Racial Equity & the Arts

Racial Equity & the Arts

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Last October, I jumped into a pilot project called Racial Equity in Arts Leadership (REAL) launched by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, in partnership with Vanderbilt’s Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, & Public Policy. The creation of REAL was sparked by Metro Arts’ five-year strategic plan, which identifies the need to drive equity and inclusion in the arts sector. Earlier this year, working with Metro Arts and the Curb Center, consultant Jyoti Gupta conducted interviews with numerous local arts organizations and developed a white paper, “Holding the Mirror Up,” (read it here) that frames key observations and practices around Nashville’s cultural ecosystem related to racial equity. The results of Gupta’s findings helped guide conversations and exploration for the pilot REAL project, a cohort-based learning experience that focuses on key questions around how to cultivate diverse arts leadership, create authentic community partnerships, shift power, and address structural inequities endemic to pervasive systems of oppression in our city. Twenty arts & culture leaders in Nashville were selected to participate.

The REAL cohort meets monthly for moderated discussions about the role of racial equity in art creation and arts organizations with the goal of raising understanding and developing a peer network of leaders committed to identifying and addressing equity in their work. Joined by Gupta and Metro Arts’ Community Arts Coordinator, Cecilia Olusola Tribble, I represent Scarritt Bennett Center as a co-facilitator for the REAL sessions and as part of the curriculum design team responsible for designing each session.

This focus on racial equity in the arts draws from Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture’s racial equity initiative (read more here). Seattle’s commitment revolves around two core beliefs: that “recommended solutions of the past, which have focused on diversity rather than racial equity, have not resulted in equitable access to opportunities and outcomes for artists and people of color nationally or locally,” and secondly, “addressing historic injustices is a vital component of achieving equity for communities of color.”

Another source of insight for this conversation is a keynote address presented on June 2, 2015 by Alternate ROOTS (read more here) Executive Director, Carlton Turner at the Grantmakers in the Arts (read more here) Racial Equity Forum in Atlanta, Georgia. In this address, Turner explains, “In this moment, in order for us to be able to talk about equity in the arts, inclusion, and diversity we must first frame where we are as a country and as a society and our national state of political unrest. We are at a critical point of opportunity and risk as a society.” About the role of the arts and creativity in promoting racial equity, he asks, “What would it look like if we relegated the next five generations to working together to challenging systemic oppression, developing new systems and cultural practices?” Take a few minutes to watch or read it here.

I believe in the power of culture and art to address structural racism in our city and look forward to what comes next…

Racial Equity in Arts Leadership members

  • Nerissa Aquino, DancEast Workshop (DEW)
  • Maryanna Clarke, Tennessee Women’s Theater Project
  • Kelly Corcoran, Intersection
  • Cynthia Frahm,  Nashville Repertory
  • Ellen Gilbert, Global Education Center
  • Melissa Gordon, Project Return
  • Ashley Howell, Frist Center for the Visual Arts
  • Allison Inman, Belcourt Theatre
  • Ovalla Jobe, Speak In Rhythm
  • Courtney Adair Johnson, Seed Space
  • Sharyn Mahoney, Nashville Ballet
  • Michael McBride, Tennessee State University
  • Teree McCormick, Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society
  • Kathleen O’Brien, Tennessee Performing Arts Center
  • Don Schlosser, Nashville in Harmony
  • Noah Spiegel, Nashville Opera Association
  • Alan Valentine, Nashville Symphony Association
  • Shawn Whitsell, Southern Word, Inc.
  • Levon Williams, National Museum of African American Music
  • Mayra Yu, Casa de la Cultura Latino Americana


For more information, read the REAL project overview (here).


P.S. On January 13, 2016, Carlton Turner joined us for a public talk at the Nashville Opera Center. Watch the full talk here:

Carlton Turner – Full Talk from Vanderbilt Curb Center Media Lab on Vimeo.

Introduction by Elizabeth Meadows, Assistant Director of the Curb Center at Vanderbilt. Video & Edit by Sam Boyette.



Marie Campbell is Assistant Director of Education at Scarritt Bennett Center. Marie coordinates the Belle H. Bennett fellowship, a 10-month residential program for young women discerning vocation at the intersection of social justice and spirituality. She earned a Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School and a B.A. in Sociology from Belmont University. Marie is passionate about cultural organizing and intersectional feminism. Contact Marie at