In a recent article about Chicago-based artist Eric J. Garcia, whose politically charged work he calls a “weapon to strike at injustice”, he added a caveat for aspiring artists: “Oh-all of this is done on our off-time when we’re not at the day job that pays the bills.”
His words came back to me when reading the prompt to this salon, a quote from Diane Ragsdale on arts sector reform:
“If our goal..is to hold onto our marginalized position and maintain our minuscule reach—rather than…actively addressing the social inequities in our country, and reaching exponentially greater numbers of people—then…I would suggest that it may not merit the vast amounts of time, money, or enthusiasm we would require from talented staffers and artists, governments, foundations, corporations, and private individuals to achieve it.”
I am glad to know that the arts sector is not confining itself to simply holding onto its miniscule reach, and that emerging artists and arts leaders, many working in art and humanities-based nonprofits, are taking the lead.
My position is that they are using the organizational skills, social vocabularies, and leadership experience gained in nonprofit environments well beyond the scope of the workday, to be wielded as “weapons” addressing social inequalities.
Last summer, in my neighborhood of Pilsen, the largely Mexicano neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side, I caught a performance by improv comedy sketch group, South Side Ignoramus Quartet (SIQ).
Performing in a large tent in a family member’s backyard, equipped with air-conditioning, stage, lighting, and sound system, they were hilarious and their setup comfortable, up to par with any sketch comedy in town.
Founder David Pintor, an alum of the Second City Conservatory, has brought improv sketch comedy, largely produced only on Chicago’s affluent North Side, to a South Side, ethnic audience.
This year, they are raising funds through Kickstarter, allowing them to receive formal, financial support sans nonprofit status. Their experience as performers has given them the confidence to raise funds and produce professional, powerful work; work that challenges economic, cultural, and geographic barriers.
Another independent group in Chicago is Proyecto Latina, a project that gives an amplified voice to the work and stories of Latinas in Chicago and abroad. The five founders, who organize their readings, blogs, research, along with their own writing, do so after day jobs as nonprofit art teachers, grant writers, and directors. As emerging leaders and artists, they are applying the skills they attain inside the office/stage to produce outside of it, perhaps with a freedom that is not always allowed within a nonprofit.
I am fortunate to work for the Illinois Humanities Council (IHC), a nonprofit initiating civic dialogue and reflection through the humanities. I also volunteer as a board member for Pros Arts Studio, a Pilsen-based youth arts nonprofit.
The skills and resources I develop through the IHC, applied to a smaller nonprofit like Pros Arts, is a tremendous asset to their growth and subsequently, can lead to more opportunities for low-income youth to grow as leaders through the arts.
I am grateful that my skills gained through nonprofits can be used to support the next generation of leaders, and like many of my colleagues, we are not limiting these skills to our daily jobs and doing even more to promote social change.
These are testaments to the total commitment by emerging leaders and artists to take on the goal of challenging social inequities through the arts sector.
I am grateful for groups like the Emerging Leaders Network of Chicago and Americans for the Arts for their contributions through trainings, networking, and resource sharing that help us become better leaders and artists…And also, for this blogging opportunity, which I wrote during my off-time.