By Karim Ahmad
Eighteen months into this pandemic, we struggle still to regain our lives and livelihoods. Society seeks to “get back to normal” by any means necessary, and meanwhile, many opportunities for fieldwide reform that the pandemic presented to us one year ago still remain largely unaddressed. In the last year, the longstanding extractive practices of so many of our societal structures have been laid bare, and our media arts system is no exception. If we are truly to meet this confluence of moments, and progress toward a thriving pluralist culture, the time to act is now.
For over a year, an informal yet tightly knit group of allied organizations — all artist support nonprofits with a mission toward equity and justice and the uplift of artists from historically marginalized communities — has been meeting virtually to develop strategies for deep and sustained reform. We mapped the many forms of systemic harm inflicted upon our artist constituents, including harmful mass misrepresentation, inequitable artist funding and remuneration, exclusion from the means of distribution, inconsistent audience development and financial unsustainability, perpetually extractive business and production practices, and a general systemic devaluation of the role of the artist as demonstrated by an absence of support structures that build resilience in times such as these.
We then utilized a practice of future architecture and collective worldbuilding, facilitated by my collaborator Tony Patrick and myself, to envision a more radically aspirational media arts system of the future — one that seeks to repair these cycles of harm, and place restorative values practice at the core of all institutional design. That future and the values that underpin it are detailed in this report, RESTORING THE FUTURE. Contained within it are provocations, not prescriptions. It is an invitation to industry, the public sector, artists and collectives, and artist support nonprofits like ourselves — an invitation to explore the provocations herein and then recenter and operationalize restorative values in all of our work. In doing so, we can create a new system that builds resilience for those artists whose essential work drives our culture.
We artist support organizations must also renew our own commitment to reinvention in pursuit of justice. Our aim in creating and releasing this report is to begin to do just that — to apply more restorative value frameworks to our own processes organizationally, and in renewed collaboration with each other. To better do that, we have evolved our work from a loose gathering into a coalition, ALLIED. Under the ALLIED banner, we rededicate ourselves to advocating for and building more regenerative systems to combat systemic harm that has been wrought on artists from historically marginalized communities.
ALLIED organizations are:
We in ALLIED invite you to read this report, consider the provocations herein, and put them into action together. This is our work ahead. We invite you to collaborate with us — to do so, please contact us here.
Karim Ahmad is Director of the Outreach & Inclusion Program at the Sundance Institute, where he is working to build a just and beautiful future for artists from historically marginalized communities through emerging artist outreach and support initiatives, and fieldwide action with ALLIED organizations.