Vote for Us in the BEACON Grant Program Community Voting Round!

With the launch of our project, Brown Art Ink, BGMB is excited to recognize and support women artists, culture workers, and communities of color throughout the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area, through programming, cultivating dialogue, and providing funding.
We recently applied for the BEACON Grant Program, an organization to support women-founders, and made it to the community voting round! Find the guidelines for voting below:
1) Visit bit.ly/beacongrantvote to register and access the voting platform. You will be prompted to confirm your email after submitting. Once confirmed, you may log-in and cast your vote.
2) Each registrant has four votes and can cast one vote per category and one per application.
The categories align with BEACON’s four pillars, you can find us in the category: Providing Resources and Support for Women Entrepreneurs.
*Votes will not re-set; meaning, you may not cast one vote per day. Rather, each registrant is allocated four votes for the full voting period. Please note that the system will prevent you from allocating all four of your votes to a singular application.
3) The voting portal is equipped with keyword search functions to make it easy to locate your project of interest. Search for us at “Brown Art Ink”!

Black in Blue: Wearing the Badge

During the earlier days of the internets, I searched for “careers in Anthropology.” I was sailing on unchartered waters with my newly declared major going into college. I knew I loved studying cultures and the people that enriched them. I don’t remember much about what my search turned up other than a video of a group of women from Mexico making tamales from scratch, with onlookers there to learn the process. A young woman narrated a portion of the video, sharing her experience as an intern. I immediately kew wanted to do that but I was a long way from the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington, D.C. from my home in Illinois. So when I was able to pull on that blue t-shirt, “staff” printed on the back, and rock my 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival lanyard around my neck as the Social media Coordinator this summer, a resounding “Mama we made it” rang through my head.

“Basque: Innovation by Culture” and “Sounds of California” were the two coinciding themes of this year’s Folklife Festival, celebrating the diasporic arts and traditions of both communities. There was a featured program “On the Move: Migration and Immigration Today” to offer space for critical discussion on forced migrations and immigration stories. I enjoyed being in the space for the work that is possible because of their mission and ability to allow cultures to speak for themselves. I was excited as a black woman working with a black female director of the festival, and to see the range of ethnic backgrounds, and experiences that come together to create what is the Folklife Festival.

I felt unapologetic. I felt safe. I had a uniform that set me apart from the onlookers, and the Festival was just the cosmopolitan place I needed to work without apprehension.

So when the volunteer conducting visitor surveys asked if I was part of the Festival, both of us in our discernible t-shirts, it only stung a little when I thought, “really?” Or when the cashier in the Marketplace offered an apologetic chuckle when she almost forgot my staff discount. I can never say with certainty it was due to race, but as a black woman there is a feeling of “not quite with the band” that is triggered by moments like these. Nonetheless, these moments were extreme enough to slow my stride.

Every year, the Folklife Festival takes place over the course of two weeks to include the 4th of July holiday, followed by a two-day break in between the Festival days. Unfortunately, those following days of the Festival were troubled by the tragic deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in St. Anthony, Minnesota.

Returning back to the Festival after my time of restoration was overwhelming but I got the sense it was business as usual. No moments of silence, no acknowledgements. It wasn’t until after the Dallas shootings that same week, that we were extended an opportunity to grieve for what felt like for only those in Dallas, but I had already been on the brink. I did everything not to let my tears fall at my workstation, as business as usual took place. I felt alone, in a trailer full of people, drowning in frustration and unable to talk to anyone. I had never experienced working through pain and grief like this in a workplace setting, and I didn’t know how or where to channel my emotions.

With the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I was reminded of the reality of a Smithsonian badge not shielding me from institutional racism, discrimination, and antiblackness.

I experience museums through an insider-outsider mentality, or what Du Bois termed “double-consciousness.” When the male security guard sees my badge, and passionately  says to me directly, “represent.” It feels like a father’s one-word edict. Like hearing him say, “if you don’t do nothing else with your life, you better represent. Make us proud.” When our eyes always find a place to lock.

I am reminded how the terms of what I do may not always be legible to my community, but I always am. They see me, and they know what it means for me to be here, in this space, with a badge.

Inserting myself into institutional spaces means to feel safe isn’t akin to being raceless or post-racial, as we often liken to “diverse” spaces. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival gives space for a multitude of diverse backgrounds, traditions and cultures and we have to share in all of it, even in the less than savory. Especially. Intersectionality is more than all of us being in a space, but sharing in it.

Truth, grief, empathy. The burdens of institutional and systemic racism should not and do not belong to one group.

