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  • Writer's pictureFarah Yasmeen Shaikh

Change Starts At Home

Updated: May 3

If you’ve been following my work as an artist, you may agree that I am a tireless (perhaps at times annoyingly so) advocate of Kathak through performing, teaching and choreographing, and especially for creating an inclusive South Asian arts community that acknowledges the diversity and richness of the artistic landscape of South Asian arts and artists. Through my podcast, Heartistry Talk Show, I’ve also loved embracing the opportunity to amplify the voices and stories of other artists and creatives from across the globe.

These conversations on Heartistry, and through interactions with artists throughout the US and in Pakistan, I’ve cultivated a heightened sense of awareness of what it means to be an artist, especially an artist that is from, and/or represents a community of color, or some other marginalized group of people and their culture. The disparity in funding opportunities, work opportunities, pay scale, overall representation in “larger/more prominent venues”, and often, even the appreciation by our own communities…let’s just say the gap is way too wide.

In a sometimes conscious (often not) desire to keep expanding and exploring additional pathways to deepen my intentions and desires to drastically shift this narrative, I found myself one day wondering what it would be like to at some point take my experiences and translate them into doing something in local government. Well, that has not yet transpired exactly, but funny enough, last fall an opportunity did come across my email inbox, that somehow felt connected to that thought.

It was an email from the San Mateo County Office of Arts and Culture, and it read: “Are you interested in advising San Mateo County on programs and policies that promote and advocate for the artistic and cultural quality of life in the County?” Not only is this the county where I reside, but the vacancy happened to be in my very own district. I didn’t overthink it, and just went ahead and applied.

Fast forward… what I didn’t overthink resulted in an interview, and then my recent appointment to the San Mateo County Arts Commission for my local District!

That saying “change starts at home" feels appropriate here, and I’m excited to be getting involved in my local community in this way. I hope to be able to be a voice of the artist of color, of the marginalized South Asian artist, of the person who lives in this wealthy region of the Silicon Valley, but struggles on the daily to have a household income that satisfies the lifestyle that we/they want and deserve. I also hope to further expose the richness of the arts in this county, as well as represent those that are responsible for adding the cultural richness.

Ultimately, I hope to do my part to contribute to long lasting positive change.

Photo credit: Humayun Memon

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