Action and Accountability at NCC

As an organization, and as individuals, we are listening and learning with intent and relentlessly evolving our mission to ensure meaningful diversity, impactful equity, and genuine inclusivity.

We don’t often broadcast the work that we do to create an inclusive, welcoming, safe, and joyous, community for ceramic artists, learners, and appreciators. We are grateful for the opportunity to share what we are doing to be diligently proactive in this area and invite questions and challenges. We recognize that we have room for improvement, and we take it seriously. Below is more information about the wholistic and detailed work we are doing to actively eliminate barriers to equality, increase diversity and equity, and build trust with all communities so that inclusivity is not just our intention, but reality.

Here are some of the ways we’ve worked toward increasing diversity at Northern Clay Center. If you are curious about something specific that is not addressed here, please ask.

Jurors: In the past we didn’t announce members of a jury panel until after a jury took place, for no other reason than we didn’t want staff to be able to have sway with jurors. We realize now that transparency makes a safer and more inclusive space for applicants and will be sharing juror names once they are confirmed. In our selection juries, whether for grants, juried exhibitions, or representation in the sales gallery, we hire (and pay) jurors from across the country with a range of race & ethnic identities, who make work covering the spectrum of ceramics, and who identify as LGBTQIA+. In the last several years, we have been proud to invite Hyang Jin Cho, Winnie Owens-Hart, Virgil Ortiz, and Malcolm Mobutu Smith to jury opportunities at the Clay Center.

Our Artist Advisory Committee is comprised of well-respected artists from across North America including Kelly Connole, Chotsani Elaine Dean, David East, and Sequoia Miller. In addition to these paid members, there are also three NCC staff (Kyle Rudy-Kohlhepp, Tippy Maurant, and Jordan Bongaarts) and one NCC board member (Heather Nameth Bren).The role of this committee is to guide and build an exhibition calendar that shows a full range of makers, histories, experiences, and processes. NCC has had the honor of working with paid curators such as Angelica Pozo, Mac Star McCusker, Heather Nameth Bren, and Chotsani Dean in the last several years.

We have reviewed our sales gallery application processes to evaluate for unintentional bias and have updated the application in preparation for this year’s jury. We also research new or underrepresented makers, with a priority of bringing increased diversity to the current roster of sales gallery artists, and invite participation outside of the jury process. We do recognize, however, that a gallery relationship is not a good fit for a lot of artists. The means to sell work and gain recognition are far more accessible to individual artists than they were even 5 years ago, and our invitations are understandably often turned down. This, of course, does not mean we stop working toward a much more diverse roster, only that the role of a gallery is changing along with the rest of the world, and adapting and leading are multi-layered goals we work hard on. 

We actively research and reach out to specifically BIPOC artists for opportunities to be included in our sales gallery, the American Pottery Festival, and exhibitions and prioritize shows that feature diverse artists. Several BIPOC artists that we have sought out will be presenting work with us at the Gallery Expo at this year’s NCECA Conference. Diversity and inclusion is truly one of our highest priorities. We very earnestly recognize that ceramics has been dominated by white cis-male artists for many years, that the ceramics community has been a source of harm for many artists, and we try with every opportunity to move the needle.

An addendum from 2.25.21

We are an unflinching and dedicated group of individuals, and we welcome the perspectives of others to inform our own when recognizing opportunities to make more inclusive decisions to create and sustain an organization that takes action to ensure we are keeping our promises to our community to create safe and joyous spaces. We aim to continue to positively evolve as an organization, even if it means risk for us.

Some of what you may be looking for is in the link in our bio called Action and Accountability and details some of the specific actions we are taking. Below, we have responded to your specific questions. 

We have ended our relationships with toxic/abusive/racist/otherwise (misogynist, homophobic, etc.) well-known and lesser-known artists as well as students, studio artists, and business partners. While this is public information and available to anyone who asks, we also must be mindful of the legal ramifications of both libel and slander of public statements. We continue to review strategies to share this information in a way that is transparent, but also legal.

We communicate regularly and openly as a staff about expectations of others and ourselves. Our employee handbook states that immediate termination of employment is a consequence of sexual harassment or offensive behavior as defined by the person making an allegation. It also states that “no retaliation of any kind will occur because you have reported an incident” to create a safe environment. Having said this, we plan to review this section of the handbook and discuss it with our staff as not only an internal organizational guide, but also as a publicly shared set of Community Standards.

Absolutely, we as an organization would feel comfortable ending the term of any board member, long-standing or otherwise, if their behavior contradicted our goals for genuine equity and inclusion. We are fortunate enough to have a board that is passionate in their support of continuing to shape NCC into a space that is safe and welcoming for all and who will participate with staff in formal DEI training in 2021.

While a social media following is important to us as a tool for conveying information and promoting artists, losing followers in the name of transparency, respect, and inclusion is fine with us. We did experience a noticeable loss of  followers this past summer as we expressed support for our Black and Brown neighbors and for BIPOC-owned businesses in our community in the wake of the uprising. As a non-profit art center, profits are meager because our focus is serving the clay community through education and opportunity. This is not to say profits are not important, but we approach the business end of operations through our mission statement. Should we ever find ourselves in the position to choose between our mission and profits, we would easily make the decision to stay true to our mission rather than choose dollars.

Thank you again for your questions and for engaging here with us.