Category Archives: Arts & Humanities & Pop Culture

The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Researching Inequities in Pittsburgh Arts Funding!

imbalanced-scalesVery excited about The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council forming a Learning and Leadership Committee to study issues of equity in funding for the arts in greater Pittsburgh, both current and historical. The committee will collectively determine an approach to examine the allocation of arts funding in Pittsburgh through the lens of race and will then share their findings with the larger community. In no small issue of equity, participants will receive a $1,000 stipend for their labor and since there are ten people on the committee, they essentially become a collective $10,000 consultant, but with the dollars going to the people who are to benefit, namely Black artists, the issue of trickle down community engagement is prevented. In the past, looking at Heinz giving by race, one of the things that I’ve found interesting is trying to figure out what I think defines the racial classification of an organization. Is it the CEO? The majority of staff? The majority of staff & board? The majority of staff, board and audience? What if the grant is for Black led work in a predominantly white organization? Is that the same as dollars to a white led organization for work primarily impacting white people?

In a study done by consulting firm TDC called The Unsung Majority, which was commissioned by The Heinz Endowments, an anonymous foundation & the Pittsburgh Foundation, an organization was racially defined by saying “it’s race” was whatever its majority was in 2 of the 3 categories of board, staff and audience. The Equity in Funding project will work on answering those kinds of questions as well as deciding what are the critical questions to ask funders when it comes to thinking about how our funding is dispersed in racial terms. I’m super interested in what they come up with.

The research is supported by a grant from a program jointly funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments called the Advancing Black Arts Program. To see more about the project copy and paste the link below.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfJZCiFCJykxtRl-X6sTnIANqwYfV8nNEb9KJUfg2dLieTaxw/viewform?c=0&w=1

Ujamaa Review: Slavoj Zizek’s “First As Tragedy, Then As Farce.”

firstaszizekAs President Obama leaves office, it was a strange walk down memory lane to read Slavoj Zizek’s First As Tragedy, Then As Farce”, a 160 page, relatively easy to read book published around the time Obama was taking office. But though a walk down memory lane, like all walk down memory lanes, it is very much about what is happening right now. The title is a reference to a quote of Karl Marx’s “(Friedrich) Hegel remarks somewhere that all great events and characters occur, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Zizek begins by explaining the bombing of the World Trade Towers on 9/11 and the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector as examples of the tragedy/farce cycle and crises of liberalism. A prolific Communist writer, Zizek gets a lot of love (and hate) as the most insightful Leftist out. While, the title is not an idea he stays with throughout the book, it’s a short jump from 2009 to 2016 and an update to the tragedy/farce frame: Hitler. Tragedy. Trump. Farce. But, as a thoughtful Hegelian philosopher using “dialectics” or the idea that all symptoms are a part of a larger and unified whole, Zizek has powerful analytical tools and offers a number of really good insights. His opening on liberalism currently being so pervasive and all-encompassing that it operates as “non-ideology ideology” is still relevant as is his commentary on lberalism’s tendency to offer only one good “choice”.

However, Zizek’s Eurocentrism, which is really just a polite 90’s term for white supremacy, causes him to stumble when directly considering Black people. At one point, Zizek chides Stokley Carmichael, the father of Black Power, for Carmichael’s idea that Black people must “Fight for the right to invent the terms that will allow us to define ourselves and define our relation to society, and we have to fight that these terms will be accepted.” To Zizek, Carmichael has it wrong because this strategy of creating our own terms cuts Black people off from the “Western Egalitarian Tradition” (WET). Instead of creating our own terms, what Black people must do is use the terms of this tradition and in doing so “deprive from the whites the monopoly of defining their own tradition.”  While there is value in citing the egalitarian tradition, as Dr. King demonstrated, ultimately Zizek’s stance of offering a corrective is wrong. African people have a tradition of justice going back to the Kemitic idea of Maat and the 42 laws of justice, as well as many other traditions. To say Black people must root our ideological fight in an “egalitarian” tradition we’ve become acquainted with though slavery is farcical in itself.

