Iaritza Menjivar. Photo by Elias Williams.
Iaritza Menjivar. Photo by Elias Williams.

We satisfy “diversity requirements” by ignoring diversity

For the fifth interview in this series asking people active in the Boston-area arts scene about their thoughts on how to rebuild it after the pandemic, I talked to Iaritza Menjivar—a Somerville-based photographer (and Somerville Arts Council staffer) in her 20s whose work on her experience as a first-generation Salvadoran immigrant has received national attention. Check out the video of our full conversation below.

On what has gone before

Even before the pandemic, a huge problem with the arts has always been inclusion of people of color and outsiders. If you take a moment, think back on the days we would walk around galleries during a reception or lectures. Who do you remember? There is no accessibility to art and there is no inclusion. The main problem is that lack of “diversity” comes from more rooted issues: racism, discrimination, under-resourced communities, economic injustices, the list goes on. We, as a collective, are coming into these neighborhoods, taking their homes, taking their spaces aka what we call gentrification. We are pushing families away.

The cultural differences and languages barriers are two main reasons that make us turn our backs on people. But then we are scolded with the question, where is the diversity? Our time is so consumed that we fail to realize what is really important. We don’t care about actually addressing the issue; instead we make the excuses, “There are no artists of color,” or, “We don’t live in a diverse place.” We satisfy the “diversity requirements” by ignoring the question. Do we invest time to search outside of our circles? The effort is mutual, yes, but we must try harder.

On what is still to come

In looking into the future, I hope that we can be more assertive in our processes as artists and as arts organizations and spaces. Let’s push, let’s ask the questions, let’s talk about these problems. Providing the platforms and spaces for people of color to have these types of conversations is crucial. We need to be open to change. We need to allow ourselves to recognize that there is a problem and then push ourselves to make change. It isn’t about filling the requirements; it’s about genuinely making an effort to create a safe space for all artists.

DigBoston Interview with Iaritza Menjivar

Are you a Boston-area artist (musician, dancer, filmmaker, architect, etc. etc.) who has something to say about where the Boston-area art scene has been and where it’s going after the pandemic? Would you like to be interviewed for this series? Drop me a line at execeditor@digboston.com and throw your hat into the proverbial ring.

Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. He holds an MFA in visual arts and once had the privilege of being Iaritza’s professor.