by Dom Jones
So, here’s the thing. Beyoncè is the greatest performer of our time. I’m not going to get into an “of all time” argument in this piece because I love both MJ and Prince and feel that we can simply appreciate the greats without constantly comparing them. Her performance at Coachella this past weekend was monumental. Historic. Mind-blowing. Epic. IT WAS EVERYTHING. It paraded so many beautiful and layered facets of black culture, women empowerment, black girl magic, and just sheer and undeniable skill and performance domination that it’s Tuesday, and we’re STILL losing our minds over it. I suspect that the Beychella mania will continue for at least a bit longer. While we cheer for the first black woman headliner of the lauded festival, we must also deal with the irony of that performance’s location. Beyoncè may be for everybody, but is Coachella for everybody?
A recent Pitchfork article reported:
Though the donations the Anschutz Foundation made in 2017 after the release of that statement are not yet available, Pitchfork has obtained the Foundation’s latest annual tax filing, which goes from December 2015 through November 2016. It details the dispersal of $63.7 million in grants. This newly uncovered filing shows that in 2016, the Anschutz Foundation stopped giving to the three groups at the center of the original uproar: Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, and National Christian Foundation. But they did give to a number of other organizations that have a history of making anti-LGBTQ statements.
The article goes on to list five example organizations with a history of making said anti-LGBTQ statements, and what was said by each. In case you didn’t know, the Anschutz Foundation is the philanthropic arm of AEG owner, Philip Anschutz. AEG produces and runs Coachella. In reading the slew of articles that praised Beyoncè’s performance as magnificent and transformative, I also read the ones that condemned Coachella’s owner for his ties to organizations that are anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigration, and pro-gun. Old articles resurfaced on my timeline, and new ones were written. In reading both sets of articles, and remembering the #BoycottCoachella hashtag fury when the information about Anschutz was first revealed, I had to ask myself:
Is Beyoncè headlining Coachella supposed to atone for Anschutz’s ties to these organizations and should we support a festival whose owner has these ties… even if Queen Bey is performing?
It’s something to consider now, as we think about our responsibility as musicians. I’m sure Beyoncè had all of this information about Anshutz before she accepted the gig. Is the platform to bring black culture, HBCU culture, women empowerment, and representation to the forefront of one of the biggest festivals of the year more important than the foundation upon which that platform was built? This article isn’t an answer to any of the questions I’m posing, but it is an invitation to have the discussion. I think that we can acknowledge the importance of Bey’s presence as the first black woman to headline Coachella and question why it took so long for a black woman to headline Coachella. I think that we can acknowledge Coachella as one of the biggest festivals in the world and question its owners ties and therefore question the core values of Coachella itself. My point is that we have to ask the questions because after the dancing, amazement, and inspiration of Beyoncè’s music brings us all together and makes us all feel included, will Anschutz’s ties to these organizations (and by proxy, Coachella) tear us apart. Inclusion must be pervasive. It must seep through every facet of a leader’s life, business, and in this case, philanthropic efforts. Anschutz’s lawyer admitted that there is still work to be done in this statement published in the aforementioned Pitchfork article:
One year ago we stated publicly that we unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation. We stand by those words and reaffirm the commitment we made at that time that The Anschutz Foundation would not knowingly fund any organization that would support anti-LGBTQ initiatives.
Over the past year, the Foundation has stopped funding certain organizations after it was brought to our attention that some of their activities were inconsistent with our values. This is an ongoing process in which we continue to investigate the organizations that we support, as some of these groups may have initiatives that extend beyond the scope of the objectives sought by the Foundation in supporting them. We are proud of the progress we have made in this regard, but there is always room for improvement to ensure the charitable giving of the Foundation does not unintentionally extend to groups that violate principles that are important to us. The Foundation receives requests for donations from thousands of organizations every year and donates to approximately 800 entities annually. If our systems have failed to identify some activities that we do not support, we will stop funding those organizations as we learn more.
On occasion, it has been brought to our attention that certain groups previously supported by the Foundation may have policies or practices relating to the LGBTQ community that could be of concern. In those situations, we carefully assess the concerns to determine if in fact any organization we have supported is taking positions or practicing policies that are intolerant of, or discriminatory toward, the LGBTQ community. If we find problematic activities, we first look to work with those organizations to effectuate positive change if we perceive they are open to hearing and responding to our feedback. Ultimately, if these efforts prove unsatisfactory, we will withdraw further support from those groups.
Is this enough? I think that the future actions of the Anschutz Foundation will inform the stance that music lovers and festival goers should take on whether to continue or withdraw support. And though this situation is confusing and frustrating, one thing remains clear: Beyoncè is the greatest performer of our time. For now, like most of us, I continue to relish in and be inspired by the glory of that fact.