It is an interesting question as to whether Black people have a history of overthrowing oppressive systems prior to colonialism that could be drawn upon today. However, as the West has yet to build any of its proposed utopias and Haiti, who Zizek offers as an example of Black people grounding a revolution in the WET, as we should, is still struggling against world forces that don’t seem to care what tradition it has grounded itself in, this argument comes up short. Actually, what he comes off as doing is reinforcing a core notion of white supremacy: African culture is ultimately incomplete and needs European culture to complete itself. Talk about abuser logic. This, in turn, undermines his core contention that his version of Communism is a big enough tent for all us. And somehow Zizek manages not to mention that Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Toure, a  name that is a fusion of leading African socialists Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure. It also goes unmentioned that Toure was also probably the most steadfast and visible American advocate for Socialism in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Strange.

On this the 4th day of Kwanzaa, Ujamaa-Cooperative Economics, it may seem odd to offer a review of a book by a contemporary white Communist. But Kwanzaa comes out of the Kawaida Theory which is an ongoing synthesis of the best of Pan African, nationalist and socialist thought. And Kawaida poses that culture always matters and even in its advocacy for socialism, race and culture still matter. Zizek’s critique of Carmichael/Toure shows how even in politics this is true. Still, First as Tragedy, Then As Farce’s penetrating critique of liberalism, introduction to the reader unfamiliar with the contemporary European Left (like this one) to many of its writers and thinkers, and the book’s relative brevity, make this a worthwhile read. 3.75 “hmmm that was deep”s  out of 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Affordable Elegance Comes to Centre Ave

Glad I decided to walk to work and that the guy turning up Roberts didn’t run me over as I img_4515-0type on this phone! Just met Chef Hassan Davis, owner of Affordable Elegance Catering/Cafe/Bakery who has opened up a pop up cafe in conjunction with the Hill Community Development Corporation’s business incubator program. Affordable Elegance has sandwiches and pastries available three days a week in the storefront through November 9th. You can find him 9-4, Monday, Wednesday & Friday in the Hill CDC building, 2015 Centre Ave. Sooooooo beautiful. Mr. Davis is now looking at spaces to open up a full service cafe, catering business with an accompanying banquet hall and space for music. And the icing on the cake? Born Hill Disticter feeding the culture. Shouts to the Hill CDC for its partnership with Mr Davis and shouts to Mr. Davis for adding this and his commitment to the neighborhood. Super dope.

To reach Affordable Elegance, email affordable.elegance22@gmail.com or give a call to 412.224.0653.

 

If equity were so painless, wouldn’t we have it by now?

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(reposted from my LinkedIn page)

Writing or thinking about some question on equity recently that involved the need to think about history, the “equality/equity” slide above flashed to my mind. If you are a follower of conversations on equity, the image is likely familiar to you: three people of three different heights are all positioned at a fence, standing on a box and watching a baseball game. The two taller figures on the left are able to see over the fence to see the game, but the one on the right is stuck looking directly into the fence because the height of the box is not enough to get his head above the top of the fence. The idea in this frame is that they are all being treated equally, in that they are each standing on a box, but they are having disparate outcomes in that one of them is not able to see the game, even with the help of the box. In the 2nd frame, the shortest of the three is now standing on two boxes and this allows them to see, the middle person is still standing on one and can still see and the tallest is now not standing on a box, but can still see because of how tall they are. The difference between the first frame and the second frame is in the outcome. Now all can see over the fence because the shortest person is standing on the box that the tallest did not need in order to see the game. How that transaction of box giving happened, we are not sure, although I always assume that the tallest person gave his box to the slump shouldered shortest person, particularly since I’ve seen this image as one of descending ages aligned with descending heights.

The image is very popular as an explanation of how treating people equally can still lead to inequitable outcomes and that equity is about assuring equal outcomes not equal treatment.  It was recently redone by the Interaction Institute and artist Angus Maguire (I tweeted about this recently without giving the artist or organization credit. Apologies!) and in the two years since the original was first created by Craig Froehle, it has had quite the evolution. Of course, there are only two words “Equality” and “Equity” embedded in this picture and so much must be inferred, but this is the intent, right? Make us think. Now,  that’s some background on the image, but what I want to reflect on is what is not in the image and how this missing information is emblematic of our racial equity conversation: We don’t see any representation of history that has lead to inequity and we don’t see the tension that is all over these conversations of redistribution. As I work in the non-profit arts sector, I will look at this image through the lens of the arts, but the arts touch everything and I think these ideas apply to other sectors as well.

