a2ru Statement on Dismantling Racist Practices in our Work

June 16, 2020

Black Lives Matter is reaching an epochal moment. From wherever you are experiencing or plugging into what’s happening, there are moments for each of us to pause and consider in the context of the movement. As someone who lived and worked in Washington, D.C., for 22 years, I felt a whoosh inside when I saw on social media the yellow words painted on 16th Street proclaiming Black Lives Matter. It was a bold, gorgeous, and brilliant move by Mayor Muriel Bowser, a black leader who knew exactly what to say, where, and when. Her decision to paint the street resounds in a collective callback every time I and others see the image.

I don’t know exactly what to say at this moment or how. I just know it’s important to say something, and even more important, to do the work and do it better. I want to make clear a2ru strongly condemns all acts of racism, including those borne out of the complicity of unchecked and unacknowledged white privilege.

a2ru’s mission is to foster and champion a central role for the arts and design in higher education—to use the power of convening to connect knowledge and empower leadership to advance and amplify the arts and design in research, teaching, scholarship, and creative practice. Our partnerships create a platform to acknowledge, articulate, and expand the vital role of higher education in our global society.

Our work champions the arts, which are a way to make society better in the way they hold a mirror up to the way things are, provide an entry point into difficult conversations and empathic perspectives, and are a way of knowing and inventing solutions to deep, systemic problems like racism.

Much of our convening work is centered on the question of equity. In our recent Emerging Creatives student summit, hosted by the University of Cincinnati, students from the network explored the theme of Rise Up! Risk Something Real, led by Niki Taylor, a pioneer in black studies, and Chuck D, a pioneering black musician, who said, “You know what happens when you don’t teach the arts? Corporations take over and tell you what art is. You become a consumer instead of a creator.” We are committed to helping students, regardless of discipline, to be creators and experience the efficacy of becoming one.

Our 2015 student summit and 2017 annual meeting were also centered on the question of equity through the lens of the creative-placemaking movement. And our upcoming annual meeting, Land & Equity: The Arts and Politics of Place, hosted by the University of Wisconsin, Madison, considers how our work as artistic, scientific, and humanist researchers and educators is defined by the land on which we find ourselves and asks, Who has access to that land and its resources? Last year our Knowledges conference, hosted by the University of Kansas, explored whose work “counts” as knowledge-producing as seen through the lens of many artists, as well as in the keynote Whiteness: What Is to Be Done? by Nicholas Mirzoeff.

As a country, we are still on the slow, vague timeline of Brown v Board of Education’s “all deliberate speed.” A phrase everyone knew what it meant in spirt but the “all” was forgotten and “deliberate” was exploited by those who were against the idea of desegregation. This foot-drag has been an injustice that has grown and thrived like weeds around the broken-down Freedom Riders bus of our democracy. Our actions toward justice have been in fits and starts of outrage before we get distracted again, mostly by issues of preserving our funding and guarding the status quo. As tough as it is, this imperative must be shoved aside to leverage “true grit” and the necessity of invention that artists are known for in order to gather the many willing hands at this moment. For those of you that know a2ru, we are listening to how we can do even more to quickly eradicate racism in the established structures we work in. Let’s look at who does what in our particular network and get down to it.

Our work in the areas of generating room for the arts in curriculum, research, and practice; and supporting artists in higher education and students who need access to art, as well as our work with creative placemaking and arts and health, are all channels to a more inclusive environment. The arts give people a way to have difficult and generative conversations; they give voice to those who are marginalized. We need to go beyond the arts as only offering inspiration and a way to cope—a pressure valve. We need to acknowledge as a society that the arts give individuals a way to research, explore, invent, and name what is happening to us. The arts are a way to have the conversation to lay bare inequities and aid in healing. Most everyone acknowledges that. a2ru is here to help people see that the arts do more than that—they are also a research method and way of knowledge production to preserve and propagate indigenous knowledge and cultural preservation.

a2ru still has much work to do. We are building on these established strands new projects:

  • We are creating two new features to our conference programming this year, “The Art of Politics,” a panel highlighting the role the arts play in dismantling white supremist practices and structures as well as a student panel, amplifying voices of Black people, non-Black People of Color, and Indigenous people
  • In partnership with ArtPlace, we’re creating an expanded online repository of creative resources and practices centered on equitable principles for teaching the basic tenets of placekeeping and integrating this into curricula. This free online resource will consolidate equitable practices in creative placemaking such as toolkits, syllabi, opinion pieces, origin documents, and the latest research. To direct the content, we are convening an advisory group to oversee the grounding principles of creative-placekeeping practices in higher education with participation from field leaders such as Appalshop, the Ginsberg Center, NeighborWorks, Sweet Water Foundation and many others.
  • Making a2ru more inclusive by widening our membership base beyond Research 1 and Research 2 institutions to include liberal arts institutions, community colleges, art and design schools, and individual artists, scholars, teachers, and practitioners.
  • Creating a community of practice in arts and health—particularly in the upcoming year on public health—to examine the ways in which the arts are central to improving wellness, equity, healthy bodies, and communities.
  • We are committed to further examining ways as an organization and as an alliance that we can deliberately, systemically work to root-out the layers of anti-black practices, language, and structures. Each and every discipline can work together to name and change what’s exclusionary in their labs, classrooms, associations, and societies. In addition to our own internal examination here at a2ru, we are here in service of the network to initiate and foster those conversations.
  • a2ru needs to continue its efforts to improve its operations and one way to do that is to better diversify its membership. We have shown this value by devoting half of our student grants to those from underserved populations, but we can do more to expand this support to other spending categories. We will continue to strive to better diversify our leadership and staff as well as the population at our conferences and summits, reporting the demographic data in each annual report and continuing to report the amount in the budget used for these efforts.

We dedicate this upcoming year of our work to the Black Lives Matter movement, and our programming for Land & Equity: The Arts and Politics of Place will provide a platform to amplify and center the scholarship and experiences of Black people, the indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), voices that matter.

I cannot wait to walk down D.C.’s Black Lives Matter Plaza in person and see it with my own eyes. At this moment, I want to say the names of the martyrs in the fight who will not get the chance to stroll across places similar to BLM Plaza in their own towns, unafraid of consequence:  Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Elijah McClain, Emmet Till, Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others. But I pledge to keep the memory of them in the forefront of our work and try to see each decision we take with them in mind.

We know that we will not reach all of these goals immediately and that we will make mistakes. We welcome an ongoing dialogue on how we can improve, and we pledge to learn how we can do better from anti-racist educators, students, and activists in our expanding network and from beyond.

Thank you for your time spent with this statement.


Maryrose Flanigan

a2ru Executive Director