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Meet Marian Brown of Arts Connect International

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marian Brown.

Marian, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
The idea for Arts Connect International (ACI) was born during an epic snowstorm in 2013. Informed by years of working in the arts and social change sector, catalyzed by surmounting frustration with the often-unsustainable nature of said work, David Brown (my brother and ACI founding board member) and I weathered the storm processing the puzzle of arts leadership development and social equity. Our conversations covered myriad topics yet always came down to the same core — a recognition that artists come up with innovative community-driven solutions to address pressing human rights issues, and yet artists often are not trained nor supported in developing entrepreneurial skill sets necessary for said work to flourish. As the snow cleared a few days later we emerged with a penned business concept, from which point onwards we’ve been full steam ahead, with ACI formally launching in July 2014. Since our launch 3.5 years ago, we have honed our values, mission and strategy to now focus on equity within the arts. Taking a community-contextualized and asset-based approach, ACI works to actively, thoughtfully and effectively engage in critical questions around access and equity from an intersectional lens. This takes form in a multitude of program designs and community outreach that all focus on equity within, and through, the arts, illustrated in four key strands: 1) artist leader development, 2) consulting, 3) empirical research, and 4) community programming.

Has it been a smooth road?
Entrepreneurial paths, akin to social justice, is never a smooth road. I’m reassured, however, knowing that the first step to change is discontent and that growing pains are in fact indicative of growth. Major road bumps along the path have included refining our work and mission to be direct, authentic and transformative. This has included a lot of work as a community of artists to deeply understand the injustices we wish to eradicate, while also facing inevitable trauma that is part of working through systemic inequities. On a logistical level, getting a young arts non-profit launched in Boston is a momentous financial and fund-raising task. We’re forever grateful for all the art patrons, individual donors, and now foundations that are supporting our work. The easiest thing about the work, I’d have to say, has been finding and building community around our cause. We’ve been very lucky to attract like-minded and motivated individuals and partners that can support the mission and elevate the work to new heights.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Arts Connect International – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
At ACI, we’re focused on the cultural equity gap within the arts sector, which has led to the systemic underrepresentation of artist leaders of color in our contemporary arts landscape. Holding the belief that art is a human right, ACI works to make art accessible to all, leveraging art as a tool for transformative social change. Unique to ACI is our community-contextualized and asset-based approach, where we work to actively, thoughtfully and effectively engage in critical questions around access and equity from an intersectional lens. As stated earlier, this takes form in myriad program designs and community outreach that all focus on equity within, and through, the arts, illustrated in four key strands: 1) artist leader development, 2) consulting, 3) empirical research, and 4) community programming.

ACI provides a support system for emerging arts leaders of color dedicated to using art as a tool for equity. This has manifested in international residencies and artist grants, artist training institutes that are akin to a mini social-justice MBA, artist leader retreats, and authentic representation in art sales and placement, all leading to extensive community building. Since the beginning of our journey, ACI is proud to witness impressive results from individual artists, as well as on an organizational level in many forms, including: exhibitions, prolific artistic productions, participation in academic symposiums and collaborative projects with partner organizations, securing of grants and monetary support for work, and extensive educational attainment. We are currently working with an impressive and motivated network of arts leaders of color to envision the next iterative steps of said programming and leadership development, while expanding our organizational vision of an arts leader from an individual artist to now encompass arts administrators, curators, trainers and educators.

In addition to working on leadership development with arts leaders of color, we also recognize that there is extensive work to be done with arts leaders, and institutions, who hold hegemonic power within the arts. As a result, we now offer consultancy services surrounding diversity, inclusion and equity, including diagnostics, trainings, and exhibitions. Unique to our work is the artistic and community-contextualized lens it takes. The result is interactive and informative educational materials. An example of this is a partnership ACI has with WSMC Classical Radio in Chattanooga Tennessee. ACI’s Founder, Marian Brown, traveled to Chattanooga for consulting, including development of programming, high level leadership consultation, guest lectures and community presentations on ACI’s core work. ACI has also partnered with Boston-based corporate partners on a skills-trade where they support ACI’s artist training institutes, and ACI works with their communities on equity initiatives. This has included partners like Constant Contact and ZappRx.

Recognizing a dearth of empirical data surrounding equity in the arts, ACI has also catalyzed a research arm. Spurred by a partnership with the University of Massachusetts Boston, and specifically the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, ACI embarked on a multi-phase research project starting in the summer of 2017. Phase I is a baseline, mixed-methods inductive attitudinal study on the ‘Cultural Equity Gap’ focused on local leaders’ attitudes and understandings of cultural equity in our home community. Initial findings were released in January 2018 and are available for download on ACI’s website ( This work aims to shed light on the systemic barriers that call for systems change.

All our initiatives support and echo one another, building towards our goal of increasing equity in, and through, the arts. The result of our artist leader development, consulting and research, is a suite of community-facing programs which over the past three years have reached over seven-thousand people. This has ranged from partnering with various organizations to hold events like: the ‘Art Inclusion Salon’ with City Awake, pop-up shows at Lawn on D, Boardroom takeovers at Bernstein Wealth Management, Art Bars as part of Art Week Boston with partners like Aeronaut Brewery and VSA Massachusetts, amongst many more. It has also included traveling exhibitions like, “Shades of Inclusion” which showed at four separate galleries between 2015 – 2016. Additionally, we have co-hosted an annual symposium on Art for Cultural Inclusion, in 2015 held in Association with the Arts in Education Program at Harvard University, and in 2016 Co-hosted by the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development at UMass Boston, involving 300+ participants and over thirty community partners. This is all buttressed by academic programming including artist talks, programming, and performances at: Lesley University, Tufts University, Boston College, Babson College, and more. In other words, our community facing programming has been the direct result of a call-to-action surrounding equity in our arts scene, co-built with partners eager to engage in said conversations. It has proven to be an exceptional tool in engaging our wider community in conversations of this nature, and in building and supporting community.

If we are truly going to accomplish our mission of building and supporting equity in, and through, the arts, we must continue taking a systems level approach. Acting as an ‘equity incubator’, ACI moves with community as we work to collaboratively address intersectional inclusion.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love the creative energy and passion of Boston. We have so many exceptional innovators throughout our city, as well as social justice advocates. That said, our creative innovation is stifled across lines of race and class due to Boston’s geographical segregation. This segregation has a multitude of impacts and we have a long way to go as a city if we are to work towards equity.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
These photo’s are a compilation of images from Candace Carney Photography and Kyle Klein Perler Photography.

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