As, I say above, what is not in the image is a frame or two or three about how our arts landscape came to be inequitable in the first place. Whether a report from the Devos Institute, Diversity and the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts’ Racial Equity in Philanthropy Statement of Purpose or even the rationale for the program we fund with The Pittsburgh Foundation, Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh, it is clearly established that we have an inequitable, and by this I mean unfair, arts landscape when it comes to ALAANA artists, organizations, audiences and communities having the financial means to create and experience art as compared to white artists, organizations, audiences and communities. If we look at the image initially created by Froehle, and apply it to the arts landscape, we would understand this inequity to mean white arts organizations were simply naturally at a larger scale because of their DNA, or maybe they were just born earlier (although Froehle says that his image was designed to show youth of different heights). However, we know from reports such as the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s Fusing Art, Culture and Social Change that in the late 19th century arts philanthropy began supporting art of the white western canon and did not begin supporting “community” arts until the 1960s, which is about the same time philanthropy began capitalizing orchestras in many large U.S cities. Around the same time the National Endowment for the Arts was born as was the state arts agency model and government arts funding priorities looked much like philanthropy’s. I serve on the PA Council on the Arts and when I look at the 100 largest budget organizations in the state, I see 4 that would be considered ALAANA led.  The National Large Western canon organizations and art forms are not simply taller. They were cultivated for ‘height’. ALAANA arts organizations are not simply shorter. They were not given access to the same resources to grow.

Staying with this image, and moving beyond how the larger predominantly white arts organizations got tall to the boxes they are standing on, what would it be to take one box away from them? What is this thing that can be taken away and causes them no less of a “view” and simultaneously provides a full view for the ALAANA arts organization? This is where the “Equality/Equity” slide greatly oversimplifies the problem we face, because as I think about the conversations I am involved in, this unneeded box doesn’t exist on the side of the predominantly white arts organization, and one box isn’t tall enough to get the heads of “shorter” ALAANA organizations over the fence. Of course, this issue is only compounded by the fact that many of the predominantly white arts organizations may not really have their heads over the fence either and that is a whole other issue that is not limited to the non- profit arts sector. The image does not reflect the issue of how competition for scarce resources is fundamental to the capitalist economic mode. So, feel like we need an image that shows on one end the history that has lead to inequity, the negotiation among the various “box providers”, the process of redistribution & the discomfort that is a part of this process and then more equitable outcome. Then we need some symbol for lather, rinse, repeat. We know from the history of racial inequity that this will not be done in one neat step and so don’t we need symbols that when it gets rocky and tense that remind us this is how it is supposed to happen and will need to keep happening if we are going to really build a fair or equitable landscape?

If You’re Reading This in 2116, I’m Glad You Made It. 

I was invited by Sue Kerr, author of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents blog found at http://www.pghlesbian.org to present with her and archivist & librarian, Megan Massanelli at Pittsburgh Pod Camp and we did our thing this morning. The subject was “How (and why) Your Blog is History”. The central idea was archiving your blog and thinking about preserving Pgh voices for the future. The archiving process is still a little over my head technically, but the idea of preserving my voice and conversations about the Hill District and other tropics for an audience in the year 2116 is kinda cool (hello there). She has formed a fb group to talk about the issue, which you can join, so look for it as “Your Blog Is History”. 

Sue hipped me to the fact that my posts could be 1 sentence long, so we’re done here. 

me, Megan Massarell & Sue Kerr

 

ROOTS in Culture. ROOTS in Justice.

Sunday morning, thinking of a master plan, and perusing the amazing body of work of Alternate ROOTS, the southern based, artist membership organization with a mission to

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From the ROOTS blog post “Honoring each other through our work” by Rasha Abdulhadi

support the creation and presentation of original art, in all its forms, which is rooted in a particular community of place, tradition or spirit. As a coalition of cultural workers we strive to be allies in the elimination of all forms of oppression. ROOTS is committed to social and economic justice and the protection of the natural world and addresses these concerns through its programs and services. In wanting to learn more about their work, I found  The Resource for Social Change, ROOTS’ training publication describing how they bring their 40 years of experience working at the intersection of arts, justice, community & place to  developing  responses to range of problems & challenges of arts, culture and community. The model is built on five principles of POWER, PARTNERSHIP, DIALOGUE, AESTHETICS & TRANSFORMATION & the publication includes case studies of their work in different communities, a comprehensive  bibliography and set of internet resources at the end. It is soooo challenging to do the work and document the work. HATS. OFF.

