Don’t Drink the Koolaid: The Arts Education Council’s Response to Recent AFTA News

As members of the Arts Education Council of Americans for the Arts, we write today to thank Michelle Ramos and the Board of Performing Arts Alliance for setting the pulse in response to recent news of Bob Lynch’s retirement from Americans for the Arts. Ms. Ramos called explicit attention to AFTA’s lack of transparency in their failure to disclose findings from their recent investigation and their lack of field engagement throughout the process. We could not agree more with her statement that, “The arts field will not continue to drink the Kool-Aid AFTA is serving.”

A Koolaid packet adapted that says “Americans for the Arts Koolaid” which has Equity Artificial Sweetener, Gatekeeping Punch, and a Good Source of Racism.

This council publicly called for the resignations of Bob Lynch, Mara Walker, and Marc Ian Tobias in December 2020. More than six months after our calls for accountability, the public retirement of Mr. Lynch and the silent departures of Ms. Walker and Mr. Tobias are a first step to rebuilding the AFTA that this country’s arts and culture sector deserves, but it is only that: a first step. While we welcome the news that these senior leaders are no longer at the helm of Americans for the Arts, AFTA has much work yet to do to repair the harm caused — most directly to BIPOC-led arts and culture organizations — by decades of gatekeeping and resource-hoarding, spearheaded by their senior leadership.

In a statement amplified by countless artists and organizations across the country, such as the National Guild for Community Arts Education, the National Performance Network, and Grantmakers in the Arts, we called for transparency and accountability from AFTA, including in the hiring process for these three essential positions and in any external audit into allegations of AFTA’s workplace culture. We agree with our colleagues at the Performing Arts Alliance in saying that we were also disappointed to hear that there would not be a public, national search for Mr. Lynch’s replacement, and hope that Brig. Gen. Bivens spearheads a transparent and public process that will include soliciting member input so that senior operations positions will be filled with transformational community leaders who have proven their commitments to racial equity in the arts.

The time has come (and passed) in which it is clear that Americans for the Arts refuses to change and that reforming AFTA as an institution is simply not possible. The arts education field deserves a national lobbying and advocacy organization that is fully invested in advancing progressive values for this country’s artists, educators, families, and students. As we transform from an advisory council affiliated with and in service to AFTA into a national Progressive Arts Education Coalition working with leaders across the country to advance a more equitable arts education, creative economy, and cultural sector, we are formalizing plans to host an open national town hall, slated for National Arts in Education Week (September 12–18) to refine a set of values and a national agenda for the arts education field. We hope that you will join this coalition and sign up for our mailing list to be alerted when registration for this fall’s Town Hall goes live.

We look forward to what comes next.

Signed,

Members of the Progressive Arts Education Coalition: Ashraf Hasham, Alex Gartner, Ahava Silkey-Jones, Erika Atkins, Jenna Gabriel, Lauren Hess, Quanice Floyd, Rhoda Bernard

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