A statement from the Society of Illustrators
The Society’s mission includes providing a platform to our global community to express through illustration the events and movements of our times. As an arts organization with a long history, we are a reflection of the past, present, and future.
We are committed to listening and learning, and acknowledge our own role in the history of exclusion. It is our responsibility to help raise the voices of the Black community and all of those who are oppressed.
We are dedicated to the principles of equity, access and inclusion of diverse populations in all of our organizational and business efforts. Our entire staff and Board of Directors stand united with our community to fight for justice and to create a safe, creative space for all to express themselves.
As an organization, we have taken strides to address these issues, but understand we have more work to do to put our words into definitive, anti-racist action.
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After sharing the above statement, we received valuable questions from members of our community. We are made better by community involvement. We appreciate the conversation and the questions that have been put forth.
The Society is a non-profit 501C-3 charity. Our mission is to support and promote the art of illustration through programming, exhibitions, and education. The revenue we receive from our competitions, membership, admission and events supports the general operating costs, which allows us to maintain a public Museum for hosting exhibitions and educational programming.
The Society of Illustrators acknowledges that there is a great imbalance of race in the illustration and comic industry. We have taken many steps and implemented programs to address this issue in a way that we hope will help bring change, while acknowledging that there is still work to be done.
Below is a breakdown of our current programs as well as new programs that will be implemented:
Do you have any Black employees?
Yes. One of our thirteen employees is Black.
What are these "strides" you're taking to address which "issues"? What are you doing right now to not just uplift but tangibly support Black artists?
The Society created the Drawing Academies for Youth in NYC in collaboration with NYC Parks 20 years ago, to reach youth ages 9-13 in underserved neighborhoods and expose them early on to careers in art. Students are transported from their rec center to the Society where they spend an entire morning creating art. They are provided with art supplies, then eat lunch in our 128 Bar & Bistro. Each of these free programs is offered twice yearly to 50 students, during school vacations and taught by accomplished illustration and comic art professionals. Ten years ago we expanded this program and created the Summer Illustration Art Academy, a month-long summer camp that serves 60 youth. Students travel to different cultural sites in NYC to learn drawing techniques on location. They are given a backpack filled with art supplies, and lunch is provided. The Society makes sure to include a diverse roster of teachers, an important aspect, so that the students may see working professional artists with similar backgrounds to them. Unfortunately, due to Covid 19, NYC Parks canceled their summer programs this year, so the Society is currently finding ways to reach the students. All artists who participate in these programs receive an honorarium.
In 2017 we created The Art Academy for Incarcerated Youth on Rikers Island, serving youth ages 18-21, with twice-weekly high-quality arts programming focused on visual storytelling taught in 2-hour sessions by professional illustrators, led by Executive Director, Anelle Miller. One of our goals in creating this program is to provide equitable art education opportunities that enable incarcerated youth to learn how to reflect, create, express, and develop empathy for themselves and others. Due to laws regulating the privacy of incarcerated youth, we are not permitted to provide many details. To participate as a teaching artist in this program, you must commit to yearly orientation sessions, be dedicated, patient, and professional. We have also donated comic and art books to the Rikers Island Prison Library through the distribution services of the Brooklyn Public Library for the young men and women to access. All artists who participate in this program receive an honorarium.
The Society has had many meetings and conversations in the past years on how our programming must include more Black voices. We have curated several exhibits to both raise awareness of Black storytellers and to educate the public about important Black cultural events, both historic and contemporary. Included in our current exhibit Women in Comics, we have featured Afua Richardson and Alitha Martinez who have recently been included in this list of 15 top Black comic artists; and Ebony Flowers, who has just been nominated for an Eisner Award. Past recent exhibits include Kadir Nelsons’ Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans; The Art of March: A Civil Rights Masterpiece; Shawn Martinbrough: Storyteller; American Patriots: The Tuskegee Airmen and the Harlem Hellfighters. Our lecture series has included panels addressing racism and bias including the lecture African American History is American History; Keith Knight: Red, White, Black and Blue; and Stories Matter Part I and Part II. We acknowledge that our programming needs to include more subjects on race and bias in the illustration and comics community, and we have begun the research to create a calendar of events for the upcoming year. This includes panels and virtual round tables led by top Black illustration and comic professionals, as well as panels led by scholars on social issues and racism.
The High School Career Exploration & Portfolio Building Workshops serve 200 students from NYC public schools in collaboration with both the School Art League and Exploring the Arts. Students are given presentations by the teaching artists, encouraged to ask questions, engage in small-group drawing assignments and critiques, and discuss their work with their teachers to learn how to build competitive portfolios for college applications. They are given art supplies, textbooks, and graphic novels to take home with them. The Society makes sure to include a diverse roster of teachers, an important aspect, so that the students may see working professional artists with similar backgrounds to them. All artists who participate in this program receive an honorarium.
The Society has participated in many outside community programs including the Art of Healing Festival hosted by The Thrive Collective, an event dedicated to healing gun violence trauma through the creative arts. Party on Park hosted by The New Harlem East Merchants Association, which delivers programs that put advocacy into action through collaborations with businesses, residents, and neighborhood organizations across East Harlem. The FIT Diversity Comic Con, an annual celebration of multiculturalism and acceptance of all colors, creeds, and genders in the sequential arts. At these events, we offer free interactive art projects, and give away art supplies, and books.
