In a world that consistently tries to erase women of color in all aspects of society, representation matters.
Desiring to overcome a chronic void of women of color in the artistic realm, Amanda Figueroa, 28, a Ph.D. candidate in American studies at Harvard University and and Ravon Ruffin, 27, a Social Engagement Producer at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC), are revolutionizing how women of color artists and professionals are represented in the museum field with their organization and consulting agency, Brown Girls Museum Blog (BGMB).
Photo: Ravon Ruffin (Left) and Amanda Figueroa (Right)Coe Sweet
Although BGMB is only three years old, the organization has quickly become a go-to scholarly, professional, and community hub for the artistic curiosities, liberatory messages, progressive imaginations and praxis, and feminist entanglements of women of color artists across borders and boundaries.
Radically intentional about the power of art and community, Amanda and Ravon are truly etching their marks in the museum world as two artistic powerhouses, who are ensuring that the diversity and dynamism of black, brown, and yellow hues are not forgotten in the field's historical white cishet-male dominated landscape.
Amanda Monroe Finn
Amanda told us, "In my mind, the biggest contribution in any arena is always resources, and so I think it's a void of material resources for women of color in these fields that we are trying to repair. The most important thing for me is to take the resources I have been given and funnel them back to my community."
Check out my interview with the two creatives and get to know more about BGMB, their perspectives on navigating the art and humanities fields as women of color, and their advice to women of color who want to start a business.
What was the inspiration that led to the creation of Brown Girls Museum Blog (BGMB)? In what ways is BGMB filling a much-needed void in the arts, culture, academic and humanities fields?
Amanda Monroe Finn
Amanda: I grew up in a predominantly Latinx community, but when I left for college, it was a very white space that I was entering. I was one of only a handful of Latina women throughout my higher education, and I kept noticing how often I had to explain things about Latinidad to other people. I realized how few opportunities there were that were specific to my experience or my goals. And when I realized these things weren't out there, I saw that I had to create them.
"I realized how few opportunities there were that were specific to my experience or my goals. And when I realized these things weren't out there, I saw that I had to create them."
Ravon: For me, it's similar to Amanda. I left my small town for college and grad school and hadn't thought much before that about the politics of representation. The first spark or moment for me was in college, seeing how the local black community in Richmond, Virginia, was so absent from the cultural institutions and that void just started me on the path of thinking about visibility. It became a natural path once I met Amanda to create something that centers our experiences as we both kept realizing that feeling never went away.
Why is it important that communities of color have safe spaces where they can support local artists but also catalyze collectivism and possibly activism?
Ravon: Long term, definitely to be a permanent fixture in the arts ecosystem of our communities, both cultural and local, and to provide avenues for artists of color and communities of color to see themselves in the art world. Art is approachable, and not far from them, whether in the streets or in galleries.
"This is important because it doesn't happen enough. When you take in enough images that negate your existence, it's violence. And we want to help put a stop to that."
Amanda: Ravon is completely right. Just like we talk about food deserts, we could also talk about art deserts, where people have little to no access to art in their local area and it has a real effect. Just like people need grocery stores and affordable rent, they need space for community organizing around community needs, and art spaces provide that. A lot of this comes down to money, finding another way for people to spend their money in the community so it stays in the community.
Ravon: This is our way of helping to remedy this cycle of exclusion.
As a thriving online platform and consulting agency, BGMB is a great example of an organization that can be created when there is a chronic void of inclusion in mainstream institutions. What advice would you give to women who want to create their own business?
Ravon: Stand firm in your idea, it came to you for a reason. Then, seek out resources––whether that's a mentor, or local business seminars. In the beginning, something I appreciated that Amanda and I did was take our time in figuring out who we were together in our business, and what our project was for ourselves. As people were excited about us, they would apply labels to the kind of work we do. It became so important that we had defined our work for ourselves so that we weren't restricted to the boxes others put around us. Even if that meant changing our website every week.
Amanda: Get a partner. I could not have done this by myself. Having each other to bounce ideas off of, keep each other accountable, and be supportive in a fledgling idea made all of this possible. I truly believe we work better together, in collaboration.
And then say "yes" as much as you can to opportunities, to new ideas, to changes in direction. Ravon and I were successful in part because we were willing to try out so many different things that came our way. We could do that because we had a clear idea ourselves of what we were, but we were willing to see how that could fit in with other people and their needs. Being flexible and having to do this work in a variety of settings really helped us to figure out what we were best at and what we most wanted to do.
For more information about Brown Girls Museum Blog, visit the website at http://www.browngirlsmuseumblog.com and you can follow the organization on Instagram at @brwngirlsmuseumblog and on Twitter at @2brwngirls.