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A community-led forum aims to address disparities among opportunities for artists of color

Community organizer and artist Yolantha Harrison-Pace addresses the forum, joined by fellow hosts and artists (from right to left) Soreyda Benedit-Begley and Bryce Oquaye.
Clay Wallace
Community organizer and artist Yolantha Harrison-Pace addresses the forum, joined by fellow hosts and artists (from right to left) Soreyda Benedit-Begley and Bryce Oquaye.

The Lexington Community Arts & Culture Forum lays out "baby steps" of equity, accessibility, and sustainability.

Last week, a Facebook post by LexArts received attention after announcing the selection of 13 artists who would create work to decorate Commerce Lexington’s newly renovated office space. All thirteen artists were white – and forum organizers say it’s not the first time artists of color have found themselves facing a lack of support and resources.

Soreyda Benedit-Begley is a local fashion designer and one of the hosts of the Lexington Community Arts & Culture Forum, which was attended by over 70 community members.

"There's a lot of creatives here from many different backgrounds, with different ideas and different perspectives, and they need to be celebrated," said Begley. "That's what this is all about, [...] providing the opportunity for everyone to have a chance, for their work to be seen."

During the public forum, artists of color talked about the obstacles they often face in accessing resources provided by institutions promoting art.

Tosha Sun, a local poet and visual artist, says, even when resources are available, there’s a communications gap between the organizations offering them and marginalized artists.

"Maybe some people can just come up and ask you for money and have a meeting with you," said Sun, addressing LexArts board members at the meeting, "But I'm never in the same space as you are. I have no idea who you are."

Sun is part of Levee Collective, an artist community supporting women and femme-aligned creatives. She says collectives like these know how to reach people outside the orbit of mainstream – and, often, white-led - cultural institutions. Sun believes, if such institutions want to support marginalized artists, they should partner with and fund existing networks of support.

"If you give that to us, there are people in this room who will do something with it, because we know how to do something with no money."

Begley says the first step in making sure people are resourced is being aware of who is actually being reached by initiatives supporting artists.

"That can be looked at through data," said Begley. "You can put in the applications demographics and how [artists] identify; that way, you can have that information to utilize to decide whether or not you're reaching everybody. It doesn't mean that you're going to have to forcibly select one of each group, but at least you know that people are participating. They're being engaged with what you're doing."

Current programs supporting marginalized artists mentioned at the forum include LexArts' Arts Equity Grants and the Kentucky Black Writers Collaborative at the Carnegie Center, which offers free classes to any Black Kentuckian. Another initiative, Project Ricochet's Urban Art Collective, actively recruits and showcases artists from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds; their "The Crown" Exhibition is currently featured at the WUKY Gallery.

Additionally, Begley says she's part of an effort to build a registry of local marginalized artists in order to amplify and support their work.