THE artEQuity PROJECT aims to “shift the paradigm of social inequity”

Frank Verpoorten is bringing his 20-plus years of artworld experience to Naples Art to mold new directions and diversify its programming and audiences.

Verpoorten, Naples Art executive director and chief curator, said a new initiative funded through a $30,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Collier County aims to engage minority and underrepresented instructors and students, including females, in the nonprofit’s extensive course offerings, programs and exhibitions.

THE artEQuity PROJECT is designed to impact education, employment, and exhibitions—to build stronger communities by giving a creative platform to marginalized groups so they can express and voice issues in their local and global communities. The goal is to help participants “grow their “equity quotient” or EQ to “shift the paradigm of social inequity” with measurable, evidence-based, measurable results.

A major component of the plan is to hire a minority and/or bilingual art education director and recruit 35 minority or underrepresented instructors, to its teaching roster, including bilingual instructors fluent in Spanish and Creole. Up to 16 new instructors will be paid a stipend to receive training in online learning modalities, which will increase their skillset and employment opportunities.

Other aspects of the multidimensional project include designing four online courses with specific focuses, such as “Contemporary Art Movements That Intersect with Social Justice,” inviting local public school students to take online and studio courses, exhibiting the works of self-taught artists (known as outsider art) at Naples Art and in a virtual gallery, holding master classes and curator’s talks, and forging alliances with organizations that work with underserved populations.

Providing these opportunities will open doors to students who feel like they aren’t invited or don’t belong in an extracurricular art class, exhibition, or in the greater artworld. Verpoorten and Naples Art Director of Strategic Initiatives Kit Baker based this project on data from major art foundations and organizations, including Americans for the Arts. According to this leading art advocacy organization, “many existing systems of power grant privilege and access unequally, and that equity is crucial to the long-term viability of both the arts and culture sector and communities-at-large.”

A result of energizing new perspectives is to open a wider dialogue that reflects marginalized communities and cultures, Baker said. “One of the goals is simply bringing knowledge and awareness to things that are happening in the world that may not be reflected locally even though people understand they are going on in a big way,” she explained.

Verpoorten has been curating shows for more than two decades in New York City and in Naples, where he made his curatorial mark at The Baker Museum at Artis-Naples. Since arriving at Naples Art in January 2021, he’s honed the nonprofit’s strategic plan. Expanding its cultural footprint and bringing in marginalized groups “is in line with the changes that are coming. It aligns to our strategic plan,” he said. “To be successful and to fulfill our mission, we have to be more accessible to demographics that are more in line with this community.”

Says Baker: “I applaud the Community Foundation and their leadership in the community for taking us to this juncture where we’re inspired to create change with the support the Community Foundation.”