The board and staff of Arts for Learning Northwest believe in the power of the arts to engage and empower individuals and communities. We believe that through a rich and versatile arts education, young people will creatively transform their schools, neighborhoods, and beyond. Art can be an agent of personal and social liberation, and we believe this is essential to our mission to inspire young people and expand their learning through the arts.
We have a responsibility to continuously work to dismantle the barriers to arts education for all young people. Research shows that arts education has an overwhelmingly positive impact: increased critical thinking abilities, higher test scores, better attendance and graduation rates, and improved confidence and motivation are just a few examples. This impact is especially significant for communities that often do not have equitable opportunities for discovery, exploration and self-empowerment through the arts.
We recognize historic injustices and systems of oppression—both in society at large, and within the fields of education and the arts specifically—that have created the opportunity gaps we must eradicate. We also acknowledge our participation in these systems and the ways we have benefited and continue to benefit from them as an organization and as individuals. We are working to cultivate a greater understanding of relative rank, power and privilege, and the potential of these forces to marginalize other individuals and groups. Further, we strive to use this knowledge as a central point in decision-making and program-building across the spectrum of our work, from the classroom to the boardroom and all of the spaces between.
We strive to foster an atmosphere of inclusivity, empathy and awareness that allows all people to feel safe and valued in every aspect of our work. While we understand that conversations about power and privilege can make people uncomfortable, we are committed to engaging in the hard work necessary to advance equity within our organization and across the arts and education communities.
Racial Equity Focus
The board and staff of Arts for Learning Northwest believe that our society needs to grapple with and overcome a complex web of privilege and oppression. We must approach this work with an intersectional lens, acknowledging that all disparities compound one another. Due to the effects of racism that have shaped our region—and that continue to shape our future, as evidenced by a persistent opportunity gap for students of color—we choose to focus our work at this juncture on racial equity. While we maintain a deep commitment to addressing many other areas of injustice—and acknowledge that concepts like ethnicity, language and culture are profoundly interwoven with race—we believe that investing in the advancement of racial equity serves the advancement of all people.
To see our statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, please click here.
Arts for Learning Northwest has long held equity as a core value of our organization, and in our 2013 strategic plan we elevated equity to an organizational priority, recognizing that in order to maximize our impact, we must focus our resources on the communities with the greatest need. Since then we have worked to clarify our understanding of, focus on, and deepen our commitment to equity in every aspect of the work we do.
From 2017 to 2018 we participated in the Racial Equity in the Arts Self-Assessment Learning Circle, facilitated by Arts Workers for Equity. As part of this learning circle, we conducted a self-assessment using the 2014 tool created by the Coalition of Communities of Color. This led us to make an explicit commitment to establish a written policy and measurable actions in service of greater equity in the field of arts education and across every level of our organization.
Leading this initiative at Arts for Learning Northwest is our Equity Committee. It comprises both staff, board, and community members; to learn more about joining the Arts for Learning NW Equity Committee, please contact us at [email protected].
The committee’s current goals are outlined below:
- Create an equity definition. It was necessary to create a definition of the term “equity” that we could agree on as an organization in order to develop a shared vision of what we are working toward. We looked at examples from other arts organizations, as well as social service and social justice organizations, drawing inspiration (and in some cases, language) from their work, while crafting our own words as well.
We have completed this definition and include it here: Equity is the quality of fairness in treatment, access and opportunity that acknowledges and consistently strives to eliminate the barriers historically faced by underserved, underrepresented and disadvantaged groups. Equity is achieved when everyone gets what they need to be successful.
- Create an equity statement. We drafted a statement to communicate our aims and values with regard to equity, and direct our actions going forward. The committee again referenced examples from other arts organizations, and from social service and social justice organizations, in order to create a working draft. We also decided to direct our current focus to racial equity, and created an additional statement about this decision. We then invited stakeholders from our community to review the statements and offer feedback and suggestions via a written survey or in-person focus groups with a single committee member. These invitations were extended to teaching artists, students and families, educators, community leaders, culturally specific organizations and others. We revised our statements based on the feedback we received in these surveys and discussions, and presented final drafts to staff and community members before final approval by the Board of Directors and publication of the statements. The final statements can be seen at the top of this page. Thank you to Arts Corps, The Circus Project, Meyer Memorial Trust, Grantmakers in the Arts, Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC), and Portland Public Schools (PPS), whose equity statements strongly influenced our own in language, tone and message.
- Create an equity policy. Building off of our equity statement, we created a longer written policy on equity in our organization. This is our official code of conduct regarding equity issues and procedures, a statement of our intentions and how we will hold ourselves accountable. The Equity Committee presented this policy to the Board of Directors and it was officially adopted in January 2021. We consider this to be a living document that will be continually reviewed and revised to remain as true as possible to our goals in service of our community, and to the ever-evolving landscape of social justice both locally and more broadly. Arts for Learning Northwest's current Equity Policy can be viewed here.
- Create an equity action plan. Based on our equity policy, we will make a detailed, step-by-step plan of measurable actions we will take within a specific time period to improve and maintain equity in our programs, internal infrastructure, and general service to our community. The Equity Committee is currently developing this action plan.
These important major steps are what the Equity Committee is currently focused on achieving, and they deserve the committee’s dedicated attention. Alongside this process, our staff and board are also planning and implementing new equity-focused programs and practices, as well as continuing those we have already put in motion, and assessing our established programming through an equity lens. We are in dialogue with members of our community about how we can better support their diverse needs and goals, and we are working to build relationships and collaborations with justice-driven groups and organizations in the region.
Roster Diversification Initiative
In addition to the ongoing work of the Equity Committee, during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years, Arts for Learning Northwest's program staff embarked upon the organization's Roster Diversification Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to increase the number of artists of color on the Arts for Learning NW artist roster and is informed by two related inequities in arts education. First, most arts-education organizations will only hire teaching artists with significant classroom experience, but many artists traditionally excluded artists, including artists of color, lack access to opportunities to gain this experience. Second, research shows that students of color experience better outcomes in school when they have a teacher of color, but (in part as a result of the above) most teaching artists are white. Through this initiative, Arts for Learning Northwest has recruited 11 artists of color and provided them with personalized professional development and paid classroom experience through in-depth artists residencies at local schools with a minimum of 60% students of color. Additionally, the programs department engaged an equity, diversity, and inclusion consultant to work with artists of color on our roster to examine the cultural responsiveness of our systems and processes. Finally, the Roster Diversification Initiative convened an ongoing artists of color affinity group to provide a space for peer support and learning.
We recognize that equity is not just a one-time project, nor is it an isolated practice. Working toward equity requires us to integrate this lens into every aspect of what we do as an organization, and to make an ongoing commitment to our equity work. We are determined to meet these challenges, and we appreciate the continued support and involvement of our community as we undertake this journey together.
To inquire about Arts for Learning Northwest's equity work or Equity Committee, please contact us at [email protected].