It is why I hold appreciation for LA-based Filipino rapper Bambu on the Sounds of California Stage, a rapper who speaks on police brutality, immigration, and community issues, for not scripting his emotions or language in his performance despite often rapping to a largely white crowd at the Festival. Or for the Bay Area-spoken word organization, Youth Speaks, for not censoring themselves. It may seem silly in regards to the use of profanity, but when we talk about lives mattering to the larger societal structure, we have to listen when the subaltern speaks. It means something when I insert myself into these spaces, assert my presence by moving close to the stage for a photo, or use the staff entrances, something many might not consider significant, and venues such as the Folklife Festival must continue to be used to confront and challenge our perceptions.

AAM: What’s the Feels?

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from: Ravon Ruffin
to: Amanda Figueroa
date: Mon, Jul 18, 2016 at 11:14 AM
subject: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

Hey,

So now that we’ve had some time to decompress, evaluate, and re-evaluate. What was your take on AAM this year?  I’ll go ahead and say, that being that it was our first AAM experience both individually, and as BGMB, I had high expectations and excitement going forward. But I’ll let you start…

 

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from: Amanda Figueroa
to: Ravon Ruffin
date: Mon, Jul 18, 2016 at 8:59 PM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

I had high expectations as well! Not only because it was our first AAM experience, but also because we had just attended the AAMD conference which was such a joy to be at.

The overall feeling I got from AAM was that we had already taken the BGMB mission of inclusion and community-building as far as it could go. I know logically that’s not true (gosh, sometimes I’m overwhelmed with how much work there is to do on these two things), but during AAM, it felt like everyone who was interested in our work, everyone who shared these goals, everyone who wanted to know more about our thoughts was someone we already knew.

Even though we did connect with a couple new faces, they were friends-of-friends in every case, so although they were new to us, their interest was not surprising. It felt like we should have known them way before, or like we didn’t really need AAM to connect us. Meanwhile, there was a whole conference going on around us of people who were just disinterested in or oblivious to the little network of people we were a part of.

Someone mentioned feeling like there were 2 AAMs, and by the end of the conference, I really felt that way too. I’ve been thinking since about whether or not my expectations for the conference were fair, really, since it was such a big event and it feels a little arrogant to expect people to care about the same things I do, but that feeling of being separate somehow from so many other attendees has really stayed with me.

 

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from: Ravon Ruffin
to: Amanda Figueroa
date: Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 10:13 AM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

You’re right, AAMD was a different experience. I think there’s something to be said about the way art and art folks feel free to confront and dialogue, and cultural institutions and other spaces within the museum feel gridlocked to tell a certain truth. Like “that’s just the way it was [emphasis added].”

On the one hand, AAM is just huge and there’s no way around that, and that’s also not necessarily a bad thing. But, on the other, I also think resources—speakers, topics, institutions—could have been used better. Too many similarly themed topics occurred at the same time, to where I missed opportunities for really nuanced conversations elsewhere. “Diversity and inclusion” became a spectacle. And so if it had it in the title, it was chosen. Rather than allowing for the actual meaning of those words be part of larger discussions on labels, for example.

There were two AAMs—the haves and the have nots. The institutionalized and those knocking on the door. I need to work through what those feelings were exactly. Because, a challenge for me is allowing others space for revelation, HOWEVER, it is a constant struggle when your humanity is under attack daily. So patience is dwindling….

 

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from: Amanda Figueroa
to: Ravon Ruffin
date: Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 10:07 AM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

The “D & I” spectacle, you are totally right. It became about the checkmark, being able to say you did your requisite diversity and inclusion panel, along with your skill-building workshop and your keynote. I would have liked to have seen the theme of intersectionality (instead of “D &I”) included across the spectrum of all panels, rather than cordoned off to special-interest sessions, competing with other topics so that attendees have to choose which to go to.

Diversity doesn’t work when it’s an entity unto itself, it works when it is included as an element in everything we as museum professionals do, but that doesn’t seem to be the way people want to treat it, maybe because of the emphasis on history and tradition that comes with the museum field. I don’t want to totally deconstruct this industry and restart everything (just kidding, of course I do), but as a group we need to become more comfortable with institutional change. I think being at AAM, outside of the comfortable, supportive bubble of our colleagues, really made me see how stuck-in-their-ways a lot of this field really is.

“Haves” and “have nots” is a perfect way of putting this — some people are able to get enfranchised within the industry, whether because they can afford to take the unpaid internship or because they aren’t negotiating the imbedded white privilege of the field at all times. These two groups at AAM had a lot of difficulty communicating with each other, on topics of race and access, but also even the “simpler” things like emerging professional skills and how to get that first museum job. The “haves” so to speak were very interested in preserving the status-quo that had them on the inside, while the “have nots” (of which I count myself) were trying to explain why we were left out.

