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How the Arts and Cultural Communities Are Talking About Diversity and Inclusion

  • Posted Mar 28, 2019

Grantmakers, nonprofits, and advocates alike are banding together to respond to systemic issues regarding the lack of diversity and inclusion that has plagued the arts and cultural sector. Initiatives, such as the equity, diversity, inclusion movement have taken center-stage and community leaders across the nation are initiating conversations to raise awareness and bring about change, but questions still remain.

How do communities with a wide variety of stakeholders approach such a sprawling systemic issue, given how entrenched inequality in the sector is? How do we talk about diversity and equity in a way that inspires action and allows all voices to be heard? And how do we measure the impact of these initiatives?

This month I had the pleasure of attending one of these community conversations, Painting a Picture of a More Diverse & Inclusive Arts and Cultural Workforce, hosted by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. Speakers from across Philadelphia and New Jersey joined in on a broad discussion about diversity and inclusion topics along with presenters disclosing personal experiences, successful initiatives at their organizations, and research among field at large. The size of the group and the vigorous discussion indicated that there is a tremendous amount of interest in doing the work to make the arts and cultural sector a more equitable place. After the presentations, the audience was divided up between the speakers for deeper discussion and report out on key take-aways that could be applied in our organizations.

Personal Anecdotes of Inclusion Successes and Challenges

Several of the presenters drew from their own experience of seeking welcoming spaces to discuss the merits of diversity and inclusion programs and to show where organizations sometimes miss the mark.

Sarah Lumbo, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum

Sarah Lumbo, Teen Health Programs Coordinator for The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, spoke of her experiences in being part of several of the museum’s outreach programs geared toward underserved communities, both as the current coordinator and as a former participant. She was a part of the first student cohort for the museum’s Karabots Junior Fellows Program, which was founded in 2009. This program works with high school students from underserved communities and provides hands-on learning experiences with healthcare professionals to foster an interest in STEM careers. She also discussed her work with the Girls One Diaspora Club, which provides academic and personal support to young women from Africa or the African diaspora with interest in STEM careers. Lumbo’s story was rooted in her own experience of being a young high schooler who was unsure of how she would fit into museum culture and her personal success story of becoming a leader at Mütter Museum.

 

Najib Wong, PMAY Artists’ Initiative

Others also expressed their struggles of trying to find balance and focus in an inequitable system. For his presentation, Najib Wong shared his experiences navigating job interviews as a biracial immigrant artist. Wong gave several examples of how organizations give off the perception of being exclusionary – by posting positions on limited networks, job descriptions with overreaching requirements for experience, not disclosing salary ranges, and more. The most memorable anecdote Wong shared was about his personal experience interviewing for positions. He discussed the challenges navigating conversations with hiring managers where it was clear that the interviewer assumed that he was much younger and would be willing to work for far less pay than what his credentials suggested he was worth.

 

Alba Guzmán, Comcast

One of the biggest stories of transformation was that of presenter Alba Guzmán. As a senior analyst for the behemoth company Comcast, Guzmán shared her journey from a disengaged employee to a leader within the company through the company's LGBTQ employee resource group. It is one of several employee resource groups at Comcast, all of which allow diverse employees to find their community within the large company and organize volunteer efforts to support local community causes. As an added benefit to the company, the employee resource groups also became internal focus groups to test new products.

Diversity and Inclusion Programs in Action

Arts & Accessibility Programming, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum

While personal stories were highlighted in many of the presentations, a few of the presenters focused their discussion around successful programs and implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Meredith Sellers, the Arts & Accessibility Coordinator for The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, discussed several programs that promoted accessibility within the 19th century museum. In addition to highlighting walk-in visitor accessibility options, Sellers discussed the benefits of sign language tours, touch tours, and Sensory-Friendly Sundays at the museum. Most importantly, Sellers emphasized the importance of staff training, noting that having staff that were familiar with the resources available to attendees with various disabilities was just as critical as having the programs themselves.

