With / Against
Scored by Prerana Reddy
Near the beginning of the Think Tank process, one of the members, Emily Johnson, wrote an Open Letter published in Medium on January 22, 2021 entitled, A Letter I Hope in the Future, Doesn't Need to Be Written, detailing her experience as a Yup’ik womxn and artist dealing with abusive behavior by Jedediah Wheeler, Executive Director of Arts and Cultural Programming at Montclair State University (MSU) and its Peak Performances series, when confronted with a performance production process committed to decolonization. In solidarity, the creative firm Sozo Artists offered to produce an event that developed into What if? A Conversation on Institutional Fear, Cultural Safety & Collective Healing for which Emily Johnson, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Joseph M. Pierce, and Daniel Bernard Roumain each recorded short videos imagining “a landscape where current practices are held accountable to the past and dramatic change is employed toward creating honest, brave spaces of transformation where true healing is the revolution.” The Think Tank discussed these cultural changemakers’ provocations, and this budget programming score was inspired by the values and questions put forth by Joseph M. Pierce’s contribution (which I’m paraphrasing):
- What if arts institutions considered being in right relations as part of their primary mission?
- What if they stopped being complicit in enacting or covering up violence against BIPOC communities?
- What if institutions saw themselves as caretakers and stewards not only of art objects but of people, land, and our more-than human kin?
- What if kinship were at the center of budget making processes and decisions?
- What if art itself is an extended enactment of making kin?
Questions, in 15 parts, to shape the movements that make your institutional budget:
- Does your budget take into account the time, flexibility, and resources needed to support the artist as a person you are in relationship with, rather than just a producer of a project you are commissioning?
- How would you develop a needs/wants assessment for the artist with whom you are entering into a relationship? Can you acknowledge that your staff need time and space to be accountable to the agreements that come out of that assessment? And that these agreements might and should transform the organization’s usual way of doing things?
- What would it take to create a circle of support for the artist based on institutional networks? This is more than just for “networking,” but for emotional support, navigational advice, mediation (if needed), inspiration, and reflection.
- If you can’t provide healthcare, childcare, and/or housing, then what can you do to support the artists’ basic needs, including both visible and invisible access needs? Can you include an artist’s living needs contingency fund? How can you help them to show up feeling whole and with as much capacity as possible? How can you support artists/culture workers to understand their own budget/personal finances and prevent them from underestimating the true cost of thriving in their life and work?
- Does your budget provide for staff and artist time to decompress, reconvene, assess, and incorporate learnings AFTER the project is done?
- Does your budget include a line item for being in better relationship to the land/water/ecosystem in which the institution has settled or where it does work? How can you consider everything from sourcing and recycling/repurposing materials to understanding and helping to mitigate the ecological stresses in your local communities?
- Does your budget support and respect those who provide access/accommodation services to you, including but not limited to language interpreters, captioners, web designers, facilities, visitors services managers, and communications teams?
- Does your budget take into account your institution’s complicity with historical violence and dispossession? Does this budget allocation lead to mechanisms for acknowledgement, repair, reparations, and eventually new relationships with impacted communities? Does the budget include a land use fee or tax to support local Indigenous landback or land preservation efforts, as suggested in Emily Johnson/Catalyst Dance’s Decolonization Rider?
- Can everyone be paid the same, or at least more evenly? Does this reflect an understanding that formal education/training/licensure is also a privilege and not just preparation work or expertise? How are rates of pay based not only on merit, hierarchy, and the market, but rather based on historic under-/devaluing of particular communities, the amount of stress/pain the tasks entail, or the amount of risk/exposure someone takes on?
- If all of this looks too time-consuming and expensive, how do you get more okay with doing less but with more care, with the same money?
- Can you use your budget notes in grant applications not only to explain your math, but to explain to your funders why your budget needs to look this way? Can you suggest to funders that their budget forms should change if they are committed to decolonization (or at least to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as many often claim)?
- Have you been able to not automatically say no to all of the above?
- Have you thought about who hasn’t been in the room when you were thinking about all of the above? Have you thought about how much courage it takes for an arts worker to challenge how a budget is made to consider any of the above?
- Have you taken a deep breath after thinking and doing any of the above?
- Have you thought about with whom you might share these budget questions and drafts, even if they are messy and imperfect? Without inviting other institutions and funders to perform this score, these will just be movements in a score you play for yourself, that will never build a movement in the art world. And that will never re-ground the art-world firmly in the world-world that is being unmade and remade.
Image description: Prerana Reddy stands outdoors with red earrings, a red beaded necklace, and a colorful diamond-printed shirt.
Rockaway Lands, New York, NY
Rockaway Lands, New York, NY
Prerana Reddy is the inaugural Artist & Community Fellow at Recess, leading a two-year process of inquiry and creative design with Recess' community of staff, artists, partners, and youth with the goal of advancing racial justice both internally and in society. She was most recently the Director of Programs at A Blade of Grass, a nonprofit that advances the field of socially engaged art through financial support for artists, public programming, research, and content creation. Previously, she was the Director of Public Programs & Community Engagement for the Queens Museum from 2005-2018 where she organized both exhibition-related and community-based programs with such renowned artists as Damon Rich, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Mel Chin, and Pedro Reyes. In addition, she hired the first full-time community organizers based at an art museum to develop long-term cultural organizing initiatives. These resulted in the creation and ongoing programming of a public plaza and a bilingual popular education center in collaboration with Tania Bruguera and Creative Time. She was also a film programmer and administrator for the 3rd NY South Asian Film Collective, Alwan for the Arts, and the African Film Festival. She earned her M.A. in Cinema Studies and Anthropology from New York University and was a fellow of the Asian Pacific Leadership program at the East-West Center/ University of Hawaii-Manoa.