Sheela Clary | Berkshire Edge
This is the third installment in a three-part series. Read the first installment here. Read the second installment here.
“Change” has been afoot on Instagram since the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, when Change the Museum emerged to call out issues of racial inequity in the American cultural sphere. In mid-February of this year came Change Berkshire Culture, which turned attention locally. The creators of CBC inaugurated their effort with an invitation to cultural workers in the Berkshires to share stories of ill-treatment, pay inequities, or bias. These have highlighted the power disparity between management and “front-facing” or low status, low-paid employees. The site is now up to 1527 followers, and 65 posts, as of this writing.
The two ends of the power spectrum are both now working on different, yet perhaps one day intersecting, fronts, to begin to shift dynamics within organizations. CBC’s efforts are expanding out of the virtual realm, and a large group of executive and board leadership in the county has convened to advance and expand the peer supports for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work already underway among most of the 32 participating organizations and businesses.
First, under the umbrella of the CBC, a five-member Mutual Aid Fund Steering Committee has created a GoFundMe campaign to support cultural workers who have been hard hit by lay-offs and the COVID-19-related economic downturn. The effort has raised $4,420 to date, from 83 donors. Once it reaches $5,000, the committee will disburse $500 mini-grants to applicants.
One of the steering committee members used to work in a Berkshire county cultural organization and is now employed elsewhere. They are most inspired by the number of small gifts from among cultural workers themselves. “Those of us who work in the sector see ourselves in the stories that have been posted, and to be able to do something substantive to support our fellow cultural workers is an exciting opportunity.” There are also hopes for greater fundraising capacity beyond that pool of donors, however, the steering committee members said. “If the majority of the CBC Instagram followers were to give $10, we’d reach our goal quickly. This is a collective.” Depending on the fund’s continued momentum, it will be kept going for multiple rounds of disbursements.
CBC is also working on other concrete “calls to action.” They are in the process of establishing an education task force, whose primary task will be to set up “teach-ins,” with the first likely to cover the subject of employee organizing. This work will be informed by the relationships the site creators have formed with colleagues at museums such as MFA Boston, who are now going through the unionization process. These efforts have already gotten underway locally with MASS MoCA, whose workers pledged to vote to unionize.
Going forward, the CBC community would like to build tool kits for institutions to use to create more inclusive and welcoming workplaces, and to begin to answer difficult and uncomfortable questions, such as: “How can we rethink how the board functions? Is it benefitting the employees and the public? How do we address the larger question of dismantling white supremacy, which is built into museums? Are we questioning our own complicity? Are we asking the community what we can do better?”
Still unclear is whether or not these conversations would involve both management and workers aiming to solve problems together, though CBC would like to get there eventually. “I think there is an opportunity for these conversations to merge among connected parties.”
Gwendolyn VanSant, founder and CEO of BRIDGE, has gotten a jumpstart on helping organizations answer the questions posed by CBC, as well as many others. She and the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, through a Barr Foundation grant, and with support from Greylock Federal Credit Union, Berkshire Bank Foundation, and the Crane Foundation, have convened an impressive group of county nonprofit and business executives and board members, called the “Inclusive Leadership as a Force for Change” cohort. An earlier iteration engaged seven cultural organizations, and VanSant was brought in to assist with one aspect of that work. “When we started talking about audience engagement, it was clear they needed to do some cultural competency work, to learn how to engage diverse audiences. Out of that, the cohort was like, ‘What’s next? We want to keep that going.’”