Photo by Hannah Pomante

Here we are: the final saga of my Art and Sustainability Series. And quite frankly, the topic I’ve been most intimidated to discuss. So, I’ll begin with a disclaimer. Like many, when it comes to the topic of accessibility, I have a long way to go in my learning. Heck, it was just last week I discovered the term “cultural humility.” My co-worker mentioned it when discussing a list of interview questions, and in the moment, I realized I would have completely bombed the question. As a result, I’m intimidated to write on this particular topic. My fear is rooted in vulnerability—because by sharing, I will shed light on the areas of my own ignorance. Yet, despite these fears, I believe this is an important conversation to have—no matter where you are at in your learning. Plus, I don’t think I’m alone in how I feel when approaching a difficult conversation—we desire understanding yet fear making mistakes. The irony is, we’ll never overcome our own ignorance if we don’t try. So, here I go. I’m going to try my best in addressing the topic of accessibility within sustainability and the arts. By doing so, my hope is to foster more awareness, understanding and inclusivity within this specific sector.

Part 5: Developing Awareness

Within the niche of art and sustainability, not surprisingly, we are in a territory commonly dominated by a specific group of people—a group which has the time, financial and social freedom to accomplish such a task as sustainable art. Not always the case, yet common. We promote sustainability, yet it often only targets developed urban areas and neglects disadvantaged sub-populations. Then, there are of course indigenous people of all nations, who have been living harmoniously with our land for centuries, yet frequently forgotten in the discussion. Plus, there is the issue of underrepresentation in galleries and museums. In fact, as of last year, over 85% of artists featured in permanent collections were white and male, and the data only becomes more disheartening as it’s examined more closely. These are just a few of many examples of how exclusivity comes into play within both arts and sustainability. It’s also why I am hesitant to present ideas revolving around sustainability as an easy or effortless endeavor, because I know that’s not the case for many. When it comes to the environment, we often forget those who don’t fit our dominant demographic, which ironically, the repercussions of environmental consequences affect the most.

This brings me to the slight detour called intersectionality. More specifically, intersectional environmentalism, which is the idea you cannot separate people from the environment. The two are interconnected, and as result, must be treated as such. Plus, when you add the artworld into the mix, the complexities become amplified. I won’t dive deeper into the subject myself because 1.) it would make this article way too long and 2.) there are those better informed and educated to speak on the topic. However, if you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend this easy read: Intersectional Environmentalism: A Crash Course. The point is, the issues we often face today are complex and overlapping, making it easy to neglect certain areas.

So, if I’m not going to speak on intersectionality, what’s the purpose of this post? My goal is simply to provide a reminder. A reminder we all come from a diversity of backgrounds, and as a result, need to encourage an awareness of how this affects participation. One way to do this is to be open and willing to have conversations on difficult topics, such as exclusivity and hearing the experiences of others. Another is to share more accessible practices. It’s the reason I share so many “upcycling” art projects—so more people are able to do it. No matter the resources, I want both kids and adults to have the opportunity to make art. Most importantly, I want to add this: our journey within art and sustainability is an individual one. As a result, it strongly shapes our experiences and expectations, making it hard to recognize exclusivity at times. Yet, just because you’re not experiencing it yourself, doesn’t dismantle its existence. So, if you want to help alleviate the issue, be considerate of others and where they are at. Recognize areas of improvement in yourself. And last but not least, take the time to truly listen to others. The first step in fostering inclusivity is by hearing the needs of those around you.

Now, I want to continue this conversation. Yet, since I’m still in the beginning of my own understanding of the topic of accessibility, I’d like to share a few resources from those in a better position to speak on the subject. I believe you’ll find them of more value rather than me continuing the dialogue myself. Plus, the purpose is to include other voices and listen—not always voice my own. So, here it is. Some resources for those who want to dive deeper in their learning. I hope you find it as beneficial as I did.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the Spokane Art School Artist-in-Residence, and not necessarily to the Spokane Art School.