Local artists pose in front of their work on Hartford’s Black Lives Matter mural, an effort supported by the Hartford Foundation at the recommendation of AOCU! in 2020.

By Jackie Coleman
Senior Community Investments Officer
Hartford Foundation for Public Giving

In 2019, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Connecticut Office of the Arts released the Greater Hartford Arts Landscape Study which revealed that people of color are underrepresented in the region’s arts workforce. In response, the Hartford Foundation invited artists of color from the region to come together and share their ideas on how to increase that representation, including through the Foundation’s investments in the arts sector. Based on the recommendations from that convening, the Foundation formed an artists of color advisory committee, inviting artists to apply to serve in this advisory role. Over at least the next two years, that committee, renamed Artists of Color Unite! (AOCU!) by its members, will offer advice and recommendations on the best use of Foundation resources to increase opportunities for artists of color in the region.

Cin Martinez

Jackie Coleman, a senior community impact officer with the Hartford Foundation, spoke with Cindy “Cin” Martinez, one of the 14 members of the AOCU!. Martinez grew up in Hartford’s North End, raised by parents who had moved  there from Puerto Rico in the late 1960s. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Communications at Southern Connecticut State University, and is currently a proud Artistic Ensemble member of HartBeat Ensemble and an alumnus of the Shakespeare & Company Actor Intensive and the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. Her next project is a play in development, ‘Moonlighters’ that will stream in June at TheaterWorks Hartford.

Jackie Coleman: Why did you want to be a part of AOCU?

Cin Martinez: Traditionally artists of color don’t have a seat at the table – policy changes, access to funding, opportunities to collaborate in a sustainable way, lack of social capital to name a few. This initiative doesn’t intend to educate artists on how to overcome existing barriers; instead, as a collective we are strategically planning to and are removing those barriers.

In the past, well-intentioned change makers – typically would rely on “experts” to shed light and advise what’s missing in the City of Hartford to make it a more vibrant place to live instead of working with the people on the ground who live there to offer solutions.

Local artists pose in front of their work on Hartford’s Black Lives Matter mural, an effort supported by the Hartford Foundation at the recommendation of AOCU! in 2020.

Coleman: How do you see AOCU! impacting the community?

Martinez: The AOCU! has provided local artists with equitable access by building their capacity, reimagining grant funding application processes and creating sustainable marketing structures to keep artists visible and create consistent work opportunities.

Working artists struggle and often have to carry multiple non-arts jobs to support their artwork. These opportunities definitely open the door wider to working artists of color, providing ways of making money through the arts. Research speaks to a whole city thriving when arts are valued – it’s like a facelift; people want engagement, it makes it worthwhile to rent/pay a mortgage where creative experiences are available year round. Creative experiences are like fresh air, it would attract more visitors and our small businesses would get a boost, too!

Artists of color from throughout Greater Hartford joined the Hartford Foundation for a powerful discussion in October 2019 focused on how the community can best support them.

The community is lifted when someone like me, a local Latina playwright, is fully supported financially – like with my show Pegao that performed at Hartbeat Ensemble’s Carriage Theater. The play is about a family in Puerto Rico that uncovers truths about identity, sterilization abuse, migration to the states, the fight against the US Navy at Vieques and the islands’ economy during 1971. Through this production, the audience experienced being seen, heard and feeling worthy having their story told on the stage.

Coleman: What impact does the group have on you as an individual artist?

Martinez: It validates, on multiple levels, our contribution to changing the landscape from surviving to thriving. Through the Hartford Foundation’s commitment, we are supported by our peers to lead in this work. It gives me a sense of fulfillment.

Coleman: How can people learn more about what AOCU! is doing?

Martinez: Check out the Artists of Color Unite! page on the Hartford Foundation’s website.