The Society currently runs four student scholarship programs: The Student Scholarship Competition, The Eisner Scholar, The Zankel Scholar, and the Joyce Kitchell Scholarship at San Diego State University. Funding for these scholarship programs are provided by generous private donors as well as family foundations and corporate donors. The awards provide financial assistance to college students from private and public colleges across the United States and Canada.
The Society offers free group admission and guided tours to our Museum for Title 1 schools to help meet the education needs of students living near or at poverty levels. We provide free goodie bags with graphic novels and/or comic books for further engagement at home.
The Society participates in Culture Pass, a program for cardholding patrons 13 and older of Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library and Queens Public Library. Using their library card, New Yorkers can reserve a pass and get free admission to dozens of NYC cultural institutions, including museums, historical societies, heritage centers, public gardens and more. In addition, we offer free admission for all on Tuesday evenings from 5-8pm.
The Society works with The Ink Well Foundation, an organization that provides free arts activities and art supplies to children facing illness or challenges like foster care, abuse, and neglect. We most recently worked with children in foster care to provide them with free access to the museum, an artist lead workshop, lunch, and goodie bags which included a sketchbook, pencil set, and graphic novel.
We are currently in the process of releasing the Call for Entries for The Original Art competition, now in its 40th year, which celebrates the fine art of children’s books. While this year’s competition will be judged remotely for the first time, we are still asking for book donations. The children’s books will continue to be donated to New Alternatives for Children, in addition to the Brooklyn Book Bodega. We are doing the research to include programming for underserved students.
The Society acknowledges the lack of diversity in our competitions. To address this, we have made it a priority to make sure our juries include a diverse group of artists including race, gender, age, technique/genre their work represents, and profession. The Society has a strict rule about choosing jurors from all backgrounds, so that entries are discussed without prejudice. The diversity in our jurors benefits the end result of all juried competitions. Our competitions include the Student Scholarship, the Illustrators Annual, The Original Art, The Dilys Evans Founders Award, The MoCCA Arts Festival Awards of Excellence, and The Scholar Programs.
The Society acknowledges the lack of diversity in our Hall of Fame, which began in 1958. While the staff is not responsible for determining the recipients of the award, we do provide the committee with nominees, research and arguments. The nominating ballot includes Black illustrators and comic artists who are not widely known because of historical bias, but whose work should not be overlooked.
The Society acknowledges the lack of diversity in our Permanent Collection. The collection was developed during the 20th century. It is our goal to expand our collection with art created by diverse communities.
The Society acknowledges the lack of diversity on our Board of Directors. We have been taking steps to reach out to Black illustrators. We have not been successful as of yet but continue to pursue this and we are determined to make this happen.
What are you going to do about your annual pricing being prohibitively expensive to marginalized communities?
The Society is creating a scholarship program that aims to provide artists from marginalized communities a number of free entries into the annual illustration competition. Though we use the income these entries provide, we recognize that the cost per entry is not affordable to all. We are still working out the logistics of this program. Recipients will receive free access to all programming surrounding the competitions. The Society has already begun planning on how the Annual will work virtually, and what we can offer illustrators in place of the in-person networking that the receptions provide. The Society is in the process of organizing a package of virtual lectures, panels, workshops, meet n’ greets, artist demos, and galas surrounding the Illustrators Annual. All of this would be free for artists who receive these scholarships.
Due to the lockdown, the Society has lost all sources of revenue. The Illustrators Annual will be our most important fundraiser of the year. It is also a very important year in our history for visuals. We do not want to miss out on important images being represented in our book and gallery, and hope this will allow marginalized artists to participate in this program.
Does the Society of Illustrators as a whole agree that justice should be served for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the other countless taken by police brutality?
Yes. Our hearts are broken for the families of the victims, and for everyone in the Black community. Justice must be served.
Can you say clearly and without reservation that Black lives matter?
Yes, Black lives matter.
Do you acknowledge the structures in place that keep Black artists from thriving in illustration?
Yes, we acknowledge there are structures in place that keep Black artists from thriving in illustration and comics. Our goal in programming and hosting exhibitions is to not only give a voice to the Black community but to also educate and reach out to those with privilege who still may not be listening.
Do you commit to reaching Black communities by meeting them where they are?
Yes. We have taken steps and engaged with Black communities by meeting them where they are as indicated in some of our programs and will continually expand our reach as community events are presented to us.
To whom are you donating in response to this crisis?
Our staff has individually made donations that support the Black Lives Matter movement.
What are you doing internally to educate yourselves on the historical precedents that led our nation to where we are today?
The protests have provided a valuable education for our staff. We have been reading online conversations and following recommendations to learn about police brutality, racism, injustice, and privilege. We are educating ourselves through reading material, lectures, and even reading and watching video commentary on social media. We have already had a staff meeting to discuss this and have had countless internal conversations to discuss ways in which we can do better as individuals.
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