Gayle Isa

What NPN has meant to me…

Most people who know me well know that I dislike writing almost as much as I dislike public speaking. But my loyalty to NPN surpasses both of those hurdles.

NPN has been formative in my career. I was first introduced to NPN at the Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in 1993, when I was a recent college graduate and intern at the Painted Bride Art Center. I remember the spirited debate about equitable partnerships — between artists and institutions, and between people of color and the white majority who ringed the giant square of tables in the hotel ballroom. It was as exciting as it was intimidating.

It’s a true case study for the field to witness how much has changed since that time. In large part, I credit the change to the People of Color Caucus, which back then had resources through S.U.R.F.F. (Special Underwriting, Research and Frontier Fund) to convene as a smaller group in addition to the Annual Meeting each year. The caucus meetings made it easier for some of us new to the Network to understand the intricacies of NPN and to feel more familiar with friendly faces. I was fortunate to have Dianne Pledger (of St Joseph’s Historic Foundation in Durham) assigned as my “buddy” to assist in the Caucus’ efforts to increase retention of individuals and organizations of color within NPN. More recently, at a People of Color dinner meeting, I heard Dianne proclaim, “We aren’t a Caucus of NPN anymore. We are NPN.” And she is right — the demographics of the artists, the board members, the attendees at the Annual Meeting have grown to reflect the diversity of the cultures that we represent in the U.S.

I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities to grow with NPN over the years — first as a participant in the People of Color Caucus, then when Asian Arts Initiative was accepted as an NPN Partner organization, and most recently as a member of the Board. NPN is the primary forum where I have been able to learn about cultural policy, and the primary forum that has allowed me to feel like I have a voice at the table.

NPN has also been formative in my friendships. It has been the place where I have been honored to meet artists and colleagues from around the country, to form lasting relationships with (as Tamara Alvarado has described it) “that strange intimacy that you can have with people you only see once or twice a year,” and to pursue some amazing artistic projects together!

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