art, but there is another part that likes to label and that is where this whole discussion has started..

In my opinion, art is art and beautiful no matter where is has come from. expression is something that we have trouble with here in the good old USA, so I welcome it when I can.

I am not condoning the minorities with money that choose not to support the arts. I am simply telling you why they won't support it...

Nevertheless, Art is beautiful and I hope things change in the future...maybe they will...

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I think this is where the good intentions of the 60s has gone bad -- what was meant to be inclusive has become exclusive.  I want people making decisions about the arts who know and care about art.  Know what it is, know who the greats are and why, and aren't there to smuggle in "their" people -- women, the handicapped, the elderly, white, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, the young, the middle aged.  No quotas.  Just art.

Amen. Or to put it in PC terms . . . I'll drink to that!

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There's also the issue of who knows who. One gets invited onto boards because of past involvement, contributions, etc. And one gets asked to make those contributions largely by a friend or business acquaintance who is already on the board.

As for Alexandra's idea, as quoted by kfw: I agree that quotas serve little purpose. But I do think it's fair, even necessary, to have diverse voices championing Art that has gone unnoticed before. When a member of the board funds the new wing of African art, that's not a special interest any more than it is when another member funds the new French Impressionist wing. What is unfortunate is when the art in either wing does not meet some criterion of quality.

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But we have to get to the point where it is not the assumption that it's an African American who funds the Museum of African Art and a European American who funds the French Impressionist wing. That's my point.

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In NYC, on the East Coast in general, and from what I've gleaned from San Francisco with its $7500 minimum donation for access to the opera donor lounge, the big arts positions are appointed by Big Arts Boards, are part of the social milieu, and are exclusive and exclusionary in nature. The sheer dollar amount needed to make any kind of splash in NYC is huge. $25,000 will get your name in 2-point type in disappearing ink in a program for a nano-second or two, while in Seattle, for example, it will get your name in big, permanent type on the Symphony or opera house wall. NYC tends to be immune to everything but the big investment bank kind of money, not the run-of-the-mill temporary Microsoft millionaire kind of money, especially when the donor is more interested in where the money is going than in being on the gala committee.

My observation, and the anecdotal evidence from my fundraising friends, is that most donors want the most recognition for their contribution, whether it be accolades or business connections or being happy that they can name an auditorium after their parents. (Hence, the cynical saying among fundraisers that they like their donors "rich and dead.") For corporations community involvement is important too, and one can make a greater impact by being the proverbial big fish in the small pond, rather than a drop in the bucket.

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Alexandra, I like your idealism, but my question is: how do we get to that point?

This discussion reminds me a lot of discussions that took place in the 70's and 80's about women and science. The old guard's argument was, "Good science is good science. It doesn't matter who does it. Science is a process, and if done honestly and properly it will always result in the same answer." I think the jury may actually still be out on that assertion, but we have discovered, at the very least, that women sometimes ask different questions than men do. Just as one example, the primate behavior literature used to be focused almost entirely on dominance interactions among males. Now, thanks to the work of people like Jeanne Altmann, we know that, for example, baboon troops are matrilineal: rank and social status are highly codified and accrue entirely according to the rank of one's mother. Before Jeanne thought to look at the females, the male scientists just assumed that the males were battling it out.

Happily, results such as these are now part of the standard primate literature, and are absorbed by all students, male and female.

I guess what I'm thinking is that to be inclusive, you have to have something to include. And, at least initially, you probably have to go through a stage of people championing "their" art. That at least puts it in front of other people. I guarantee you, all those white kids are not going to learn to appreciate African art, or Middle Eastern Art, or any other kind of art until someone builds that wing and takes them there on field trips.

The dangerous (or unfortunate) thing, as you well know, is continuing segregation even when the resources are there -- if the African-American kids only get taken to the African art wing, and the Hispanic kids to the South and Central American art wing, and the white kids to the European art wing. The deeper question I think we need to ask is why that tends to happen: is it just tokenism, or is there really something hidden deep within the culture that makes art "speak" differently to disparate groups?

I'm betting, in the end, that we can't reach the ideal of which you speak -- that people will always have preferences for "their" art that derives from their culture. BUT -- I would like to reach the point where people know and understand their predjudices, and are eager to keep sampling the alternatives in order to educate themselves.

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Treefrog, I guess I don't have a problem with people preferring art from their own culture, however widely or narrowly defined, as long as, as you say, they've sampled and keep sampling other forms. I don't see this as prejudice, anymore than an American's preference for burgers over sushi is prejudice (I'll take the sushi, thanks).

The more thoughtful and educated person, the person with the better taste, will love a wide variety of cultural forms, yes. It's a pity some people have narrow taste. And the art of minority cultures should be well represented, for the majority's sake as well as the minority. But those are separate issues.

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I'm sorry, but as a 50-something, white New York woman, I'm having trouble with this topic. I find that the value of the [nonverbal] arts lies in their universality. Do I have to be steeped in African history and culture to get a sense of awe from the masks, for example? And you better believe that even though I may understand a Norman Rockwell better than an African mask, I'd much rather hang the mask on my wall. Much. Not even close. :)

Am I wierd? :P

Oh, and, kfw, please pass the sushi!

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I agree with the sentiment of universitality...

As an African American from a 'privelidged" background, I was exposed to the Artforms and Customs of different cultures , which is what makes me appreciate them now.

I'm only saying that there are many "moneyed" minorities that ,althought they have the resources now, may not have had such growing up, so unless they've seen it, they won't support it.

I don't know why it is this way and I can't wait for it to change...

In terms of support here in Boston,Maybe my husband and I can start a trend...

If you think of it, boards are made up of people with money who convince their moneyed friends to sign on...Maybe that is what Boston Ballet really needs....Even if they don't have multiple Black dancers(maybe they will next year...)the company is talented and if people see that they are supported, maybe they'll sign on...

It is a matter of opening your eyes,no matter what your station.

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What I am getting from some of the comments here is that rich white folks are racist.. they stick together, support only lily white Euro-centric arts and do little to promote, support and encourage minority participation on the arts.

As important as financial suppert is for the arts, when rich white folks buy in and then control it something is terribly wrong.

What's the deal with dancer's having sponsors at the ABT? Can't they just give their support without their names being placed there? How much money do I have to give to have my own ballerina? What do I get for it?

Does this bother anyone else?

Edited by Helene
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