We Write to Reflect, We Write to Acknowledge

December 23, 2020

By: Leila Tamari and Maura Cuffie, Senior Program Officers

In the ten years of ArtPlace, we have thoughtfully attempted to move with equity towards justice. We see it in the long hours of building relationships, in finding just the right language and then changing it anyways, and in the flowing of resources. And even so, we know that the true strength of the field isn’t about ArtPlace, it comes from the millions of acts of coordinated care through the folks with whom we’ve been privileged enough to work. It’s the real people doing real work that is worthy of celebration. 

The year 2020 happens to be the final year of ArtPlace, and more importantly a year of acknowledgement and reckoning. Many of you wondered -- after the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Walter Wallace, and hundreds more, along with the disproportionate number of Indigenous, Black, and people of color killed and impacted by COVID-19 -- will ArtPlace make a statement of recommendations towards racial justice for the field of Creative Placemaking?

Instead of rushing to a statement, the team affirmed a need to slow down and move with intention. We wanted to ensure our words would have integrity at the base. The Black femmes on our team understood that in order to hold onto that integrity, we must first reflect on our complicity in producing harm throughout the field. They offered to lovingly hold space for the ArtPlace team, which led to a series of raw conversations and loaded silences from August through December 2020. 

So, we paused, we reflected, and now, we write to acknowledge. 

The practice of creative placemaking is inherently tied to harm because our places are bound in racialized capitalism, which has thrived due to enforced disenfranchisement, in turn severing loving and knowing relationships to land. Power grabs, disrespect, and even hatred fill the spaces we could not keep, no longer knew, and could no longer tend to. 

While ArtPlace has had considerable influence across the entire field, like all organizations, what’s inside affects what’s outside. In our reflections, we uncovered how our commitment to cooperation may have resulted in a culture of conflict avoidance. We see now that a false sense of urgency coupled with perfectionism enabled feelings of guilt and shame to spread throughout the team. At times, by working in silos, we failed to understand our accountability to each other and to the field. 

As a team, we acknowledge that ArtPlace has perpetuated harm in some of our investments and partnerships. Sometimes this meant we upheld the legal boundaries we were handed to protect our organization, rather than innovating even if that meant putting our organization at risk. Often we overworked, and we asked others to do the same. Other times we held a neutral stance, or were at loss for how to facilitate when we observed direct abuses of power between practitioners and funders alike. 

Because there are so many of us who take-up creative placemaking -- artists, healers, architects, organizers, planners, strategists, educators, farmers, facilitators, public servants, funders and so many more -- it’s that much more critical that each of us examines our relationships to injustice. How and when is the intended purpose of each of our roles in contradiction to the values we know must be upheld in order to reach the just, equitable and sustainable vision we have for our communities? 

Not a single one of us is blameless, and yet this is bigger than pointing fingers. For all of us committed to this practice, how will we work in a way that thoughtfully dismantles anti-black racism, that upholds disability justice, that abolishes transphobia, that overwhelmingly supports native land reclamation, and puts anti-oppression and the transformation of power at the core? If you think you’re already doing all of this perfectly, chances are you’re not looking to the right people. We implore you, to look harder.

We did, and we realized the need for us to acknowledge the hurt. That’s why we leave you with this writing.

While the organization sunsets, the age old practice of communities determining their futures will continue. Love and generosity have the power to bring us back in rightful balance with the earth and each other, but it takes sustained effort. Whenever, and wherever you start your journey in this work, know that it will only be as strong as your commitment to undoing harm.


In Solidarity, 

Maura Cuffie + Leila Tamari on behalf of the ArtPlace Team