 

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from: Ravon Ruffin
to: Amanda Figueroa
date: Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 1:43 PM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

I love that–– “diversity doesn’t work when it is an entity unto itself.” This is exactly where we find museums time and time again, lodged in this space. There’s still this feeling of the need to dip the toe in the water (i.e. panels) rather than diving in. Also we’ve talked about this before, and I know we are in agreement, about how empty the language of “diversity and inclusion” feels. Intersectionality, although often used without context, at least points to multiple directions of understanding one position.

There is this veil of progress that actually prevents the museum from moving forward. We could call that veil privilege, the kind that accompanies historically white institutions. This makes it easy to “see” why many initiatives are shortsighted or sometimes oblivious.

This also gets me to a larger issue I take with privilege, that I’ve come to understand, is that we contribute it to just basic human rights. Those shouldn’t be privileges. So why does it feel good, or is it a “have,” to not include others. But this might be a larger qualm I take up with Amurrica.

So lastly, because I know we could and will keep talking about this: what ONE moment or session sticks out in your mind that you wish could have been improved? What ONE moment or session provided a positive experience? And what could AAM do to continue building upon that positive experience?

Go!

 

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from: Amanda Figueroa
to: Ravon Ruffin
date: Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 12:18 PM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

So many of the things we are identifying here about AAM are just little microcosms of the larger problems at work in American culture, you are totally right. It’s been really challenging for me to try and figure out what is the specific problem at work in museum industry, and how can we solve that first, because as much as I wish I could do the work that would cure American institutionalized racism, that’s a much bigger fight than just one conference.

One moment that I wish had gone better was one of the major diversity-focused panels. I remember looking around the very large conference room, but seeing mostly the faces of people who I already knew, and who already understood the importance of this work. It was, of course, mostly people of color. This was the first time I think I truly realized what an echo chamber our current “D&I” conversation is — the people who show up to these things are the ones who already know the mission, and the people who need most to hear it just are not interested. It was a really discouraging moment for me.

But on the other hand, one moment that went really well was a panel on latinx audience targeting. It was a tiny session late in the afternoon, and perhaps because of the small turnout, the whole panel spoke really frankly on their experiences and the work they were doing to bring in diverse people to their museums. After the demoralizing experience of the large diversity panel, seeing that some people were managing on their own to do this work despite a real lack of support was really affirming for me. This is the kind of thing that I wish AAM could spotlight more often. We don’t need more big ideological panels on why diversity is important — at this point, everyone who is going to be convinced is convinced. We need more emphasis on what action people are already taking, regardless of sweeping change across the field.

 

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from: Ravon Ruffin
to: Amanda Figueroa
date: Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 3:08 PM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

Agreed––and I also connect with the two panels you point out for the reasons you describe.

I was particularly disappointed by the panel on labels. It felt odd to be at a national conference to reiterate that labels should not be a book on a wall and attempt to accommodate various reading levels. And, if I recall correctly, bi/multilingual text panels weren’t even discussed or if so, it was very minimal. Only one person, Porchia Moore, discussed the implications of text panels to uphold societal norms such as heteronormative familial structures, was the example she used. Otherwise, she seemed out of place.

I think both of the critiques we point out speaks to the lack of intersectionality as a through line of the conference. The discussion on text panels could have been a really rich moment for people who might not have signed up for “D&I” panels to be in the room or for examples of “D&I” in action.

The panel titled “We Are Not Hard to Find” to discuss minorities in the workforce, and the panel on “community museums” were most impactful for me. The first was a really great moment to discuss what professionals in the field are doing to create pipelines for minorities and emerging professionals in the field. Unfortunately, it was already those I knew and loved in the field but it had a great and captive audience that ended with reps shouting out job openings, and created a space to connect. The second, was eye-opening on a personal level as I was especially moved to hear how smaller museums are typically on the frontlines for their communities. And even more so, got me to consider how larger institutions could take a lesson from them. Similarly, this was a panel that was lightly attended.

I’m going to put the onus on AAM conference committee, and their selection process. I find it hard to believe that creative panels, from various perspectives, weren’t submitted that would have contributed to a lot of what was lacking in terms of intersectional practices. There is potential for a proposal with “diversity” in the title to be less effective than a panel featuring folks from community museums discussing gentrification, community engagement, and intersectional exhibitions.

 

If you attended the conference or have thoughts, comment below or on the internets (@2brwngirls).