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Audacious Disruption: Chicago Artists Collaborate on Solutions to Segregation

‘If the arts cannot leverage creativity to disrupt patterns of economic + racial segregation, who can?’ Enrich Chicago convenes artists, npos, foundations around The Cost of Segregation report to create strategies for change Tweet This

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I was eight months pregnant when I read Metropolitan Planning Council’s The Cost of Segregation report.

At the time, I had been reflecting quite a bit about the city my child would inherit, the city I had always called home and that had shaped me. When MPC approached Enrich Chicago to partner on an event showcasing the findings of their report, I jumped at the opportunity. Anyone who knows me, knows that so much of me is because of this city. I like to say that the blood in my veins runs Maxwell Street Blues.

It was our good fortune that a chance came to bring together arts professionals to learn about and respond to the findings of the MPC report and so I enthusiastically, selfishly, agreed to this collaboration. After all, if the arts sector cannot leverage its creativity to disrupt patterns of economic and racial segregation, who can?

As with this issue, the arts and artists need to be at the table, working side-by-side with decision-makers and power brokers to craft solutions to our most pressing community issues. At Enrich Chicago, this philosophy is at the core of our mission to end systemic racism in the arts sector.

Since our founding in 2014, arts leaders have been on the forefront of proposing and advancing solutions to do the self-work and the institutional work necessary to build a thriving and sustainable arts environment for Asian, Latino/a, African, Arab and Native American (ALAANA) artists and arts organizations.

Through anti-racism workshops, racial identity caucusing, arts administration pathways programming and organizing for greater funding equity, this collaborative has already left an indelible mark on the people and institutions of our city. It has led to a shift in the praxis and practice of our participating organizations and is one model for how we might move beyond programs to drive systemic change.

Five people sit at a table in conversation. Two are seated with their backs to us.

 

In partnership with MPC, we held space for this same purpose at our recent Racial Equity & the Arts: Reimagine Chicago convening on March 14. This enticing and audacious idea—to reimagine our city—brought together over 50 individuals representing nearly 30 different arts and culture organizations and foundations. Together they heard the key findings of this report and engaged in a community dialogue aimed at surfacing strategies to reduce economic and racial segregation.

Across the group, the discussion and ideation resulted in the identification of new pathways to disruption of economic and racial segregation including the addition of free or reduced-price arts programs, open source curation, reallocating organizational budgets to specifically support racial equity initiatives and diversifying nonprofit boards and executive leadership.

Participants also affirmed that the arts have long been a tool of disruption: telling important stories that need to be heard, creating welcoming spaces and driving community revitalization.

In truth, we may never know the full cost of segregation, but this report serves as a comprehensive proxy. Its detailed findings on lost lives, human potential and income are a call to (re)action.

While the issue of racial and economic segregation is one that requires systemic solutions, its effects—and the results of this study—are profoundly personal. The MPC report points to high rates of displacement due to real estate speculation which has increased housing prices faster than the rate of Latino wealth development. I was a third-generation Pilsen resident until economic segregation drove my family from the community.

Even now, as a college-educated, Latina professional, that segregation prevents me from returning to live in the community I regard as my home. At Reimagine Chicago, we collectively paused to reflect on the cost that we have each paid for this segregation and enter a receipt for these transactions into the historical record.

A long table of people in conversation under bright stage lights

 

In truth, we may never know the full cost of segregation, but this report serves as a comprehensive proxy. Its detailed findings on lost lives, human potential and income are a call to (re)action.

As with me, I hope that our attendees found that The Cost of Segregation report is a vehicle to differently understand our lived experiences. It is a tool I will use when I talk to my daughter about this city, her birthright. Chicago, with its litter-filled streets and its gleaming lakefront. Our existence is in between those places, in between the economic divestment and the bustling downtown. It is the stuff of our imaginations.