Forget Token Awards; Support Multiculturalism

RECEIVED Tue., June 5, 2007

Dear Editor,
    First of all, a big congratulations to Harold McMillan, director of the East Austin nonprofit DiverseArts. Monday night he was awarded a much-deserved achievement award – a seat in the Austin Arts Hall of Fame (ironically, at the Cap City Comedy Club). His legacy? Single-handedly struggling to preserve the black and multicultural arts community in Austin for the last 20 years. Very single-handedly. Or so it would seem at the recent affair.
    Facing a sea of mostly shiny white faces (with the occasional, but rare, ethnic variation), the critic who introduced McMillan rattled off an excited and nervously detached laundry list of festivals and accomplishments, underscoring the man's singularity and perseverance despite tragic fire and funding cuts. Yet … how odd that McMillan was the only inductee for whom the emcees had no personal anecdote to share, no convincing, heart-to-heart testimonial. Not to mention that there was at least one other prominent multicultural arts advocate in the room, Lisa Byrd. McMillan and Byrd are working on a coalition to project the landscape of the Austin arts community over the next 10 years.
    Still, the evening did little more than emphasize what seems to be the inevitable in the collective consciousness: East Austin, and Austin's multiculturalism in general, is dying. So let's tokenize it; let's give it a dusty resting place in the Austin Arts Hall of Fame.
    The other option is to reverse that mentality: Support the work that DiverseArts and ProArts and other organizations are doing around town and particularly in East Austin. Support them even if the city pulls out promised funding, even if carpetbagging businesses continue to gobble away the East, and even if developers continue to ravage the land where once the blues was king. Go to www.diversearts.org or www.proartsaustin.org to find out what you can do to keep East Austin alive.
Derek Hansen
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