 

Re-thinking Hiring Practices, Newark Museum

Likewise, Kristin Curry and Carolyn Clark from the Newark Museum discussed impact of diversity and inclusion initiatives, specifically focusing on their internal hiring practices at their organization.  As the Director for Institutional Grants & Sponsorship, Curry was able to speak towards the process of raising funds for this initiative. After careful re-evaluation of how their organization collaborated internally, they were able to strategize and target specific fundraising opportunities with both foundations and individual donors, incorporate their inclusion and diversity funding into their other grants, and take advantage of pro bono opportunities. As a result the Newark Museum raised substantial support for exploring creative solutions to diversify curatorial and management staff. Clark, the Director of Human Resources at the Museum, discussed how having these resources available allowed her to explore staff engagement initiatives and make drastic changes to their recruitment practices, including offering paid internships. One of the key lessons that both Curry and Clark took away from their work was that buy-in from leadership was key in successfully incorporating new diversity and inclusion practices in their hiring. Specifically, fundraising to diversify curatorial and management staff helped bring sustained attention on the initiative into focus and allowed them to create concrete objectives for success.

Sector-wide Research and Case Studies

Lastly, one presenter discussed diversity and inclusion through the lens of national and international research within the cultural sector on workforce demographics. Pamela Green, the Founder and President of PMG Arts Management, LLC touched on the topic during her presentation which focused on her graduate thesis work in this area. Unfortunately, as she pointed out, very little research has been published on this topic, making it more difficult for organizations to understand and address the problems of a homogenous workforce.

Currently, the only national-scale research effort available was conducted through an initiative by the England Arts Council which found that while there is a higher percentage of women working in the museum sector, the percentage of black/minority ethnic and disabled individuals is far from reflective of the general population. In the United States, there are two regional-specific studies on workforce diversity and inclusion for New York City and Los Angeles County that Green also spoke on.

NYC Cultural Affairs conducted the survey of their 2015 grantees in partnership with research firm Ithaka S+R, with support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Similar to the national study in England, they found that the sector included a proportional percentage of women compared to New York City’s general demographics, but that the percentages of individuals who identify as white non-Hispanic and/or disabled were not reflective of the general population. According to this study, 33% of the general public identify as White non-Hispanic while, nearly double - 61.52% - of employees in the cultural sector organizations surveyed identify as White non-Hispanic.

From May 2016 through July 2016, DataArts conducted a Workforce Demographics survey to analyze the staff, board, and volunteer demographics of 386 cultural nonprofits in Los Angeles County. Based on our research, we found the arts and cultural workforce to be significantly more homogenous than Los Angeles County’s population. Interestingly, mid-sized organizations with annual budgets between $500,000 and $10 million are more diverse in terms of race and ethnicity compared to both larger and smaller organizations.

This series of compelling stories and presentations provided a lot of insight on various diversity and inclusion initiatives. Green’s presentation struck me as the most poignant case for supporting national, regional, and individual case study research in diversity and inclusion initiatives. Notable progress has been made in this area and there continues to be a hunger for more comprehensive data on this topic as benchmarking and assessments on the effectiveness of initiatives are implemented and grow. I am proud to be a part of an organization that gathers data to respond to this need. Nevertheless, in order to have a clear picture of diversity within the nonprofit arts sector and make a more persuasive case for incorporating more inclusion initiatives, more research is needed in the area.

Workforce Demographics Report

This study analyzes the demographics of the arts and cultural workforce in Los Angeles County – specifically, staff members, board, volunteers, and independent contractors associated with 386 cultural nonprofits, most of which receive funding from LACAC and/or seven other municipal funders in the County. 

Read the Report

Advocate For The Arts

In the face of continuing threats to public funding for arts and culture, DataArts is proud to advance the sector by putting data and insights in service to advocacy efforts across the nation. 

Subscribe to our Advocacy Report

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