Oakland-based artist Sofía Córdova’s A Body Reorganized is the fourth and last installment of the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Sanctuary City-themed Art on Market Street Poster Series. (Courtesy SF Arts Commission)

SF Arts Commission to adopt plan to address racial inequity

The San Francisco Arts Commission will vote Monday on a racial equity statement that would commit the agency to addressing inequality as part of a citywide effort to eliminate disparities for people of color.

The Arts Commission, along with other city departments, is rolling out new strategies to increase racial equity at a time when City Hall has seen a number of racially-charged debates.

In 2017, funding for job-training programs was called into question as San Francisco led the nation with the worst disparity for black unemployment, despite an overall low unemployment rate. Most recently, SEIU 1021, the city’s largest public employee union, called attention to racism in government employment practices.

The Arts Commission’s “racial equity statement” was developed by Dr. Anh Thang Dao-Shah, the Arts Commission’s senior racial equity and policy analyst, a position created last year.

The statement reads in part: “We commit to addressing the systemic inequities within our agency, the City and County of San Francisco and the broader arts and culture sector. This work requires that we focus on race as we confront inequities of the past, reveal inequities of the present and develop effective strategies to move all of us towards an equitable future.”

The commission will also vote on a plan to “implement demographic survey across agency for grantees, artists and suppliers,” “establish racial equity as a key lens for evaluation of artists to receive commissions, grants and exhibition opportunities,” and “establish annual racial equity outcomes for each program and for the whole agency.”

Tom DeCaigny, director of cultural affairs for the Arts Commission, said the effort builds on work going back to 1996 when the commission created a Cultural Equity Endowment Fund, which provides grants to artists of color.

“We’re thrilled to be doubling down on our race, culture and equity work,” DeCaigny said, adding that the statement is “making it more explicit and making it more public.”

The Human Rights Commission is coordinating a racial equity effort among all city departments after San Francisco in 2017 joined the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a racial justice group.

Sheryl Evans Davis, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, said she expects all city departments to adopt such statements within two years.

“We’re very excited to see departments like the Arts Commission make a commitment,” Davis said. She added that the “next part is the real world applications” that go “beyond the statements.”

Mayor London Breed has also emphasized equity by telling city departments to submit budget proposals in February that “seek to attain equitable outcomes across the City, focusing on communities most impacted by economic and social inequities.”

The HRC is also enrolling city employees in 12-month racial equity training. To date, more than 50 city employees who work in transit, housing, law enforcement and other fields have undergone the training to “institutionalize racial equity within their departments,” according to the city’s Five-Year Financial Plan released Friday.

The plan said that HRC also “advises departments on how to account for and address potential racial inequities perpetuated by department decisions, resource allocations, and policies.”

Racial equity is “closing the gaps so that race does not predict one’s success while also improving outcomes for all,” Dao-Shah told a Arts Commission’s Executive Committee last month. “Why, in the face of so many forms of marginalization, do we lead with race? It’s because racial inequities are deep and pervasive.”

Dao-Shah said that by focusing on racial equities they can broadly address marginalized communities.

“When we analyze the effects of all the forms of oppression — whether we talk about sexism, classicism, ageism, homophobia — when we disintegrated the data by race we find that within each form of oppression people of color fare the worst,” Dao-Shah said. “For example, if we look at the rate of violence perpetrated against people in the trans community here in San Francisco we are going to see that trans women of color are the most likely to be targeted with physical violence.”

The data shows, for instance that the average black resident in San Francisco lives 10 years less than white residents; that in 2016 74.9 percent of Latino students and 71.1 percent of black students graduated from the San Francisco Unified School District compared to 94.7 percent of the Asian students and 83.8 percent of the white students, and that 53 percent of inmates in San Francisco County Jails are black even thought black people comprise just 5 percent of the population.

Dao-Shah added, “As government workers we have a responsibility to advance racial equity.”


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