Arts administrator Adriane Jefferson is a fierce advocate for financial equity in the arts, and she believes in giving artists the resources they need to incite radical change.
Adriane Jefferson, director of the Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs for the City of New Haven, has made it her mission to advocate for young BIPOC artists and fight for financial equity in the arts in America.
“It is part of my job to ensure that we have a healthy arts eco-system where all people can thrive,” Jefferson said. “BIPOC people do not often receive equitable and just access to the arts and to other industries in general, and it is my job to do everything in my power to even the playing field. I believe that when all people are not thriving or have opportunities to build sustainable lives, then our entire ecosystem fails.”
Jefferson feels doubly responsible in her role as arts administrator because she sees the government as having played a foundational role in creating these inequalities.
“It is our job as public servants in government to reconcile the wrongs through accountability, truth telling, and healing with our community,” she said.
In May, 2022, Jefferson was awarded the American Express Emerging Leader Award at the Americans for the Arts’ Annual Convention for her many initiatives that encourage cultural equity. She founded the Core Race Equity Task Force in New Haven, the Arts for Anti-Racism Pledge, and the Unapologetically Radical Conference, a program she is especially proud of.
“This conference not only equips our audience to do work within their communities, but it also pays dozens of panelists and artists to be part of the event,” Jefferson said. “During our panel sessions, we work with hip hop artists, community organizers, social justice activists, and other cultural bearers to develop solutions around anti-gentrification, buying back our blocks, community civics, and critical race theory. This is truly a direct example of cultural equity in action.”
Supporting young artists in America
Central to Jefferson’s role as an arts administrator is supporting young artists. Among the resources young artists need to thrive, Jefferson listed professional development opportunities, access to mentorships, information on grant writing, networking opportunities, and infrastructural support to create and market their work.
When it comes to what government can do to better support the arts in America, Jefferson believes that greater financial investment is crucial.
“Our legislators need to become aware of more arts advocacy issues and policies that are being pushed so that they can understand the significant and overwhelming return on investment that cities and towns receive when you invest substantially in the arts,” she said. “When you couple advocacy with cultural equity, then we are ensuring equitable arts and cultural landscapes that center artists of color and other marginalized groups.”
Jefferson also argues that the arts need to be more integrated with other government sectors, including healthcare and economic development. “BIPOC artists need to have seats at the table with these sectors in order to use the arts as a conduit for change.”
Jefferson sees a natural relationship between arts administration and community organizing when seen through the lens of cultural equity. “Cultural equity is not just about those from under resourced communities having access to the benefits that the arts provide,” Jefferson said. “Cultural equity is about people from under-resourced communities having access to all benefits needed in order to have healthy sustainable lives.”
The arts are not exempt from that conversation. “What we are addressing are social issues and injustices that have plagued the black community for hundreds of years,” she said. “The arts play an intersecting and important role in moving the needle forward. The arts can literally be used as a tool for radical change.”