Who Is Not At The Table: Andrea Chandler Is ‘Culture Mapping’ San Diego

Arts worker Andrea Chandler wants to map — and change — whose voices are heard, valued and funded. And one year after the murder of George Floyd, she is holding arts orgs to their promises.

“This is not the first time I’ve had to speak out about some folks being left out, or some part of the narrative being left out,” said Andrea “Angie” Chandler, a writer and cultural strategist who is currently working on a project to identify and amplify the diversity and needs in the region’s art organizations.

In January, Chandler launched Culture Mapping: San Diego, an informal online survey that gathers basic information from diverse art organizations and artists — including what type of art, whether the groups identifies as Black, POC, indigenous, Southeast Asian, MENA (Middle Eastern/North African) or mixed/multiple, specific needs, current space, etc.

Ultimately, she wants to connect these POC-led spaces and artists with each other and with sources of funding and support — a list and a map is the first step.

“I first spoke out about Black voices, like ‘Oh this is missing Black voices. I know there are Black artists here.’ And in the comments, I saw, loudly, from indigenous folks, from our South Asian community, and so I said, ‘Okay, well let’s all go,'” Chandler said.

Chandler received approximately 32 responses in the first round, mostly from smaller art organizations, collectives, galleries and individuals representing a range of formats and mediums, including dance, visual art, media, theater, interdisciplinary and more.

The report will go public mid-June, but preliminary results showed 48 percent of respondents identified themselves or their organization as Black, and 41% identified as fitting in multiple categories.

What was striking — though not surprising — for Chandler was the responses for the question: “What support do you or your organization need most?” 38 percent said they needed access to individual donors or investors. The next most frequent response was information about grants and funding.

Furthermore, the majority of respondents said they did not have a dedicated studio or rehearsal space.

“I knew money was going to come up big. And I knew space was going to come up big. So real estate for companies of color is the biggest need. Having a physical space that we are not dependent on someone else to let us in or to be a part of this other conglomerate. To have our own key and our own floor or our own suite is so big,” said Chandler.

Some of the respondents are not nonprofits, so one of Chandler’s aims is to connect them with groups that bridge that funding gap with a fiscal sponsorship model.

The next round will take place this summer, with more refined questions — and hopefully a larger scope. Chandler will team up with Jordan Hayles as a community partner for the next round.

Originally a New Yorker with a background in the theater and in teaching, Chandler moved to San Diego from Charlotte, North Carolina in January 2020 to work in the education department at San Diego Museum of Art. Her contract ended during the pandemic, and she also works with other institutions like the Balboa Art Conservation Center and the AjA Project, and writes press releases and exhibition summaries. Overall, she describes her role as that of a cultural strategist.

“Being a cultural strategist is using these very different parts of myself to then attack a problem from a high level, or to find a solution or a way that this thing can thrive,” Chandler explained. “It’s really informing on things that people need to do before and after. It’s making sure who’s not at the table, and who is at the table.”

This has been a difficult and essential 12 months for the type of work Chandler does.

“With Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, with their murders, it really was a last straw for many of us who were already doing work around arts equity. We were already having these conversations. We were already sitting in those rooms,” Chandler said.

She said she’ll never forget the places she saw come together across the country, and how powerful that was — and the types of individuals and organizations leading the way.

“So even if it wasn’t the revolutionary change a lot of people wanted to see, I know that something had changed, and the arts were at the front of that conversation in terms of the structures that needed to change, they needed to be re-imagined.”

Chandler also said that on this anniversary of George Floyd’s death and the approaching Juneteenth holiday, many people will be holding companies, corporations and organizations to account for the promises and plans made a year ago.

“I would say last year was a reckoning. This year is an, ‘Okay, we see you. We see what you’ve kept up with doing, and we see the stories that fell by the wayside,” Chandler said. “So it’s a whole lot of reflection, but it’s also just, we don’t have the energy for pretense at this point.”

Moving forward, Chandler has a clear and powerful vision for arts and culture in San Diego. Mapping and supporting POC-led organizations is part of this, but her hopes for the landscape are even bigger than that. She wants diverse arts groups to be part of the mainstream, with equitable access to resources and funding. And, she wants existing leaders to learn to share power and space that they’ve maybe never had to share before.

“I want an ecosystem. I want a tapestry. Both of those words to me talk about something that’s interwoven where things depend on each other in a healthy way,” Chandler said. “Having us be a tapestry and an ecosystem that is healthy, that is honest, and that is visible.”

For more about Andrea Chandler’s work and the Culture Mapping project, see her Instagram account.

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Julia Dixon Evans

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opening quote marksclosing quote marksI write the weekly KPBS Arts newsletter and edit and produce the KPBS Arts calendar. I am interested in getting San Diegans engaged with the diversity of art and culture made by the creative people who live here.

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