Creating art can be a personal act of liberation, and when done collectively we can transform schools, neighborhoods, and beyond. With a mission of unlocking the creative power of youth, Arts Corps embraces arts education in the context of social change.
Research shows that arts education has transformative results: higher attendance and graduation rates, as well as an increase in creative capacities, leadership skills and connections to community. These results are especially significant among communities that disproportionately do not have access to arts education, largely low-income youth of color. Arts Corps has made a commitment to reducing the opportunity gap in access to arts learning with high quality programming, which includes an intentional lens around race and oppression in the classroom and in our organizational practices.
From our founding, Arts Corps has consistently prioritized work with low-income youth of color, in recognition of the racial and economic inequities that shape access to arts education. However, following broader patterns of the field of arts education, Arts Corps is an organization founded by formally educated white adults. Over the years, Arts Corps has struggled with identifying our role in working for social change. From courageous conversations to professional development workshops to organizational assessments, Arts Corps has learned many lessons as we’ve embraced our journey toward racial justice and organizational transformation.
Seeing the barriers to quality arts education
Arts Corps’ success is inescapably linked to the racial and socio-economic privileges of its founders and leaders. This has required us to hold the complexity of doing powerful work, while identifying new areas for growth. Through interviews, our teaching artists overwhelmingly asserted that racial dynamics are the most significant barriers to building authentic and quality learning environments. Further, organizational assessments have helped us identify the ways in which white dominant culture limits the voices and influence of people of color on organizational decision-making, ultimately threatening the quality and impact of our programs. For this reason, Arts Corps has been intentional not only about diversifying our faculty, staff and board, but is in the process of building the analytical and teaching skill sets to more effectively work across culture and embrace racial justice.
Courage to Make the Connections
In doing this work, Arts Corps has come to realize that open dialogue around race, power and privilege, especially as they manifest in each of us personally and in our institutions, can sometimes be unwelcome, and, at the very least, it can make people very uncomfortable. Further, we’ve found that this type of open dialogue is not common in mainstream arts education. Due to this reality, this work requires a significant amount of courage. Instead of seeing racial justice as a distraction or separate issue, we began to see how a lens of racial justice needs to be applied in all areas of our work: curriculum development, assessment, fundraising, classroom management, hiring processes and pedagogy.
Arts Corps has now participated in many trainings around racial and social justice, and staff meet regularly to move this work forward.. As this should be celebrated, the work does not end there. We cannot get certified in this work, nor will we be equipped after one training, but will most effectively deepen this work through long-term organizational commitments.
This Work Makes Us Stronger
As a result of this work, our teaching artists report increased personal awareness and capacity to address racial conflicts in their classrooms, as well as a sense of belonging and shared values with Arts Corps. Staff and board members also report increased organizational pride and an inclusive organizational culture.
Tools and Resources
Dismantling Racism Resource Book (Western States Center)
This powerful resource is a tool that provides the following: developing a shared language and analysis, internalized oppression to empowerment & allyship; anti-racist organizational development; and strategies for moving racial justice. Arts Corps has utilized the section on Anti-Racist Organizational Development for an organizational Assessment.
Training for Racial Equity & Inclusion (Illana Shapiro)
A thorough review of over fifteen anti-racist workshops. Looking at analysis, pedagogical strategy, target populations and community organizing strategy.
White Supremacy Culture (Tema Okun)
This document is a tool for social change organization to look closely at what Tema Okun calls “white supremacy culture” and how we internalize subtle forms of racism in our day-to-day work lives.
Making Space, Making Change: Profiles of Youth-led Organizations (Movement Strategy Center)
This report is intended for all organizations that do work with youth. It uses cases studies to outline the different manifestations of youth-led organizing and also provides analysis of the varying levels of being a “youth-led organization” that take into consideration leadership development and accountability.