IDEA Grants: Creating More Equitable Workplaces and Accessible Services throughout Southern Arizona

Initiative IDEA Grants: Creating More Equitable Workplaces and Accessible Services throughout Southern Arizona
Grantee Partner The Drawing Studio

The Drawing Studio’s (TDS) mission is “to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to embrace art practice as a pathway to personal growth and healthy community.” The realization of this mission is being advanced through the R.E.A.D.I. initiative which was launched in 2019. R.E.A.D.I. stands for Race, Equity, Access, Diversity, and Inclusion.

Executive Director Emiel Brott recruited Anton Russell to become Program Director in 2020, realizing that inclusive hiring was a first step for change. The strategic plan of TDS was clear about pursuing diversity, but at that time the Board and staff did not know how to go about it. “We’ve evolved our business model from being primarily funded by earned revenue from classes,” said Emiel. “We had to think more expansively about funding partnerships, and what are the kinds of entities that would be interested in helping to develop the vision that we have of being a truly inclusive community art center that is growing all the time.”

The David and Lura Lovell Foundation made it possible for TDS to recruit and pay art instructors who were already serving marginalized communities. Anton said, “These teaching artists had a fundamental problem–they needed to be paid for the work they were doing. But they had a community-based model that was not set up to pay them. The Drawing Studio was able to use the Lovell Foundation funding to build out that infrastructure. And now, through those partnerships with artists, not only have we been able to pay them directly, but we’ve also been able to show them a model for how they can use the same vehicles, including grant writing and identifying donors. This is a huge way for us to address equity for teaching art throughout the community.”

By paying these new teaching artists, TDS provides art accessibility for all. People were previously excluded from fee-based programs as they had existed. There is no barrier to access to the programs provided by the new teaching artists–the classes are free, encouraging all people to practice with us.

Emiel talked about the challenges as the R.E.A.D. I. program was implemented: “One of our goals is to try to have more integration between our long-standing students and R.E.A.D.I. students, including women of color, recent immigrants, Spanish speakers, and those who are LGBTQIA. The culture of TDS has generally been heterosexual, cisgender, professional white women with sufficient income for the classes.” Emiel continued, “We cherish our long-standing students. We are simply broadening the tent now while walking together, reflecting on blind spots, naming implicit bias, and defining our shared work. I think everyone who is here has the right heart.” The aim of TDS is to listen, learn, and grow together, celebrating diverse backgrounds rather than emphasizing separation. Creative expression is a gift to connect different minds and perspectives.

As just one example of his own blind spots, Anton talked about this growth opportunity: “We had been showcasing that only able-bodied people can have access to or make art. That was an obstacle to growth because there was no R.E.A.D. I. initiative in place to call those things forward as action steps. Now, there’s the opportunity for us to look at our entire budget and say we need a line item that will pay for interpreters. We now have a deaf student we brought into our community. This student was able to be a part of teaching us as a staff how TDS can be better. Being more accessible for people who are deaf is an exciting opportunity.”

In addition to increasing access, R.E.A.D.I. has challenged many conceptions of art, including the predominantly male, traditional Western European cannon. Emiel said, “There are so many ways to make and experience art across the globe – and we are exploring these together! TDS is creating a supportive community for everyone in their art practice so they can create the art they want and show up in a way that is authentic to them and helps our community thrive.”

Anton and Emiel are co-leaders of R.E.A.D.I., and the experience has led them to pursue a co-executive director model. They readily acknowledge they couldn’t have made the progress they have without each other. Emiel said, “we have seen that we’re leading the way in IDEA implementation; indeed, people are coming to us constantly asking for tips on how to do what they’re doing better and to learn from us. One of the lasting impacts of this funding is that The Drawing Studio can continue to be at the forefront of systemic change in the nonprofit sector.”