ArtsWestchester Invests in Equity
With the relaunch of its mission statement in 2021, ArtsWestchester also adopted a formal commitment to social justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility (EDIA). The updated statement was the result of a year of organizational self-reflection and collaboration with consultant Donna Walker-Khune, a highly sought thought-leader in the arts and social justice.
As part of its commitment to EDIA, ArtsWestchester laid out a five-year plan that includes further investment in existing programs and in new initiatives that seek to create space that allows for all of Westchester’s residents to participate in, and see themselves reflected in, the arts.
Guiding ArtsWestchester’s EDIA plan is the Social Justice Committee of ArtsWestchester’s Board of Directors. Says board and committee member Bernard Thombs: “The arts are a unifying point in American society, especially at this current time. ArtsWestchester is a place where ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ work.”
In 2022, ArtsWestchester has allocated $235k in new monies towards supporting cultural initiatives, organizations and artist-led projects that advance social justice and EDIA principles across Westchester and into the Hudson Valley. Among the programs supported through this funding are the Advancing Equity Award (see below), the Voices for Change artist grant and increased grant funding for Juneteenth celebrations.
This investment represents a range of financial and cultural partners, including private donors, Westchester County and the National Endowment for the Arts, which all value ArtsWestchester’s track record for supporting diverse cultural expressions, and which mirror the organization’s commitment to EDIA.
Board and committee member Waddell Stillman adds: “The Advancing Equity Award demonstrates that ArtsWestchester’s social justice plan and core values are in action, not on the shelf gathering dust… Arts organizations are working on EDIA energetically and thoughtfully.”
The 2022 Voices for Change Artist Grant:
Applications open on July 15.
Voices for Change is a grant, partly supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, which provides artists with an opportunity to develop and present new work that inspires and informs, and may be a catalyst for action. Project proposals should include a collaborative component with a cultural, service or community-based organization. ArtsWestchester will award multiple grants through a competitive selection process. Guidelines and application will be available on ArtsWestchester’s website on July 15. Deadline: October 14.
An anonymous donor generously gave ArtsWestchester the opportunity to advance equity in the cultural arena by donating $30k. This has allowed ArtsWestchester to award $25k to an organization and $5k to an artist. To read about the organization awardee, Rehabilitation Through the Arts, see below. For information about the artist awardee, Vinnie Bagwell, click here.
Rehabilitation Through the Arts: Inaugural Advancing Equity Award Recipient
ArtsWestchester recently announced Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA) as the inaugural recipient of its Advancing Equity Award, a cornerstone program in the organization’s renewed commitment to social justice. The Award aims to commend a non-profit cultural organization that serves residents of Westchester and demonstrates exemplary leadership in advancing social justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility (EDIA) through and in the arts.
RTA, which was selected from a competitive field of nominees, was founded at Sing Sing in 1996. The organization provides an intensive and comprehensive arts program that builds critical life skills for incarcerated people so that they can meet the challenges of connecting with family and community when released. The organization’s programming harnesses the arts to empower participants and shift narratives that surround the formerly incarcerated.
In reflecting on his role as a teaching artist in the program, Dr. Alexander Smith shares: “My experience as a literary citizen, creative writer and facilitator resonates with…the need to connect, express and interpret experience. While engaging in dialogue, with our art, it provides an opportunity for people to learn from each other.”
EDIA is embedded in the DNA of the organization. RTA members are empowered to lead and fully participate in decision-making. This element of the program is a key to its model of inclusion. Each facility in which RTA operates has a steering committee, made up completely of program participants, which advises RTA staff and teaching artists on a range of creative and practical issues. Participants write their own rules of behavior, such as mutual respect and confidentiality. Alumni of RTA also join the organization as board members and facilitators.
Says program alumnus John Zoccoli: “I thrived in RTA. By becoming comfortable with uncomfortable situations, the theater program pushed and challenged me to become better and better. RTA has been a springboard for the success I seek on the outside.”
RTA’s approach to the justice system is based on human dignity rather than punishment. Nationwide, over 60% of people return to prison within three years of release. RTA offers a proven model in reducing recidivism – less than 5% of RTA members return to prison.
The Advancing Equity Award, to support awardees in their continuing commitment to service, comes with a $25k recognition grant made possible by ArtsWestchester’s Board of Directors. Nominations for the award entered a competitive review process that included scoring and discussion by a panel of professionals with backgrounds in EDIA and the arts, as well as review by the Social Justice Committee of ArtsWestchester’s Board of Directors. The Award will be presented annually through 2024.
A version of this article first appeared in the July-August 2022 issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.