Pronunciation: nikhil trivedi (ni-khil, emphasis on either syllable, i’s like “it” or “international”. tri-VE-dee, “i” in tri like “it,” “e” in VE like “Ecuador” or “enhance,” “i” in di like “eel” or “eagle”)
We asked nikhil…
What does your activist, social justice, anti-racism, and/or anti-oppression work look like?
At the root of all my activism work is a personal commitment I’ve made to myself and the world: to end all forms of violence in all the communities I’m a part of.
It’s a broad, systemic commitment that I’m constantly thinking about how to manifest personally. It informs my perspective in all that I do: connecting our everyday experiences with systemic issues and historic traumas; connecting our experiences with personal actions to dismantle oppressions; and bringing to light intersectional narratives to poke holes in and nudge our biased worldviews.
My homebase for all the work I do is Rape Victim Advocates, one of Chicago’s oldest and largest rape crisis centers. My volunteer work with them as a medical advocate and volunteer educator has really shaped my thinking about violence, history, systems of oppression and healing.
Who- or what- inspires you?
My communities and my city are my greatest sources of inspiration. There is nothing that I do that isn’t deeply connected with the people I’m close to. In Chicago, there’s so much radical, transformative work happening towards economic, racial, reproductive and healing justice, among others, by so many innovative, creative leaders demanding justice every day. And I’m lucky enough to call many of these people my friends.
What keeps you going?
How do you make time for self care?
Quite honestly I ebb and flow between feeling completely hopeless and feeling like if it can rain diamonds on Saturn maybe anything is possible. I think my optimism, radical honesty and unapologetic vulnerability keeps me trending towards “going,” but I hesitate to share a few magic words about how I keep doing what I do. It’s really fucking hard living in the world today. I can’t do anything alone, I can’t set my feelings aside from my thinking and actions, and I can’t survive if I don’t take care of myself.
Given that, I have a lot of things I aspire to do to care for myself, but I’m not consistent with actually doing them. And that’s okay. That’s just what my life looks like right now. I center my thinking of self-care around four things: diet, exercise, sleep and stress. When I’m well-balanced, I’m eating well and not eating any sugar in any form at all. I’m sleeping early and waking up early to do yoga and play music every morning. I’m connecting with my counseling community regularly to give myself space to process my feelings and stress. It’s sounds like a lot, but when I’m well balanced I can actually do all those things, and still have time to sing, dance, see my friends and change the world.
What are you proud of?
I’m most proud of my relationships, and how much joy I experience in my own life and that I see that I bring to the people around me. I really like to have fun, and I find small ways to have fun every day. From being really silly with my family at home to organizing weekly lunchtime guitar jams at work to totally nailing it at karaoke. I have fun and I bring my friends with me.
What do you want to see change in the arts/museums/cultural sectors?
What do you wish arts/museum/cultural sector leadership would do differently?
I want museums and cultural institutions to remove fear from our daily operations. We’re afraid of so many things: saying the wrong thing, not getting it *exactly* right, offending funders, disappointing board members, messaging something the “wrong” way. Whether or not our fears are grounded, they shouldn’t stifle us. To borrow from Design Thinking, “yes, I’m afraid, and…” what? What is it that we’re going to do despite our fears? So much can transform if we act from a place of courage and bravery in everything we do.
I wish there was wage transparency, so we can begin having honest conversations about pay equity. I wish we stopped needing another museum to do something first before we felt like we could try something. I wish we trusted the brilliance and creativity of our own staff completely. I wish we didn’t need external validation before recognizing something or someone as being great. I wish there was a prison-to-director pipeline. I wish we took greater risks.
How can we support you and your work?
You can support my work in a few ways. For the Visitors of Color project, share our posts with your colleagues and have conversations about them. Start small, with just one or two people you trust. Be vulnerable about what you don’t know and be persistent in connecting with others around these topics.
We’ve got a guide on a fundamental question that many different types of museums can get started with: how has your institution benefited from slavery? People are often surprised by the connections they find. If you’re interested in reaching out to your networks and helping create content for the site, we’ve got a guide for that, too! We’d love to support you in trying this out. And finally, share our posts on social media along with what resonated with you.
I also facilitate anti-oppression workshops and give talks on a variety of topics. Reach out to bring me to your institution or conference. I’d love to see what we can build together.
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