Creativity is Leading the Way

Co-Author: Penelope Thomas

We live in NYC—so often the center of so many things; we certainly have been during this epic year of pandemic and revolution. For almost three months, we tried our best not to leave our homes, and now almost every time we do (to walk the dog, buy some milk, or try to get a test), we walk into large groups who are protesting: on bicycles, on foot, in cars, with music, by chanting, and of course, with art. It is awe-inspiring, and remarkably creative.

Our Future Rests on How we Teach the Young,” by CHF Business Accelerator Fellow, Robin Holder
Our Future Rests on How we Teach the Young by CHF Business Accelerator Fellow, Robin Holder

In fact, the outpouring of artistic expression—and the visceral reaction that is driving the creation of new statements and the removal of old ones that are suddenly, FINALLY, no longer tolerable—is just incredible. Trump builds a wall around himself (too much irony to unpack here), and protesters not only make use of that wall, they make it beautiful with powerful declarations and symbols of love and hope and despair and determination. The mayor of Washington DC asserts the power of her office (in a Federal district that suffers taxation without representation) by commissioning eight artists to paint an entire street: “Black Lives Matter.”

Because of the way information flows to us through social media, we could make the mistake of thinking #BLM is a trend, when in fact, it’s a revolution a long time in coming. As well as the immediate issue at hand—the absence of the basic human right to fair, democratic judicial process and personal safety for Black Americans—systematic economic discrimination stemming from redlining policies has lead to a playing field that is steeply raked against entrepreneurs of color.

As a nonprofit that advocates for the success of artists’ businesses and validates their economic contributions, this is a serious issue. While we address the health and transparency of the art ecosystem, and create inclusive opportunities for artists from BIPOC communities, women, LGBTQ—from all quarters— to succeed, we’re continually called to better awareness, greater understanding of what our artists need, the obstacles they face, and the resiliency and strengths they bring. Artists give unique voice to struggle, change, and healing.

We’ve seen high-visibility work from speed artist Ange Hillz, who created a real-time portrait of George Floyd during his memorial service in Houston. Nikkolas Smith’s Floyd portrait has been shared widely by the leaders of Black Lives Matter movement and Michelle Obama. Illustrator Shirien Dewani’s work in memoriam of several recent lives lost, including her color-saturated image of EMT Breonna Taylor, surrounded by a wreath of flowers, have been shared and re-shared online as ways of remembering, processing, and activating awareness and empathy across the nation.

Professional muralists are creating new public work in major cities, major art websites are compiling lists of black-owned galleries to galvanize support. CHF Accelerator Fellow, Artist Robin Holder, was recently interviewed by Carolyn Edlund about her activism through art, and said: “Americans generally do not acknowledge the horrific violence in our history, nor do they realize the institutional inequities and racism and lack of distribution of resources in this country.”

An artist’s job is to lift up these stories and teach us, and we are listening. We’re listening to understand the truth of lived experience in systematic inequality. We’re also listening to learn how better to share our expertise to ensure these incredibly hardworking and forward-thinking creative voices continue to give us perspective and help us process this momentous time. We are excited at the possibility that we will seize its full potential to move through catharsis and forge lasting change.

We hope that art and artists will be allowed to lead the way during the next epic moments, that we will unleash the power of creative expression to make bold statements with new work to replace or contextualize the symbols of hatred, racism, war and the conquering of some over others. We want to see communities partner with artists to develop work that not only replaces confederate generals and conquistadors, but that celebrates the goals and tenets of our experiment in democracy in which each of us equal and valued, in which we are able to express ourselves creatively, with joy and without fear. Our mission is to help make this happen every way we can.

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Elizabeth Hulings
Elizabeth Hulings is the Executive Director of the Clark Hulings Foundation, and a principal of the business-strategy consulting firm Counterpoise, where she has worked with startups, nonprofits large and small, multi-national corporations, and sole proprietors--including artists of all stripes. Before launching Counterpoise in 2001, Elizabeth lived through five Fortune-500 mergers at the predecessors of Citigroup, Cendant, and Verizon Communications. She also honed her skills at several nonprofit organizations including the International Development Exchange, The Management Center/Opportunity Knocks, and Human Rights Watch.

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