Another death at the hands of the police. We mourn with the family of George Floyd, for Minneapolis and for ourselves. We cannot put out our usual newsletter and pretend that all is well.
Like many of you, over the last week, our Board and staff have been participating in community cleanups around the Twin Cities, donating to local organizations, and raising our voices in protest. For those wondering, our physical space has been unaffected. But we, as Minnesotans, as humans, have been damaged.
For years, Minnesota has consistently rated among the top states in the U.S. for quality of life. If you are white. If you are not white, Minnesota has ranked towards the very bottom with large disparities in education, health, housing, and criminal justice.
The stories about the racial disparity in policing in Minnesota are real. Here’s one I can share from my own experience: My black, then-teenage, son comes home late. When I confront him, he tells me, “Mom, I got stopped by the police and they searched my car.” I say, proud of our Constitution and the rights it protects, “You do not have to give permission to let them search the car. Let them get a warrant.” My son looks at me in disbelief, and says, “Mom, who has the gun?”
Let me share what other Twin Cities arts leaders are saying: “Justice doesn’t come from one person pushing against a system, or one group making noise. It comes from the mighty confluence of many streams all rushing forward to say, enough. No more. Not on my watch.” Sarah Bellamy, Artistic Director of the Penumbra Theater (as quoted in MinnPost).
At WGM, we know that weaving and spinning are fundamental to the human experience. Fiber connects us all. Yet, as an organization, we must recognize the disparities in our own system. Our educational programming today does not reflect the diverse weaving, spinning, and dyeing practices used around the globe and practiced by makers here in Minnesota. Our membership does not reflect the racial diversity of our State. We can do better, and we must.
We’ve taken small steps. In 2019, with the help of a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC), a small group of WGM leaders met with a facilitator to begin talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. That same year, we formed a standing committee to continue those conversations.
From that moment, WGM has centered our requests to funders, such as the Minnesota State Arts Board, around a critical need: To broaden our representation of global fiber arts traditions to better reflect and represent the variety of weaving, spinning, and dyeing practices used around the world and in Minnesota. This means developing new programs, obtaining equipment, and seeking out new faculty and speakers to add to our current constellation of resources. It means deepening existing member-led relationships with the Karen Organization of Minnesota and Sub-Saharan African Youth and Family Services Minnesota, and initiating new partnerships. It also means securing member support for these efforts.
As individuals, we are often empty of ideas as to how to address race and, as organizations, we are good at making lofty statements of solidarity and support. We can do better, and we must.
What can you and I and WGM do at this time in Minnesota to change things for the better? We can educate ourselves. We can acknowledge that we need each other, more now than ever before. We can ask, “What can I do to help?” We can listen to the answer with respect and, then, do what we can do without imposing our own “better” ideas. We can let others lead.
As an organization, we know we don’t have the answers. But we are ready to listen and to change. We hope you take this journey with us.
Celeste Pulju Grant, Board President, on behalf of the WGM Board of Directors