What can arts, culture and history organizations do to confront a legacy of racism?
In one of the most divisive and isolating years in modern American history, a large group of Boise arts, cultural and history organizations did something unexpected: They came together.
It happened in the aftermath of the high-profile police killings of Black Americans including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, when millions of Americans of all backgrounds and identities joined the existing efforts of antiracism activists by taking to the to the streets, to city and statehouse halls, and to social media to call for an end to the dismantling of racist systems and practices that continue to persist.
Locally, individual artists, staff members and leaders of organizations of all sizes started gathering via Zoom to confront the continued legacies that isolate, tokenize and exclude Black creativity, voices and art, and to explore how they, as nearly all white Idahoans, could do something beyond the lip service and "performative allyship" that may serve to tamp down immediate tensions but does little to make the deep and systemic changes needed to make a real difference.
After months of discussions, the group agreed on a first step — a statement that made clear their shared beliefs:
"Our Coalition of arts, culture and history organizations is committed to dismantling systemic racism in our arts community. This includes the oppressive impacts of segregation, mass incarceration, and educational, economic and environmental discrimination; all of which are born from slavery. The arts and culture community has perpetuated white supremacy through appropriation and tokenization, such as recruiting Black people for shows, exhibits and performances without integrating them into positions of sustained leadership. Although there has never been a time in America when Black art wasn’t a driving cultural force, we have used a white lens to define quality and influence. This must end. We believe Idahoans will benefit from holding each other accountable to create an equitable and inclusive community where Black art matters."
Join this City Club of Boise Zoom forum at noon Feb. 11 to hear from two of the group's founding organizers — Leta Harris Neustaedter and John Michael Schert — on how this coalition came together and why it is important for these artists and nonprofit leaders to tackle a challenge that is obviously far larger that the arts and cultural sectors themselves.
Harris Neustaedter is an arts educator, musician, actor, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and community organizer. She earned her BA in psychology from Occidental College and her Master of Social Work degree from Boise State university. She owns Metamorphosis Performing Arts Studio, LLC, where she maintains a private counseling practice and weaves life skills into music, acting and public speaking lessons. She contracts with schools and organizations throughout the Treasure Valley to create curriculums and facilitate arts-based programs. She is a member of the Western States Arts Federation Emerging Leaders of Color Professional Development program and is a Certified Change Leader through Idaho Commission of the Arts. She has been performing on stages throughout the valley for over 30 years.
Schert launched his artistic career in dance, eventually coming to Boise with the Trey McIntyre Project, which he co-founded and helped lead as executive director. He is the founder of JMS & Company, a consulting firm that translates the creative process across disciplines, and an executive producer of the Treefort Music Fest. He has been a Visiting Artist and Social Entrepreneur at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, an Associate Fellow with the NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts, and a 2019 USA Eisenhower Fellow. He earned a master's in public administration from the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Moderator: Greg Hahn, City Club board member.