This week's episode of Vibe Check welcomes guests Jeff Chang and Favianna Rodriguez of the Cultural New Deal. The organization serves as a call for each of us to transform our personal, institutional, and global thinking in the pursuit of cultural and racial justice.
Before diving into the meat and potatoes of the conversation, Jeff and Favianna provide us with some additional background on the Cultural New Deal. Talk then shifts to the artists and culture bearers of color, whose voices have been excluded from the arts and culture sector in the United States.
As the Cultural New Deal aims to revitalize arts and culture in the US, and center the voices of those previously unheard, the organization is providing steps on how to work towards racial reconciliation. This begins by thinking locally and giving people the tools to organize.
Throughout the episode, you will find out how to get involved with the Cultural New Deal and hear more on regaining communities by both organizing and promoting people of color. Press play above for valuable insights from Jeff and Favianna, and be sure to visit culturalnewdeal.com and culturalpower.org for more.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Noah: You two have done something really exciting. I really want to get into the cultural new deal, because I love what this represents, especially right now. If anyone needs a voice, it's black women, it's young black men, it's people of color. It's just people that obviously, feel voiceless, and in a time when it's so important to speak out, I love that this is happening. Could you guys talk about how this came to be?
Jeff: Sure. We came together, I think, as a group of folks who have been working together. Favi and I have known each other for a while and the other folks who have been involved in this, including Arts and Changing America, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, 'Sip Culture in Mississippi, and First Peoples Fund. We started having these conversations, just after COVID started, about the arts and culture sector and particularly about the work of artists and culture bearers. So what we came up with is a call for what we're calling a Cultural New Deal to sustain, to invest in, to support the builders of the imagination, the social imagination, and the folks who keep our cultures. So for those of us from communities of color, that's artists, that's the culture bearers.
Favianna: Yeah. And I would add also, what the pandemic has done is emphasize something we already knew, which is that culture is powerful. And the stories and narratives that shape our society also shape our politics. What the pandemic has revealed is that the narratives that have propped up the global economy in the past are falling apart. They're inadequate. The level of extraction and exploitation that is happening, the wealth inequality, has left many countries, but especially the USA, in a very vulnerable position, despite being the richest nation in the world.
We do not have the systems to care for people. Black, Brown and indigenous people are dying more than anyone. And we know that the opportunity to create the narratives that are going to help us usher in an equitable and just future are critical. And we shape those narratives. And that just like we can't go back to the systems of the past because those systems are not working for us. We also can't go back to the cultural infrastructure that has actually very much hardened us. It created the conditions that have left a lot of people of color, indigenous people, in very vulnerable states.
And, I think, whether it's on immigration policy, whether it's lack of investment in our health infrastructure, especially in indigenous communities, now, there're conversations about an economic recovery and those conversations carry over into the arts sector, we have to do it through a racial lens because otherwise we will be left out. And that was so clear. We saw that happen with PPP. How little Black and Brown businesses got from that, and how it was actually a transfer of wealth for white people, and really, the wealthiest. So we found it imperative to put out a call that was about a plan for relief that was also grounded in communities of color and impacted communities.
Noah: Beautiful. And so I know that this is something that's definitely been in the works for a long time. So, how much work went into it to finally get to this point to where you can now speak about it and spread the message?
Jeff: Well, we started thinking about it, I think, just after the pandemic started, but of course, the thing that really kicked it into high gear was seeing the uprisings in the wake of May 25th and the murder of George Floyd. And we had already been talking about this before that, but it took us some time to actually really get some clarity. And so what we arrived at is really just thinking, like the Green New Deal, for instance, is about trying to heal the earth. To try to get us to turn around these moments of this ongoing climate change that's leading to what we're seeing right now with these devastating fires and hurricanes. And at the same time, trying to do that by looking to the folks who are most effected and giving them jobs and a role to play in making that happen.
So the Cultural New Deal is just like that in some ways. We think that artists and culture bearers, particularly artists and culture bearers of color, have been voices that have been excluded from the way that arts and culture sector has been set up in the US. And at the same time, as Favi said, these are the folks who are carrying the narratives that will save us, that will get us to racial reconciliation, that will move us to the kind of country, kind of multiracial democracy that we really want to see. So the Cultural New Deal really is about bringing these ideas together, to look at being able to revitalize the arts and culture in our country, and to be able to center the voices of the people who have been excluded in order for us to be able to move towards making this country exactly what we want it to be.
Noah: And so, let's say, I'm listening, and I love what you're saying. How does one now spread this message, or become a part of it, or do you sign something, do you agree to something? Is it for companies?
Jeff: Yeah, well, people can go right now to culturalnewdeal.com and they can sign on to our letter. But really this is a tool for folks to be able to take back to their communities and to be able to use it to be able to organize folks, to be able to lift up artists of color, Black indigenous people of color, and to be able to talk to leaders of the arts and culture sector and say, "This is what we want. This is what we really need to be able to do in order to make our arts and cultural spaces in our cities, in our towns, in our communities the kind of thing that they need to be to help us to move towards racial reconciliation and the healing of the nation."
Favianna: Yes, that's correct. I really want to emphasize that this is a tool and also a document that has a tremendous amount of research. So for example, people of color run organizations in the arts receive less than half a cent on the dollar of nonprofit funds. So our communities are severely divested in it. And in this moment where we are recognizing that the pandemic, the economic crisis, the climate crisis and systemic racism are all intersecting to impact communities of color. As artists and culture makers we have to have the tools, the data, and the demands to be able to take back to our communities. And I really want to stress the importance of getting organized, because as we are seeing here on the West coast, now that the climate crisis is so clearly visible to us, and undeniable, we have something to lean on, which is the Green New Deal that is a framework. It's not necessarily the only solution, but it's a framework that we can hold candidates accountable to.
And this is what Naomi Klein talks about is that, in moments of chaos, we have to come with a plan, or we have to come with a vision. And that's what the Cultural New Deal is. It's a plan, a vision, a set of approaches that ensure that we're also including everyone. That we're thinking through a point of view that is intersectional, that includes the planet, that includes all people who have been marginalized, that is inclusive, for example, of all genders. That we're really trying to expand and lean on our values of being an inclusive community. And we are calling on white allies and white institutions to do better, but that has to be done in a way where we can measure it and we can see it. And so the Cultural New Deal is a tool that you all can take back to your communities, your organizations, your cities, your states, and use it as a template around organizing for resources, because representation is not enough. We really need resources, capital, that we can invest in our communities.