DEI in the arts: MCLA's Institute for Arts and Humanities

IAHThe Institute for Arts and Humanities' June programming list—a great example of the many different ways IAH makes an impact.

To be successful, diversity, equity, and inclusion has to be threaded into everything we do—including the arts. MCLA’s Institute for Arts and Humanities is a great example of how to infuse foundation-changing philosophies into programming that empowers students, spreads knowledge, and contributes to the existing body of work and research on DEI in the arts.

Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, MCLA-IAH’s mission is to “strategically promote equity-centered change on campus and in the community by expanding access to area arts and humanities resources, catalyzing opportunities for interdisciplinary engagements, and advancing experiential teaching and learning practices in higher education.”

Since it was founded in 2019, it has explored that mission in many ways for many audiences. IAH interns help drive that mission, creating lecture series, media libraries, virtual events, and even graphic design and branding. One recent student project: Destiny Rivera ’21 created the Empowered Voices Collective, which offers an online platform for creative work from BIPOC students, featuring poetry, short stories, freewrites, photography, and artwork.

Students who find themselves working with IAH, whether as interns or mini-grant recipients, find new innovative ways to introduce the arts and humanities to the MCLA and North Adams community through new initiatives like writing couplets in the quad or the Silent Disco event,” said Brianna Christie ’22, IAH’s public relations and social media assistant.

Quray Clarke 22 received a mini-grant from IAH to work on an art project. "My experience with IAH was incredibly enlightening and constructive to understanding the more technical side of an art project, the compromises and the satisfaction that comes with getting it done, and working through a pandemic,” he said. 

IAH also offers faculty fellowships, which are designed to support MCLA faculty in their work to address and investigate issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion by promoting students' access to area arts and humanities resources.

Berkshire arts and culture partners work with IAH to bring programming to community members, like the “Unlikely Conversations” lecture series coordinated by Declan McDermott ’21 that featured local arts professionals discussing everything from their experience working in the Berkshire arts sector to how to approach the misinformed ideology around Thanksgiving.

In summer 2021, Pittsfield public arts project The Mastheads collaborated with MCLA-IAH on INSCAPES, inviting community members to submit place-based couplet poems about what defines their experience as a resident of Berkshire County. Nearly 188 residents submitted couplets, which appeared on billboards throughout the county.

INSCAPES is a great example of the way IAH’s programming comes full-circle: In fall 2021, a capstone course at MCLA sponsored by the project created a couplet-writing event to bring students together after a long season of remote learning, spreading awareness about the Mastheads project and giving the community a chance to get their creative juices flowing. “Working with the IAH in my capstone class has opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities on campus,” said Abbey Maliff ’22. “I especially loved being able to shape the INSCAPES project in a class sponsored by the Mastheads!”