To my dear friends in the Land of TAAC,

I am going to take some informal license and write this TAAC blog entry as a personal letter reflecting on my years of involvement with this national cultural equity advocacy organization run by a dedicated board and no paid leadership staff.

After the San Jose Open Dialogue, Louis Leroy approached me and Jennifer Armstrong to ask if we would join the TAAC board. This was in 2003, meaning that Jennifer and I have been board members for more than 10 years. You can figure out how many Open Dialogues have transpired during that time. Denver, Pittsburg, Chicago and Providence.

Suddenly, after the Pittsburg Dialogue, our long time board chair Louis passed away. Board member Shirley Sneve volunteered to serve as chair for one year, in honor of Louis. And I said I would take the chair’s job for two years following that time.

I have been chair of this board of directors peopled with wonderful colleagues for four years. Since the board does all the major leadership, planning, advocacy and development work, we’ve gotten to know each other well. We have paid assistance for bookkeeping, IT work and local conference coordinators. But no paid executive director. I am now leaving the board chair position to the able hands of Mitch Menchaca. Without mentioning all the past board members I have known, I want to acknowledge my current fellow board members. In a moment of softness around Valentine’s Day, I sent an email to them that said “I love you.” Not a joke. Thank you for your time, wise words and critical analyses: Shirley (Nebraska), Moe (North Carolina), Jennifer (Illinois), Mitch (DC), Grace (Florida), Neyda (NYC), Reuben (Oregon) and Adriana (Texas).

This is not to say that we don’t need more board members, but our Gang of Nine all consistently advocate on a national basis for cultural equity, equal participation of all our communities in cultural policy, equal access to arts funding, and promotion of emerging leaders both in our daily professional work and for TAAC. All of our Open Dialogues, held in various parts of the nation, and in partnership with local arts leaders of color and agencies that promote cultural democracy, are dedicated to these ideas.

Toward the end of each Open Dialogue, so many young arts leaders begin to articulate the huge value they have received as a result of gaining a scholarship to attend. It is often a lonely path to be the only person of color working in an arts agency where everyone seems to already know everyone. To be the only staffer to continually bring up the need for genuine outreach to communities of color based on trust and mutual respect. To be the only staffer who does not come from a background of privilege or long time family knowledge of major arts institutions. To try to identify and point out institutional racism when others don’t know this vocabulary, ignore its existence, or are not brave enough to speak up.

Our Open Dialogues help us to create a new vocabulary and share it. Provide upcoming leaders with a chance to speak with those who have been working in this field for decades.  Build safe places for foundation and government agency folks to meet people at the grassroots level, to listen, laugh and share a drink over genuine conversation. Give community arts leaders a chance to bring out their local elected officials to interact with diverse people.

Not every Open Dialogue is perfectly run in every way. But there has never been one that did not include inspiring words from excellent speakers, instantly sparking communication channels between new colleagues all working toward cultural and racial equity. Not every leading arts worker of color attends every Open Dialogue; the mix is always different. But the documented results contribute to a united conversation based on many strands. We are weaving our cultural belt together, and it is leading to an empowered future for our multigenerational, diverse and quickly-changing American arts community.

About the Author

MayumiMayumi Tsutakawa

Mayumi joined ArtsWA in 2002 and currently serves as Program Manager for the Grants to Organizations program and to the Arts Participation Leadership Initiative, a Wallace Foundation project to increase cultural engagement in Seattle, King and Pierce counties. Mayumi formerly directed the King County Arts Commission, Public Art, and Historic Preservation programs. She was also the Director of External Relations at the Wing Luke Asian Museum; and reporter and editor at The Seattle Times. She currently serves as board member of The Association of American Cultures, a national cultural equity advocacy group. Mayumi received her Master’s degree in Communications and undergraduate degree in East Asian Studies from the University of Washington.