Using Our Superpowers: Dismantling Exclusion and Racism in Arts Management
Gerlie ColladoIt is high time for arts administration to go through its own process of dismantling exclusionary and damaging racist practices. This is the opportunity that Et Al. is attempting to seize. The amount of arts administration scholarship that now exists is impressive. However, very little of this scholarship prioritizes the viewpoints and approaches of BIPOC practitioners. Social media accounts like @ChangeTheMuseum on Instagram exist to call out museums that uphold racist practices, and to pressure them to create systemic, equitable change. “We See You, White American Theater,” a national initiative, aims also to call out and dismantle systemic racism in US theaters. The contents of Et Al. expand arts administration praxis.
Who gets to be an arts administrator? Is it possible for arts administrators to participate in social justice movements by stewarding cultural workers’ creations? Who has a seat at the table when it comes to critiquing and/or curating arts and culture practices? The thought pieces in Et Al. begin to answer these questions. I hope that, by doing so, they help to strengthen current practitioners, and inspire emerging practitioners to join and evolve the field.
As for me, an arts administration career was not on my radar when I was growing up. I didn’t even know it could be an option. The one arts and cultural institution in my hometown, The Haggin Museum, reflected a hegemonic version of the San Joaquin Valley region that highlighted its white founders along with their families, friends, and colleagues. None of the people who worked at The Haggin looked like this Philippine-born Stockton-raised immigrant. When I left Stockton to attend college, I learned about a portion of the city’s agricultural history that never appeared in the Haggin Museum. From the 1930s to the 1960s, Stockton had the largest population of Filipinos outside of the Philippines; they were recruited to work as farm laborers in the San Joaquin Valley. The region’s agricultural industry was built on the backs of Filipino, Mexican, and Japanese immigrants. The Haggin Museum’s exclusion and erasure of Filipino, Mexican, and Japanese immigrants, along with their rich histories and contributions to our area, cut deep because it was yet another source of alienation for me as a Filipino immigrant.
Despite feeling invisible in arts and cultural organizations, arts and creativity were integral to my upbringing and made me feel like a whole person; this is a feeling that we all deserve, no matter our background. Being erased and ignored by public-serving arts institutions contrasted my rich experiences with art among my family and community. This contradiction inspired me to work toward systemic change within the nonprofit creative sector.
My first teaching artist was my dad, and so my arts education began in my native Filipino language, Ilocano. During one of our elementary school's winter breaks, my dad taught me and my two younger brothers how to make parols, star-shaped paper lanterns that are commonly displayed during Christmastime in the Philippines. He made the activity as close as he could to what he experienced in his own childhood: he created multiple star-shaped frames from bamboo that grew in his backyard garden. He set up several stations so that my brothers and I could customize our parol designs with different colors of tissue paper and other embellishments. He even pounded cooked rice to use as glue, because that’s what they used in the Philippines when he was our age. While my brothers and I were too young to truly appreciate the activity, I remember how much joy my dad radiated as he told one story after another about what it was like growing up in the Philippines, and how Christmas was his favorite time of the year because of family and community gatherings. At the end of the activity, we made close to a dozen parols that we gave away as gifts to the family members who visited us that year.
Despite my dad’s creative talents, he would never call himself an “artist.” “Maker” or “craftsperson” are more comfortable and familiar titles for him. At the root of my dad’s discomfort with being called an “artist” is Ilocano, our native language. There is no word for “art” in Ilocano. While the word artes is sometimes used by Filipinos to refer to “art,” artes is rooted in Spain, one of a number of countries that colonized the Philippines. The closest word to art in Ilocano is aramid, a verb that roughly translates as “to make” or “to do.” To my dad and to so many other Filipinos, art manifests throughout all aspects of life. Art is not just an object tucked away inside a glass case. Art is an intrinsic component of life, a practice rooted in creativity. Aramid also rejects the notion that art is only created by trained individuals; rather, it implies that we are all born with this superpower. As I was growing up, I was fortunate to be surrounded by family and community members who never hesitated to use their superpowers.
