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An Action Plan for BIPOC Representation

Saltstone Ceramics

"Saltstone Ceramics is a place where everyone is welcomed to discover a meaningful connection with a creative working community."

(Words On A Mission, Oct 2019)

Over the past several weeks we’ve come to see the ways in which our mission statement isn’t living up to its potential. Our Queer & Dear 2022 show was meant to celebrate the entire queer community, but was presented with BIPOC artists glaringly underrepresented. We are sorry for the harm that the omission and the cancellation caused: to the queer community, to people of color, to the artists we represent, and the ceramics community as a whole. We should have done better.

Reflecting on feedback we have received about our equity work, there has been a direct and specific call to look at how we are approaching our anti-racism and anti-oppression efforts within the ceramics community. We take this critique seriously, and with compassion.

Over the past two months we have been spending time working with our staff, artists, and the wider community to explore how we could do better. This is an ongoing process that involves both deep personal reflection and thoughtful changes to our systems and procedures. We’re continuing to listen and learn. We’ll be posting an updated plan with notes about the progress we’re making every six months. If you have any specific requests or want to share your thoughts, please let us know.

Our Action Plan

This document is specifically about addressing racial diversity and representation in our studio and gallery. We’re going to discuss that issue in three areas: students, members, and gallery artists.

Where we have explicit goals, we hold these as minimum standards. We’re working to exceed them, not meet them. We have modeled some of our numeric goals around Seattle’s racial demographics. 

To be clear, we are committed to long-term, mindful, and sustainable anti-racism work. That work will take consistent analysis and engagement over years. This is not just about our current studio, but helping to ensure that the next generation of ceramic artists better reflects our whole community.

This document is focused on racial diversity. BIPOC inclusion and representation is often used as shorthand for a diversity of experiences, cultures, and socio-economic statuses, and we want to continue to expand our studio’s reach in those areas and more: including around gender and gender expression, neurodiversity, body size, age, and physical ability.

Saltstone Ceramics is a private business. We ran a modest crowdfunding campaign in 2018 and received some pandemic relief loans and grants in 2020. Otherwise, we are completely self-funded and more or less break even every year. As a private business, our equity work needs to happen within this financial context. 

At the core of our mission statement is the idea that art is an essential public good. We believe that individuals and communities are better when they experience art, when they make art, when they appreciate the skills and technologies behind the art, and when they support those who are called to be professional artists. At the same time, we know that access to art spaces is a privilege that is far from uniformly distributed. An important goal of our studio is to enable that access for as many people as possible.

We believe that the ceramics community, and the larger artist community, holistically thrives with inclusion at the forefront.

Students

Looking back on our mission statement, there is a phrase in there that deserves some special attention right now: “everyone is welcomed”. It has become clear that not everyone feels welcomed, and we have work to do within our studio culture.

Goal: Better understand the barriers that turn some people away from the studio.

We are not just interested in diversity as a numbers game or a box to check. We think that the best art, and the best studio experience, comes when our students are exposed to others with different backgrounds, life stories, and ideas to express. And we want our students to feel safe, like they can show up to the studio with their full, authentic selves. Where our studio culture becomes monolithic, we want to understand and take action.

Action Item: Add diversity and equity questions to our class surveys. 

Action Item: Collect demographic data about students via our class surveys.

Action Item: Encourage our students to engage with studio leadership to discuss their experiences, good and bad.

We know that some of the barriers that limit diversity in our studio are socio economic. To help address that we have been offering tuition waivers to BIPOC students since March of 2021. We offer one tuition waiver in every workshop and two in each session of our eight-week classes.

Goal: ⅓ of our students identify as BIPOC

We value continuity and connection in our classroom, and for that reason we give existing students priority when signing up for the next round of classes. We’re proud that most students stick around to continue their practice with us. On the downside, though, this means that we have limited spots that sell out incredibly quickly. It takes luck and tenacity to get into one of our classes.

Action Item: Prioritize BIPOC students for access to classes. We have a waiting list for BIPOC tuition waivers, and we can offer early access spots to folks on that list.

Action Item: Experiment with more equitable registration systems. 

Our online store rewards folks with good internet access who can be in front of a computer at noon sharp. There are other ways we could fill our classes, such as lotteries or longer wait lists. We’ll work on one or more alternate systems and see if they are appropriate for us and our community.

Members

After our staff, our members are the most consistent ambassadors of our organizational culture. Turnover is low and they stick with us for a long time (four years and counting, for some). Members spend the most time being creative in our studio and set examples for everyone.

Goal: ⅓ of our members identify as BIPOC

Our members represent diversity in race, gender expression, age, cultural background, and more. Even so, BIPOC representation in our membership falls short.

To help address this, in June 2022 we created a permanent free member spot and offered it to a BIPOC artist. 

We have a small number of members. To protect their privacy, we won’t be publishing data about them beyond whether or not we’ve met this goal.

Action Item: We will prioritize a person of color for membership when a new spot opens. 

Artists

We think of our gallery as an essential part of the work we do at the studio. Ceramics is not only a hobby: it is also a job and a vocation. Our gallery demonstrates to our students and the neighborhood that the work we’re doing here is expressive and meaningful.

Behind all those pots are stories trying to be told. And we want to make sure the voices telling those stories represent a true diversity of perspectives.  This was where Queer & Dear 2022 fell short and we want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Action Item: All curation will be reviewed by a three-person staff team including at least one person of color. Our curation team will work to recognize and challenge implicit bias, increase outreach to BIPOC artists, and analyze our methods for curation.

Goal: ⅓ of our gallery artists identify as BIPOC

Since we renewed our focus on equity and representation in our gallery, we have approximately doubled the number of artists in our gallery who identify as BIPOC. So far this year, more than 40% of our gallery sales are by BIPOC artists. At the moment, more than one third of the artists we carry in the gallery identify as BIPOC.

Action Item: Collect (optional) demographic data about our artists via online surveys. 

Action Item: Improve the visibility of BIPOC artists through more consistent artist photos and bios.

Action Item: Ask artists whether (and how) they would like their racial, cultural, or other identities promoted on our website.

In Conclusion

Saltstone Ceramics turns seven years old this month. We built this studio from scratch because we believe in the importance of art and craft in everyone’s lives. We’re proud of the work we’ve done, the people who have worked alongside us, and the results we’ve all achieved. At the same time, we also acknowledge that we’ve made some mistakes along the way.

This action plan is a continuation and expansion of the commitments we made two years ago to our staff, students, and broader community. We are currently committed to investing $10,000 annually towards tuition and membership scholarships. This is in addition to other work and fundraising we do to support political and social causes that matter to us and our community.

We’ll be following up in about six months with more information about how well we’ve done on the actions we’ve proposed, what the results of those actions were, and how well we’re doing relative to our stated goals.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or questions don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.


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