Redefining A Commitment to Equity with Brain Arts Org
“Community engagement is not a checkbox, it is a lifestyle,” reads one of many posts on Brain Arts Org‘s Facebook page that call for Boston artists and art lovers to take action towards social justice. At this moment in time when many of Boston’s arts organizations are coming to terms with racial inequities that exist within their structures, Brain Arts is taking direct action to reevaluate themselves.
The nonprofit curates a breadth of creative projects that serve the Greater Boston area including the Dorchester Art Project and monthly newspaper Boston Compass. As many other arts organizations are experiencing, most of their projects are on pause due to COVID-19, but Brain Arts is using this uncertain time wisely. A message on their website indicates that they’re taking the time to shift their leadership structure to reflect the “balance of power and representation we would like to see in more organizations” —a minimum 50/50 representation of POC leadership.
One of those leaders is community organizer and musician Sam Potrykus, who spoke with us about Brain Arts’ current goals and how they are fulfilling them. “We take an adaptive approach,” said Potrykus, as he described how being able to re-evaluate the organization’s mission has been crucial as they planned how they wanted to contribute to the recent revitalization of the Black Lives Matter movement. “We deliberately leaned in harder to things that are important to us as we do our work.”
Brain Arts Org’s mission is to realize creative independence in systematically undervalued communities. (Brain Arts Org)
Those important things go way beyond promoting the work of a diverse range of local artists: Brain Arts has been showing up to protests and organizing support by way of practical actions like lending sound systems, driving trucks, and making signs. Their work has led to the contribution of almost $10,000 to BIPOC artists and allies since the beginning of the pandemic.
But they also recognize that the strength of the connection between art and activism can also help galvanize change. The organization understands that its multi-dimensional offerings can help activate creative voices that are speaking truth to power. “For Black artists, simply existing can be an act of resistance.”
Featuring artists and shepherding their work is crucial, but Brain Arts is also committed to contextualizing what they promote and produce in regards to how the work is in conversation with the Black Lives Matter movement. “If what we’re doing is not directly assisting and supporting the movement at hand, it’s at least acknowledging it.”
Arts orgs should be representative of communities that they serve.
Other local arts organizations are also interested in shifting their practices and programs to be more equitable, and some have reached out to Brain Arts for advice in moving in a direction of change since the group has been a leader in this work for some time now. Potrykus’ recommended action step: Pay Black artists!
“Put the money into the hands of the people who have been kept out, and who are closer to the pain of that experience.” In other words, predominantly white-led organizations need to let BIPOC creatives lead. Larger institutions can learn a lot from smaller groups like Brain Arts, who are able to do substantial equitable community work without the type of paychecks that abound at larger companies. “It would be cool for all us arts orgs, big and small, to take a hard look at ourselves, and specifically pay attention to the dynamic of power within our staffs.”
Potrykus touches on two important steps in taking effective action towards becoming an anti-racist organization — deep self-reflection and redistribution of resources. As Boston evolves, we should keep listening to Brain Arts and the voices they champion.
This infographic captures how Brain Arts Org’s structure connects projects to social justice movements. (Brain Arts Org)