Behind the Scenes of the
Artist Commissioning Program Panel
After the Artist Commissioning Program panel, we sat down with Jamaica, Queens-based art producer Brittany Wilson for her thoughts on issues of representation and inclusion that arose during the panel. A Queens native, Brittany is a dancer, teacher, choreographer, arts administrator, and funder who began her training at Jamaica’s Edge School of the Arts. For more on Brittany’s background, as well as her fellow art producers, check out her bio here.
QCA: As a 2018-19 Art Producer, you were recently part of a panel representing Jamaica and Southeast Queens. What are your thoughts on how issues of representation were handled during the panel?
Brittany: Disclaimer, my thoughts around representation are purely my own interpretations based on experience.
In the last few years this idea of representation has started to become apart of many conversations. First starting with the big screen and inevitably trickling down into the commercials, workspace and now the arts. I am a firm believer that representation breeds courage and innovation. If I see don’t myself, an African American women, represented in a hair product commercial, it is unlikely that I will purchase that product. The same can be said for my application review process. While reading through the 30 + submissions I realized there were certain stories that these artists wanted to tell without representing those who were most affected by said story. I found this unsettling but also understand that even with there being a larger conversation, we still have a ways to go. Nonetheless, I was less drawn to those submissions because of the lack of representation. I personally believe it is very important that we as artists are in tune and responsible with stories we are trying to tell.
QCA: With these issues in mind, what is your advice for 1) future Artist Commissioning Program (ACP) applicants, as well as 2) artists submitting grant proposals in general?
Brittany: A piece of advice I would lend to future ACP and other grant applicants is to allow those outside their circle to read their submission before they submit. During the review process I found myself wondering if the applicant allowed “other voices” to read what they wrote. I think this would have greatly cut down on the privilege driven approach. This also goes for the supplemental materials they choose to share. Some of the more sensitive topics that were being tackled (gun violence, #MeToo movement, etc) were not always successfully supported by the work samples because they seemed to be contradictory. On a more technical note, I would advise artists to check their links and any other attached documents to be sure they are working properly. Sometimes something as small as faulty or incomplete links can disqualify a qualified applicant.
QCA: In the spirit of enabling community members to make decisions for their own neighborhoods, this panel was comprised entirely of individuals from Jamaica & Southeast Queens. How do you think this local lens impacted the panel’s conversation and priorities?
Brittany: This idea of the local lens connects directly back to representation and why it is important. As someone who was born and raised in Jamaica/Southeast, Queens, I know what my community experiences. I know what my community will respond to. I know what my community will come out to see because they will see themselves in it. Not everything will resonate with everybody. With this in mind, me and my fellow panelists were pretty much always on the same page. Our first question was, will our community connect to this topic? If they did, our next question was, was our community being represented in the applicants’ narrative? This guided us rather smoothly through the process. And to clarify, although Jamaica/SEQ is made up of predominantly Black & Brown families, we were not looking strictly at color. We were considering experiences and what we want the children of our community to be exposed to in order for the important conversations to be continued.
QCA: Part of the mission of ACP is to democratize who can become a “gatekeeper” in the arts, a role traditionally reserved for the privileged few. How does expanding who can become an arts patron change the type of art being created?
Brittany: It wasn’t until very recently I started hearing people use the word “gatekeeper” as a way to describe those who choose what gains mass support and what doesn’t. I don’t consider myself a gatekeeper; far from it. This process of democratization isn’t about passing the gate keys; it’s about leveling the playing field. I may be an art producer/patron but that doesn’t make me any less of an artist. With this in mind I’m already on the same page as the artists I am helping to fund. I’m not above them, and I’m not below them. Therefore there is no privileged bias or decisions driven by envy. I’m there in the trenches with them. I also believe that because I am a working artist, I have a pulse to culture that the privileged few do no possess which changes the type of art that is being funded. It won’t always be safe and fluffy because the reality of my community is not always safe and fluffy. Artists and entrepreneurs as art patrons make for realistic work being funded. Parents and teachers as arts patrons make for holistic work being funded. It’s time to change up who we have in the room.
QCA: As an artist, arts administrator, and emerging arts patron, how do you want to foster a more inclusive creative sector?
Brittany: In my work as an artist, arts administrators and emerging arts patron, I have learned a valuable lesson about change. It’s not going to happen overnight, over a decade or quite possibly over a lifetime. It will be messy, and possibly get much worse before a glimmer of light. With this in mind I like operating from a place of acquiring more knowledge for myself that I can eventually share with others. An inclusive creative sector starts with having knowledge for myself. I would like to foster this type of environment by creating spaces for learning and sharing. It is hard to create spaces of inclusivity if you don’t understand people's experiences.