Do They Know They Are Hard To Reach?

On the Arts Professional UK website, Imrana Mahmood, discusses her experiences becoming a creative producer in a manner that reminded me of two other speakers/authors I often cite. Mahmood’s experience seemed to be at the crossroads of Jamie Bennett’s TEDx Talk about people not recognizing their capacity to be creative even though they already engage in creative activity and Ronia Holmes’ piece on how disinvested communities aren’t bereft of creative and artistic practice.

Mahmood’s article immediately recalled Holmes to me thanks to the title, “A Seat at The Table.” Holmes had talked about how people in disinvested communities are often offered a small seat at the big table by other organizations  when they actually own the entire table in their own communities. Mahmood’s article starts along much the same lines (my emphasis):

As a British Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage, I grew up with an intrinsic love of the arts, including qawwali, henna, calligraphy and poetry. It was therefore a surprise to be labelled as being part of a hard-to-reach community with low arts engagement, as I struggled to reconcile the reality of my lived experience with an inaccurate perception of my identity.

She was encouraged to apply for funding as an “emerging creative producer,” but says she was initially reluctant “to view myself as an arts professional.” I attribute this to her mention earlier in the piece that

“…a career in arts was not considered to be a proper job. This was despite spending much of my spare time running community arts projects as well as having a keen interest in visual arts and live performance.”

Throughout the rest of the article she mentions experiences which involved perceived tokenism and gatekeeping as well as instances when she felt she and others had license to express themselves on their own terms.   If you take one thing away from this article, it should be her call for organizations to reflect on their own inaccessibility.

Paying lip service to diversity and only conversing with creatives of colour as though we exist as a monolith is hugely problematic. It is time that organisations committed to engaging hard-to-reach communities reflect on the reality of their own inaccessibility.

Along those lines, I have some reluctance in citing Ronia Holmes’ original piece as if it were a monolithic representation of the needs and sentiments of all communities, but I often return to it because it for its perception of all the dynamics motivating arts and cultural organizations.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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