And, Alternate Roots, put me in the mind of #ArtsinHD, the planning and implementation process to increase the visibility & quantity of artists and arts activities in the Hill District. For this work that I sit on the steering committee with my wife Bonnie Young Laing, Co-Director of the Hill District Consensus Group, Kendra Ross, who is the consultant helping us keep our train moving, Diamonte Walker, Program Associate of the Hill District CDC, and newly joined Samantha Kellie-Black, our next steps will include a Hill District artist meet up, collaborating with Sembene Film Festival for a film showing, quarterly story telling events and an arts festival next summer. How dope it would be to have an annual gathering of Hill District artists and culture workers like Alternate ROOTS?!  Maybe the artist meet up we are planning for September will be the first of 40…

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At the end of the strategic planning weekend, pie charts of the grantmaking budget Heinz staff developed with the TAP Advisory Board. #participatorybudgeting Photo credit: Germaine Williams

On another note, I feel similarly about the value of this document for the work we are doing at The Heinz Endowments with, The Transformative Arts Process. This program, an experiment in participatory grantmaking, is building the field of those teaching artists, arts organizations, youth and grantmakers who work at the intersection of arts, justice, youth and African American neighborhoods. Just the way ROOTS has codified their work is an incredible accomplishment and I hope to see us do some of this with TAP. It has been an awesome learning experience to work with TAP Advisory Board and they have done some amazing work. If you are connected to an arts organization, program or artist with three years of experience working in a particular African American or “distressed” neighborhood, you may be interested in checking out the current Request for Proposals. The informational being held on September 6th has plenty of openings. Please email Siovhan Christensen at Schristensen@heinz.org to register.

Shouts out to Alternate ROOTS and all working to make a #justculture, a #justpgh.

 

 

I’m With Jill

So, the core Clinton campaign message has devolved to “We can’t have Trump and not voting for me is a vote for Trump, so, you must vote for me”. But, I don’t. On the contrary, trump clintonI don’t think I want electing Hillary Clinton and her version of white supremacy on my head.  In the 2008 campaign, she co-signed a subtle but clear racism in her attempt to win the nomination, the most memorable examples being her surrogate, Bob Johnson, commenting that Bill Clinton was more of Black man than Barack Obama because he had slept with more Black women and her pressuring Obama to denounce both Louis Farrakhan and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. She has argued Dr. King’s dream was realized with the passage of the Civil Rights Act,  made no attempt to apologize for her depiction of young black men as “super predators” and was an integral part of the team that has intensified The New Jim Crow.  As if this was not enough, Hillary Clinton has solidified American imperialism in Haiti by preventing an increase in minimum wage to .61 and her private server emails show she pressured Haitian officials to change results from the first round presidential elections in 2010. As Marian Wright Edelman stated in July of 2007, “You know, Hillary Clinton is an old friend, but they are not friends in politics.”

Following the 2000 election in which Nader received 2.75% of the popular vote, the Democratic Party blamed Al Gore’s inability to win an election on the 2.75% of Americans who chose to vote for the candidate they felt was most qualified and not their party’s platform or the Florida Supreme Court. Since that election, the Green Party has not received more than 1% of the popular vote (This year, Presidential candidates must receive an average of 15% across 5 polling bodies selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates is needed to gain entrance into national televised debates) which leads me to believe the Democratic Party’s argument that a third party is responsible for the Bush years has been successful.

My interests in this election are quite simple – it is about being a part of the long game to establish a legitimate third party that is a threat to win an election. I have conceded this election – Trump or Clinton – to me the difference is not enough that I in good faith would vote for either. I survived Bush, I survived Obama, I hope to survive Clinton or Trump – neither represents the radical change we need from the current status quo. Stein, like most “progressively left” candidates has shown limitations in her able to critique white supremacy, but she is in support of reparations, tuition-free public colleges, and the demilitarization of the police. This is a vision I will support. If we acknowledge a vote for Clinton or Trump is a vote for evil, why not invest in a third party? the evil is coming regardless.