My home and community life were culturally vibrant. While gatherings with friends and family members centered around food, music, singing, and dancing, I also learned how to crochet, sew, and garden. My mother and maternal grandmother taught me enough basic crochet and sewing stitches to create my own patterns for curtains, napkins, and other household items. Every creative act was intentional and educational. Rich stories about some aspect of life accompanied instructions for how to accomplish creative activities. Different languages also colored my life, including three Filipino dialects: Ilocano, Tagalog, and Visayan. Through my friends and their families, I was exposed to Spanish, Cambodian, and Hmong. One would never have gotten a full picture of Stockton’s cultural vibrancy had they depended upon what they saw in our region’s cultural organizations, or even upon the curriculum taught in local schools.
I did not experience an arts organization that truly reflected me, or that was even willing to include me, until I was in my twenties and had moved to Los Angeles. FilAm ARTS, a different kind of arts and cultural institution, was built around empowering its stakeholders, amplifying their voices, and having artists lean into their strengths as cultural organizers. Also known as the Association for the Advancement of Filipino American Arts & Culture, FilAm ARTS’s mission was to “advance the creative and cultural practices of Filipino Americans through presentations and educational programs.” My relationship with the organization began in 2003 when I volunteered to curate a culinary pavilion as part of its annual multidisciplinary and multigenerational signature program, the Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture (FPAC). I expressed a strong interest in the history, origins, and evolution of Filipino food to the festival organizers. FilAm ARTS let me run with my interests and ideas, including hosting an adobo cook-off, a polvorón eating contest, and cooking demonstrations from Filipino-American chefs from throughout the area. The adobo cook-off was my favorite part of the pavilion as it invited home cooks to showcase their recipe variations, and share the inspirations and personal memories related to their dishes. As a Los Angeles transplant, I was welcomed to the city with open arms by FilAm ARTS. My life partner and I first connected at the festival. FilAm ARTS planted seeds of resilience, and its former staff and volunteers have grown into senior leaders in the nonprofit, education, government, entertainment and philanthropic sectors. The organization also gave me a community that challenges, strengthens, and inspires me to this day.
My role with FilAm ARTS evolved from festival volunteer to board member over a span of about ten years. The organization allowed me to find my footing as a cultural organizer. I learned from cultural workers like artist Papo de Asis, who is nationally recognized in the Philippines, and executive director and concert flutist Jilly Canizares, whose creative practices were centered around community organizing. FilAm ARTS let me experiment with what I had envisioned for arts and cultural organizations: deep relationships with stakeholders, openness to change and positive risks, welcoming spaces and opportunities for stakeholders to learn about themselves and connect with others through arts and culture, and more expansive ideas about what art is and what it can be.
My experience with FilAm ARTS is the foundation of my practice in arts administration and philanthropy. Since FilAm ARTS, my roles in the nonprofit sector have broadened to include programmatic roles with the Pasadena Playhouse (a regional theater) and the Music Center at the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, as well as governance roles with both Visual Communications (an organization dedicated to telling Asian American and Pacific Islander stories through media arts) and the City of Los Angeles’ El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument (LA’s historic birthplace). Within philanthropic organizations, I have served in communications, grant making, and operational capacities with the California Community Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the Panta Rhea Foundation. The through-line in my twenty-year arts management career is the belief that finding and retaining our humanity through arts and culture will help to propel us forward in all areas of our life. Thus, my professional practice always returns to our creative abilities, our birthright, our superpowers.
Sharing lessons like the ones I learned from my family and from FilAm ARTS is why Et Al. feels so fundamental to the arts administrators and cultural workers of today and tomorrow. This book aims to expand current understandings of what arts administration is, what it can be, and who can do it. This is one of the main reasons I agreed to participate in the editorial team.
As you experience Et Al., I urge you to reflect upon your own perspectives, biases, and attitudes toward arts and culture, question who influenced you in shaping these views, and ask what you believe we deserve from our public institutions. I hope that you use the contents of Et Al. as conversation-starters and thoughtful provocations so that arts administration praxis continues to evolve, and to align itself as closely as possible with the changing needs of our world. Ultimately, I hope that Et Al. leads more of us to claim our individual and collective superpowers.
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- Often referred to as the national dish of the Philippines, adobo is a Spanish- and Chinese-influenced stew typically comprised of a protein, garlic, salt and/or soy sauce, and a souring agent like coconut vinegar. Recipes vary throughout the various regions of the archipelago.↵
- Polvorón is a Spanish-influenced shortbread cookie made with toasted flour, powdered milk, sugar, and melted butter. ↵