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Kresge partners share 8 ways to advance racial justice through culture and creative practices

Arts & Culture

Anne Yoon, Consultant, Community Wealth Partners

Anne Yoon, Consultant, Community Wealth Partners

Editor’s note: Lori Bartczak, Walter Howell and Carla Taylor of Community Wealth Partners contributed to this story.

When community planning and development is done equitably, it embodies the culture and voices of the people who live in the community and focuses on racial justice. This is a core principle of The Kresge Foundation’s Arts & Culture Program, which, through its Creative Placemaking approach, seeks to elevate arts, culture and community-engaged design as central elements of community development and planning.

In late 2020, Kresge’s Arts & Culture Program hosted the Racial Equity Exploration and Discovery (REED) convening with leaders of community development, arts and culture organizations to exchange ideas about ways to advance racial justice. Community Wealth Partners worked with the Kresge team to design and facilitate the virtual meeting, and an advisory group of Kresge grantees informed the convening design.

Conversations at the convening focused on three primary topics: Sharing practices organizations are currently using to advance racial justice, identifying new practices to adopt, and identifying the system supports needed. Based on the outcome of the conversations, REED participants identified eight opportunities to advance racial justice.

By Brandon Black of Drawnversation. All illustrations used in this article depict the conversations held by grantee partners during Kresge’s Racial Equity Exploration and Discovery (REED) convening.
Eight Opportunities to Advance Racial Justice
  1. Shift power and resources so that grassroots organizations and artists are accessing what they need to advance their practice and realize their goals. Institutional philanthropy underfunds grassroots organizations and artists of color. Participants are helping grassroots organizations and artists access what they need to fulfill their missions through a variety of ways, including pushing back against white silence and complacency in large institutions and empowering Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) to tell their own stories.

2. Implement antiracist organizational practices that confront anti-Black racism. In addition to working to advance racial justice externally, REED participants acknowledge that work to advance racial justice inside their organizations is ongoing and requires specific attention to anti-Black racism. Ways they are confronting this issue inside their organizations include updating organizational policies, processes and practices (such as hiring practices and HR policies) to be more equitable and inclusive, and building advocacy and activism to confront anti-Black racism.

3. Advance Black liberation in ways that recognize its intersectionality with class. Capitalist structures run counter to the values and practices that are fundamental to collective liberation. And yet nonprofit leaders must find ways to work within capitalist systems to secure the resources needed to survive. As one participant said, “There are Black folks that have been doing this work for a long time in ways that are free or one-off, but they don’t have a way to develop systems of profit and revenue generation.” Participants are taking creative approaches to try to subvert capitalist systems so their organizations can survive and thrive. For example, one organization owns space and has offered low-rent space to artists. Another organization established itself as a nonprofit production company and creative agency to allow more autonomy over the full creative process.

4. Defund the police. Communities across the country are driving conversations about ending mass incarceration, and community development, arts and culture organizations can play a role in sharing stories, building empathy and connection and facilitating conversations that yield solutions. For example, Designing Justice + Designing Spaces has stood for the complete unbuilding and radical reimagining of the criminal justice system and its financial and racial underpinnings. It engages communities in the design and development of new prototype buildings, spaces and tools that promote divestment from institutions that oppress and traumatize us and reinvestment in infrastructure which heals, restores and empowers.

5. Support artists and communities during COVID-19. The pandemic has put a strain on artists and communities financially, physically and emotionally. Community development, arts and culture organizations can help through various ways, such as serving as a trusted broker of information about COVID and engaging the community in different ways for more meaningful engagement. REED participants described efforts they were taking to listen deeply to community needs and push against processes that exclude critical voices.  

6. Embed culturally grounded healing and restorative practices into our work. Human connection, healing and restoration are a critical foundation to sustain the work of pursuing racial justice. REED participants shared how they embed these practices inside their organizations and in their work with communities, such as incorporating meditative time into the work day to support the mental health of staff and creating interactive art with the community to foster connection among community members.

7. Support communities in building their own power. Equitable community development and planning requires communities to have voice in shaping the vision for what they want their community to look like. REED participants are supporting communities in building their own power through involving community members in decisions that affect them, helping community members recognize and articulate their value and encouraging other organizations to adopt equitable and inclusive practices.

8. Draw on artists and creatives to lead us in radical reimagination and new ways of thinking. Moving away from systems of racism and oppression will require us to imagine a world none of us has ever seen before. Artists and creatives can play a powerful role in shaping a collective vision of the society we aspire to become. As one participant said, “Artists’ creativity and imagination enable us all to understand and identify the elements of racist, white supremacist systems that we all work and live in and imagine ways to address those issues.”

System Supports Needed to Advance Racial Justice

In addition to sharing their own organizational practices and commitments, participants reflected on what they need from funders and other actors in the system to enable and accelerate progress on racial justice. A few themes emerged:

  • Move from rhetoric to action. First, REED participants challenged institutional funders and other systems actors to move beyond rhetoric to action. They expressed frustration with patterns of foundations and other well-resourced institutions having repeated conversations about the importance of racial justice with no meaningful action to back it up. They hope to see significant shifts in funding patterns, with more resources going to BIPOC-led organizations who are working in communities of color to advance resident-driven change. They also encouraged funders and other organizations with power and resources to be more vocal about the practices of their peers, wielding their power and connections to drive change across the sector.
  • Invest in organizations’ internal racial justice capacity. Community development, arts and culture organizations working to advance racial justice externally through their programming must also work to advance racial justice inside their organizations. This requires intentionality, time, and financial resources. These organizations need financial investment, technical support and connection with peers to continue to make progress. Funders and other system actors can play a role in supporting these organizations and holding them accountable.
  • Invest in organizations’ rest and restoration. Finally, and most importantly, organizations working to advance racial justice need space for rest, restoration and healing. Racial justice work is tiring, and the conditions of 2020 have been especially exhausting for many. For too long, the nonprofit sector has incentivized martyrdom and a pace of work that is unsustainable. This is one of the factors that has caused harm to BIPOC working in the sector. It is time for a culture shift in the sector that creates space for the rest, restoration and healing that is critical for this work to endure. Organizations can adopt policies and practices that promote rest and restoration for staff. Funders can provide funding that allows leaders and organizations to carve out the space they need to rest.