There is no denying that in the world of art and entertainment there is a glaring lack of diversity. Across all media there seems to be very few artists of color or of other minority groups to garner mainstream attention. Hollywood specifically has been criticized for years about this and still feels far from change. As for the small screen, diversity feels painfully forced sometimes. I personally wish there was more latino representation in Hollywood films and not just foreign pictures. It’s part of the reason films like Black Panther have been so successful. It’s not that people hate Iron Man, but it’s because they got something that was never before seen, a cool black superhero with their own good movie representing a unique culture. Now this doesn’t account for other forms of art like dance, painting or music to name a few. The question is why does it feel like there is still a weak amount of representation in art? And more importantly what can artists and people in general do to remedy that? This is one example of the many challenging conversations to happen at Park Avenue Armory. To be more specific it was within the education department of Park Avenue. Everyone in the discussion agreed that this was something that we really wanted to address. And most of the people who made their voices heard were part of the focal point of the education department called the Youth Corps.
Youth Corps is an internship that takes students from several schools across the city and allows them to explore all types of art as well as make some of their own. Most students in WHSAD should know some members of Park Avenue. Before the schools closed Vickie Tanner and Neil Tyrone Pritchard, two teaching artists from Park Ave, had just started working with sophomores to teach them about Shakespearian language but with the fun twist of being able to use it to improvise a scene with classmates about a single word. The reason why I bring up the Youth Corps and The Armory is because to me they are a solution for more representation. As somebody who works in the Youth Corps I noticed how it promotes diversity in art by showing people that everyone is an artist regardless of who you are or where you’re from. The Youth Corps always has people from all walks of life. It is a perfect representation of New York’s melting pot of culture. People from different countries and neighborhoods create an experience like no other. Yet quite possibly the best thing about Youth Corps and the Armory as a whole, is the way it encourages people to express themselves through art and do things they wouldn’t have the courage to do otherwise. I know speaking from my own experience how the program really helped me develop my confidence as an artist.
Art is something I knew I loved, but growing up it almost felt taboo to say that. You just didn’t fit in with everybody else on the block if you considered yourself an “artist”, unless you played an instrument. I felt I would be looked at differently. And when speaking with other people at my job, it was surprising to hear several others share that same feeling. When I came to Park Ave ,it almost turned me away to see all these people just being themselves. Over time though it allowed me to be more of who I wanted to be rather than who I was taught to be. There lies a reason as to why we don’t have as much representation as we should and why art education is important for young people. One of the reasons my mother has supported this job more than any other I’ve had is it gives me a space to create and learn about things I want to learn about. She herself was a very talented artist who was discouraged by her family and situation to pursue music, which is something that she regrets to this day. But that’s what makes the Armory important to me. That it gave me and others a place to be themselves without judgement from their family, school, or neighborhood. And that is part of the solution for more diversity. Giving the next generation of creators the confidence to express themselves and understand that the best thing about art is how it gets you to not only understand others’ experiences, but to reflect on your own. Since working at the Armory, my passion to create art has been re-sparked. And after seeing how art has helped me grow and make close friends, that’s the power I want to spread through my city and people.
But it’s not just through Youth Corps that Park Avenue promotes diversity. Much of the art showcased there is from artists from all backgrounds. For example in this season they planned a celebration of the anniversary of women’s suffrage in a two part event titled, “100 Years | 100 Women”, where female identifying artists across the city got to come in and share their work and experiences. Other productions are often helmed by artists from other countries. Two recent works were Drill, an art gallery By Hito Steyerl, a German born artist, and a retelling of Antigone by Japanese based creators from the Shizuoka Performing Arts Center. And the first production I ever saw at the armory, “The Head and the Load” was a story about the colonization of Africa during the first world war. A story which featured a mainly black cast, and boasted a beautiful representation of African culture.
The point I’m really trying to make is that when we have diversity in art, we gain exposure to things we may never have the chance to have experienced otherwise. And in my case what I have learned at the Armory not only inspired me to be a creator, but it also has made me a better person. And if that’s the impact art and kindness can have on me, imagine what it could do if more talented artists had that support and confidence. If people can see others who not only look like them but also share their experiences, expressing themselves more freely then maybe art wouldn’t be considered weird. And maybe less people would be discouraged from being themselves. Places like Park Avenue Armory are helping to fix some of these problems, whether it’s by letting smaller artists present their work to hundreds or by letting a group of students convey their views through art. Park Avenue Armory is one of few places that makes the art world a little more diverse.