Right around lunch time, on Wednesday afternoon, the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance hosted their first in a series of “Brown Bag House Talks.” Attendees to this free event were invited to bring their own lunch to this hour and a half talk, discussion and networking event exploring Building Genuine Diversity within the world of Baltimore arts.
Speakers reflected on “opportunities, challenges, and best practices for achieving diverse participation in Baltimore’s arts and cultural institutions and activities.” The event was held at the fitting Arena Players Theater—the longest running African American theater in America, located right here in Baltimore.
The 50 or people who showed up was perhaps the most diverse group of people I have seen gather in Baltimore—a great sign that we were off to the right start! Representatives from over 30 cultural institutions, including Baltimore Community Foundation, MICA, BOPA, Baltimore Film Festival, BSO, Contemporary Museum, and Maryland Citizens for the Arts, to name just a few, showed up on their lunch hour to connect, listen and engage with the spontaneous community that sprung up in the theaters lobby.
It turns out that 1 ½ hours is barely enough time to begin scratching the surface of such a large topic, but it was quite clear from everything that was said, that there is great interest, concern and an overwhelming call for a greater dialogue surrounding this relevant subject. Before the event had ended, several ideas had been tossed out for further discussions, talks and sessions to discuss of diversity in the arts and connect with others who seem to make this a top priority. By the end of the talk, even a city wide Diversity Festival was proposed.
Two speakers, Fanon Hill, Co-Director of Art on Purpose’s ‘Black Male Identity‘ and Co-Founder of Baltimore City Youth Resiliency Institute, and Mariska Jordan, Director of Jubilee Arts, provided their thoughts on the some of the diversity struggles that Baltimore faces, specifically focusing on the arts. Both also provided insight into their own efforts within Baltimore to address and tackle these issues.
Every word that emerged from these two speakers mouths was full of passion, experience, and a clear desire to see things change. The comments, questions and suggestions that arose from those in attendance showed an equal level of thoughtfulness and a strong push towards action.
Fanon Hill: “Art has always humanized the dehumanized and corroborated the experiences of marginalized populations. Who better than artists initiated in common purpose to address issues related to inequity in Baltimore’s arts and culture community and beyond.”
It was clear from the scope and intensity of the room that GBCA had hit on a hot topic for their first of these type of events. Business cards were traded, connections were made, and if all goes as planned, this conversation will represent the first of many as Baltimore sets forth on a daunting task to address and solve the issues surrounding diversity within the arts.
I will close with a Chinese Proverb shared by Mariska Jordan at the beginning of her talk:
“Go to the people. Live among the people. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build on what they have. But of the best leaders, When their task is accomplished, their work is done, the people will remark, “We have done it ourselves”