I made the statement below on September 23, 2014 as a panelist during the ‘Burlington On Burlington’ discussion series presented by Arts Riot at Hotel Vermont. The Arts Riot crew — Felix, PJ, and Hillary — pulled together people from different backgrounds in local arts to talk about a different topic at each event. The title of this one was, “Not Just On Gallery Walls.”
The topic provided to the panelists was: “The discourse centers around art in all its forms. How supportive is our art community about all forms of art- from performing arts to graffiti. Is an inclusive art community necessary? If so, what are the boundaries to that inclusion? What are the key components/activities of an inclusive arts community? Is it attendance of an event? Recognition in the news papers? Awards from outsiders? Support from esteemed establishments? Monetary support? Do we have an inclusive art scene? Where have you found the strongest examples of inclusivity/ exclusivity? How can you promote more inclusivity? How can the Burlington community support more inclusivity?”
Inclusivity Is A World View
When you witness art, it’s a point on a continuum. When an artist creates, they bring forth evidence of their life and if they’re sharing that art with you, you’re a part of their experience. Art is a relationship between people – sometimes its brief, and sometimes with contemplation it’s much deeper, but in every case, art isn’t a product so much as it is a human being talking to another human being through a medium that’s more complex and complete than words.
Inclusivity, to me, is the bedrock of our relationships. We can like or dislike art of any kind, but when we approach art and artists with an open mind and open heart, and invite their experience to combine with our own, we are including them in who we are, just as sharing their art with us makes us a part of who an artist is.
When we understand that the passion to create is in all of us, and that we all spiral through our lifetimes with varying talents and capacity for expression, we find that we don’t each call ourselves artists. But we can recognize in each other that sharing our experiences with each other – in all the simple and fantastic modes that art allows – is an act of sharing our human experience and thereby not being alone. Art, for the relationship it builds among the experienced and the naive, is the scaffolding of community.
To me, inclusivity is a world view. It’s less something you practice and more something you are.
Inclusive, As Individuals
An inclusive arts scene embraces diversity and exploration. When we’re surrounded by art and that arts achieves increasingly higher peaks of originality and effectiveness, we find ourselves meeting our potential as a civilization. We welcome exposure to the human experience from every avenue of approach because we’re inclusive.
We’re inclusive as we accommodate the processes of becoming an artist and value, far ahead of time, the inevitable contributions that young artists will eventually make.
We respect the role of creativity in the world around us – in our homes, in our cityscapes, where art gives our world shape and reason to call it home, and we respect creativity in the ideas that give us confidence that we are growing and becoming something special, or at least more than we were yesterday.
Inclusive, As A Community
To be truly inclusive as an arts community, we have to view the arts as the primal sea – a sacred, unnameable, mythological origin of who we are, the world around us, and the infinite ways we’ll eventually describe ourselves and world to each other.
When we name the arts and judge them, and raise some higher than others, and designate hierarchies of value and diminish our formative artists, and impede exploration of new art forms or limit admission to venues for art we are cutting ourselves to pieces, and the city of Burlington is guilty of all of the above.
As the city makes annual investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money – your money and my money – in the arts, it should be spent lovingly in the spirit of inclusion, yet it is not.
We haven’t invested in discovering the full scope of our creative community; we haven’t invested in celebrating it for all its diversity and dynamism; we haven’t built resources that all of our local artists can benefit from; we haven’t invested in innovation or aspired to more effectively take what we have and benefit more people with it; we haven’t invested in achieving inclusive goals through collaboration with partners who value inclusion; and in some instances the machinery of city government has worked actively against the flourishing of our artists and our arts community.
If inclusivity is truly a value we share, then we should seek to see it manifested not just in who we are as a community, but also in the systems we govern ourselves by, and we should raise inclusion as a flag and a message and champion it. We haven’t yet begun to do that in the arts, as a city.