Feb 1, 2018 – The Call - Dameun Strange

We Are The Change

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” -Barack Obama

In September 2017, I received a call from my good friend at the McKnight Foundation, Vickie Benson. She informed me the foundation selected Seitu Jones as its 2017 Distinguished Artist. Seitu was just the second black person to receive the honor, and he requested the McKnight Foundation commission me to compose a piece of music to be performed at the celebration. Considering how much Seitu has meant to me (and many of my creative collaborators and community organizers) as a mentor, inspiration and neighbor, I was elated. As I began to build the concept for the piece, I knew I wanted to include Seitu’s distinct sounding voice. To do that I wanted to interview him, record the interview and then use sections of it as samples to be triggered during the piece. On a Sunday afternoon in late October, I visited Seitu at his beautiful Frogtown storefront where he lives and works. We had a wonderful conversation about art, building healthy communities and how to inspire and support the next generation of creative minds.

When NEMAA hired me, one of the first people who reached out to offer his counsel was Seitu Jones. In his example, I have sought to find ways to use art as a way to bring community together. Now as the executive director at NEMAA, I can focus resources on making sure the next generation of creative minds have the tools and the support they need to make their dreams come true.

As NEMAA evaluates its own values around equity and inclusion, I am happy to be a part of another leadership team going through a similar process. I have been honored to serve on the Minneapolis Arts Commission for one year this month, and at the end of 2017 I was elected to the executive committee of the Minneapolis Arts Commission. It’s important for me to be in this position at a time when the commission evaluates access and equity in its practices. It is something I have a fair bit of experience with. While I was at the Bush Foundation, I was part of the Race And Equity Funders Collaborative, a committee that looked at equitable practices in arts funding. Other representatives included people from Target, the McKnight Foundation, The Jerome Foundation, the Saint Paul Foundation and more who were inspired by the work started at the national level by Grantmakers for the Arts. Many public arts institutions (see the search for the executive director of the Metro Regional Arts Council) and arts funders have invested in evaluating their practices; in turn, a number of arts organizations both big and small have done some reflection. This work is a huge part of my life passion. In finding the soul of the community, I seek to help establish a more just community.

I know that if we want an inclusive community that provides access in an equitable way, I can’t wait for someone else to make that change. I have to be a part of that change, and whenever possible lead that change. NEMAA has to be a part of that change, too. We may be a little late to the table in making these adjustments, but that doesn’t mean we cannot lead. Therefore, it is with intention that we at NEMAA invest in building an equitable community, inviting more to join us at the table.

Happy Black History Month!

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