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An Action Plan for Better BIPOC Representation

Steve Leroux

[Note: we're continuing to work on, consider, refine and develop this plan. We'll have an update in a few weeks.]

Two years ago, we made a public commitment to work towards racial justice through our studio. In that post we described specific plans to improve representation of BIPOC artists in our gallery and studio. Here are the original commitments that we made:

  1. We will represent more artists of color with a particular focus on black artists in our gallery.
  2. We will create gallery shows that specifically highlight the creative voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) artists.
  3. We will develop a program to make our educational offerings more accessible to BIPOC through outreach and financial support.
  4. We will continue to develop new ways to show art that challenges our role as gate-keepers.

I'd like to take a look at each of these commitments in turn, evaluate what we did, and propose some action items. This action plan is a work in progress. So how did we do?

1. Represent More Artists of Color with a particular focus on black artists in our gallery

Prior to June 2020, 15% of the artists we represented in the gallery were BIPOC. Since June 2020, that number has risen to 25%.

Prior to June 2020, about 18% of our gallery sales (by value) were the work of BIPOC artists. Since June 2020, that number has risen to 33%.

These numbers show a nice improvement, but I'll refrain from commenting on whether they're good enough, or what specific percentage might be equitable. You can draw your own conclusions.

One of the problems with these statistics is that we don't actually know the identity(ies) of the all the artists we carry in the gallery. We pull in work from across the country and have not met a majority of our artists in person. The best we can do right now is guess from photographs, so we might be over- or under-counting.

The Big Fail: Our most recent show, Queer and Dear, drastically underrepresents BIPOC artists. This is a huge failing on our part, and we're deeply sorry for it. This blog post exists because of that omission, and so that we can examine the actions we've taken and the actions we need to take.

Action Item(s): Add an optional demographic survey to our standard forms when we bring new artists on board. Offer that survey to our existing artists. Review the results and take further steps to ensure equitable representation of Black, BIPOC, and other marginalized identities. For any curated show, do a demographic review of all the candidates and make sure at least 25% identify as a person of color.

2. We will create gallery shows that specifically highlight the creative voices of BIPOC 

Our gallery typically hosts four large shows every year that are either solo shows or curated. These include Mug Madness, Queer and Dear, and our Handmade for the Holidays show. Since January 2020, we've had eleven major gallery shows. Of these, six were either curated, partially juried (i.e. Mug Madness), or were a solo show by a person of color.

While that sounds nice on the surface, I think this falls short: the call was to create gallery shows that specifically highlight the creative voices of BIPOC. Too often those voices, especially as curators, can get lost amidst the art.

Action Item(s): Designate one show per year to be either a BIPOC solo show or curated by a person of color.

3. We will develop a program to make our educational offerings more accessible to BIPOC through outreach and financial support.

This took longer to get off the ground than I'd like. Starting in March 2021 we began offering scholarships (we call them "equity spots") to BIPOC-identifying folks in our classes and workshops. We offer one equity spot in every workshop we offer, and two equity spots in each season of our eight-week classes.

Although this program has been moderately successful, outreach has been difficult. Sometimes those equity spots go unfilled.

Action Items(s): Designate a single staff person to streamline and manage the equity waiver process. Identify and work on outreach to specific neighborhood BIPOC communities to ensure that equity opportunities get used. Figure out how we can offer free/reduced rate "safe-space" classes that center Black, BIPOC, and other identities that are under-represented in the ceramics community.

4. We will continue to develop new ways to show art that challenges our role as gate-keepers.

I gotta say: big fail on this one and it's not really surprising. This is one of those unmeasurable, high ambition statements that kinda looks good on paper but doesn't really pass the sniff test.

In our defense, trying to keep any small business afloat during the pandemic has been difficult–let alone one that derives the majority of its revenue from in-person experiences. We've had to focus on what we know in order to keep the gallery and studio alive. There hasn't been much opportunity for experimenting with new models that change the gallery-artist power dynamic.

Note that this isn't necessarily BIPOC-centric, but is intended to be an examination of our role as gatekeepers in front of all marginalized communities, and an examination of how we can remove ourselves from that gatekeeper role.

Action Item(s): remove this commitment and replace it with something a little more grounded and measurable.

 


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