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City Council approved an “equity in the arts” grant awarding $25,000 to Mudlark Theater “to hire additional administrative staff.” The new staff member must “belong to a minority class as defined by the EEOC.”
The measure did not pass without controversy. “Why are we giving a half-million-dollar organization $25,000? If Mudlark wants to increase diversity, shouldn’t they just do it? Why do they need our money?” asked Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward.
“Even though it often seems” an arts organization has budget capacity to do things, “budgets are tight,” said the City’s Cultural Arts Coordinator Jennifer Lasik. “To really bring equity, it has to be top down, not bottom up.” She said Mudlark was selected in part because of its budget and capacity. A larger organization will likely keep the person hired. “After one year they’re not going to let this person go,” she said, though whether they will seek additional funding from the City remains to be seen.
“I share some of the same concerns as Ald. Suffredin,” said Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward. “I don’t think it is the role of the City to pay for this… they should think of [equity in the arts] even if we don’t give them money…. I don’t think we want to be in the business of paying for staffing.”
“What did we do to consider this grant opportunity for minority theater companies,” asked Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward.
“A theater company that is a black theater company does not struggle with diversity,” said Ms. Lasik. “They are diverse.” The program is designed to “bring together different minds,” she said. The program hopes to get inside existing organizations and introduce elements of diversity. “The goal is the arts should be leading the way to thinking divergently.” The grant should “help them support their own goals.”
“We’re looking to get people of a specific series of skill sets and get them into management roles,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward. The program has already been established, voted on, and put into place. “I think we should go ahead and proceed,” he said.
“Here’s the point for me: equity,” said Ald. Fleming. “That doesn’t mean we have to do that by giving money to white-led groups to hire people of color. … I am going to push back here.” The City should not pay so a theater company “can have someone black there.”
“If at the end of this year we have only succeeded in bringing a black [employee] into a company, the pilot has failed,” said Ms. Lasik. The goal is broader – to bring new voices into the arts community and have those voices change the arts in Evanston.
The measure passed 7-2, with Alds. Suffredin and Fleming voting “No.”