In the lead up to this weekend's opening of the new Revealed: Where Art Meets Activism series of exhibitions, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture this afternoon announced the new Initiative for Equity + Innovation (IEI). In partnership with Bank of America and former BofA chairman and CEO Hugh McColl, the Gantt Center hopes to address unconscious bias, discrimination and social injustice through the initiative, according to a press release announcing its launch.
According to the release, the initiative will serve as a "bold and direct response" to the findings of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force's 2015-16 study on intergenerational poverty and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Breaking the Link report, released in February.
The initiative will consist of six pillars, which are listed in the release: leverage the arts to explore social issues, diffuse tensions and introduce creative responses; heighten public awareness on issues of opportunity, fairness and justice; engage the public in regular discourse on timely topics and community concerns; deepen capacity for understanding and navigating difference throughout the community; equip the next generation with knowledge and tools that can serve as a blueprint for future torchbearers; and empower a broad range of partners across disciplines to function effectively as allies in promoting equity.
IEI programs will begin as early as next week, when the Gantt Center hosts a community town hall on September 10 titled "Nurturing Diverse Schools & Creating Opportunity." The center will host a digital sign-making workshop on September 15, in which participants will explore the evolution of protest signs among indigenous cultures and make their own to take home. On October 9, historian Tom Hanchett and Ashley Clark of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute will host a community conversation on the history of redlining and the impact of current data trends. Check the Gantt Center website for more details on each event.
In a recent interview with Creative Loafing, Gantt Center President and CEO David Taylor said that the recent social and political climate has inspired staff there to "double-down" on social justice issues and addressing discrimination through art. The new Revealed exhibits, which include Welcome to Brookhill, featured in this week's CL cover story, will be the first step in that process. The initiative will take that effort further, Taylor said in the press release.
"Through this initiative, we have the ability to embrace the full power of arts and culture to provide opportunities for experiential learning that accelerate progress toward an equitable society, and significantly strengthen and enhance our community," he stated.
Although he didn't speak directly about the initiative during our meeting last week, Taylor did discuss why it's important for the Gantt Center to get behind long-term efforts like what was announced this afternoon.
"I tell folks, in my lifetime, the problem probably and unfortunately won’t be solved, but hopefully we can make progress so my children or my grandchildren can have some impact and are benefitting from the work," he said. "But we have to be in it for the long haul, and that’s what we’re doing."
A key supporter of the initiative is Hugh McColl, who stated in the release that he has envisioned programming like this from the Gantt Center for years.
"This institution should be at the heart of Charlotte's multicultural evolution, and the programs and art that emerge from this focus on equity and inclusion will help us learn to live more harmoniously with each other," McColl stated.
The new initiative will also serve as a resource for the business sector in the halls of the city's biggest corporations, including McColl's old stomping grounds, Bank of America. The bank has joined on as a legacy sponsor of IEI.
"There was a natural inclination to be a part of this initiative because of our own commitment to diversity and inclusion and our belief that the arts play an integral role in expanding our humanity," Charles Bowman, BofA president, stated in the release.