Commentary: Where does the responsibility lie for the lack of diversity in the arts?

Clayton Lord, "New Beans" blog, 12/12/11

A couple weeks ago, I was the recipient of a string of emails that are making the rounds -- emails stemming from a lack of diversity in the panelists at this year's National Arts Marketing Project Conference. What particularly caught me up is the very hard question of where the responsibility for a lack of diversity lives, and who can and cannot truly move the dial. The problem of diversity is neither unique to theatre nor rooted in theatre. But to address [it], we need to pull away from the immediate inequities of our field and try and access the root. And for a lot of experts, that root is within an activity held in common by almost every child in this country: going to school. Since 1982, the number of young people who have had any arts education in school has fallen by between 30% and 50%, depending on the genre. Not surprisingly, this shift has often occurred more quickly in less affluent school districts, which in turn, eternally underpin the racial inequities in this country. Richard Kessler calls this the "arts education gap."  The inequities in arts education are not, unfortunately, only affecting eventual audience members. Such a chronic lack of access may also have decreased the pool of eventual trustees, administrators and artists. A disproportionate number of the students who get degrees in, and pursue a career in, the arts are white. Yes, we need to figure out ways to diversify our staffs, our boards and our audiences. But we need to be clear that the problem, while a shared responsibility of all, is not, in fact, a simple question of hiring committees "trying harder" or conference selection panels making a more concerted effort. Those things should absolutely happen. But they have to happen in a context -- and that context needs to be shifted through advocacy, education, artistic connection, concerted group effort and (most frustratingly) time.


Commentary: Reflections on the coming tide of US demographic changes

Ron Chew, GIA Reader from Grantmakers in the Arts. Fall 2011 issue

I listened recently to a panel of experts speak about the swiftly changing demographics of the United States and how arts organizations might respond thoughtfully and sensitively to the altered landscape. Salvador Acevedo noted that in a single decade, the majority of Americans under age 18 will be nonwhite. How, for example, do museums -- whose audiences are now 88% white -- build participation among diverse populations? The Latino community is very interested in the arts, he said, but Latinos are a complex population, not a monolithic bloc. Cultural institutions need to identify and understand "subsegments," recognizing that "ethnic and cultural self-identification plays a crucial role in cultural participation, but it is the not the only factor." Vivian Phillips echoed Acevedo's point. The experience of African Americans is very different from that of African immigrants, she said. She also pointed to a recalcitrant challenge: the lack of diversity in non-ethnic-specific cultural organizations, especially in management, and the unwillingness of large arts organizations to make long-term investments in supporting diverse productions. The forum was similar to many others I had participated in over the past twenty years. It was the recurring conversation among aging baby boomers agonizing over how they might strengthen their efforts to make their audiences reflect the increasing diversity of America in light of the habitual criticism that the arts are elite, unnecessary, and largely white. But while Acevedo, Phillips and others were thinking about ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity, I was ruminating about the generational divide. I wondered how the arts might come into sight for my kids -- 15 and 13. What does the younger generation consider the arts to be? Across generations, we sometimes don't share the same vocabulary, even though we might speak some of the same words.


Commentary: Time to stop 'parachuting in' arts to UK's diverse communities

Jenny Williams, page 5 of Arts Professional magazine, 12/12/11

You know the old adage, you wait for a bus and then three come along at the same time. It seems the same has happened in diversity. Only this time it is three diversity juggernauts - the Creative Case for Diversity, Arts Council England's new approach to diversity in the arts; the Equality Act 2010; and the newly instated Public Sector Duty. In The Creative Case for Diversity, there are three inter-connected themes: equality (removing barriers), recognition (placing diverse artists at the heart of British art) and a new vision (re-imagining diversity away from the 'deficit model', meaning that diversity is seen as neither a negative nor a 'problem'). For too many years there has been an over-preoccupation with identifying problems within diverse communities and trying to solve them by 'parachuting in' arts projects. This need to 'educate' diverse communities is a top-down approach and serves as a barrier between communities and the work - so it is about time that the door is closed to that era. What will the new equality framework mean to the arts sector? It is less about what we do - the output - and more about how we do it, and to what measurable impact. Our collective work in diversity has produced little change in staff representation within arts institutions; within the funding system; within programming; and within the hierarchal debate of how we define quality. In fact, we could argue, that the sector's diversity output has served society by reinforcing the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. Will the sector now be bold enough to start a new conversation around cultural inequality? Can it follow the lead of the Public Sector Duty to explore and measure collective outcomes? Can it identify how barriers operate and to what effect? Will it choose to harness the Creative Case? Or will it simply put together a diversity strategy and deliver more education programmes? It really is time for a new dialogue and sustainable change.


Commentary: The business case for diversity

Mark Robinson, page 6 of Arts Professional magazine, 12/12/11

Tony Nwachukwu of burntprogress and I recently investigated a hunch that embracing creative diversity was not an extra burden but actually a potential source of strength, and we found this to be true. Creating a more diverse business provides multiple perspectives and can connect you to more people - or markets, if you prefer that language. This then encourages even more people from many different sources and backgrounds to join you, so audiences benefit from the best talent around. Commercial sectors increasingly accept this business case: our paper includes a case study of a large law firm.  Embracing diversity is not a universal panacea. Organisations that serve particular 'identity-focused' audiences can find it difficult to build the broad audience base and organisational assets that create a range of reliable income streams. By serving 'the margins' and representing the under-represented, they invigorate the mainstream but risk remaining marginal themselves. The case studies suggest ways forward from this dilemma, and underline the business case. Developing physical and intellectual assets, and then partnering with others that have access to other audiences, as say Theatre Royal Stratford East has done with its musicals transferring to the West End, can be beneficial. Taking a flexible approach to company structures, as Watershed has done, can maximise financial, cultural and resilience returns. Heart and Soul and DaDa demonstrate the benefits of focusing on production and promotion of the artistic aspirations of diverse communities. Strategically building unique skills and networks can bring multiple benefits: new income streams, greater profile, staff development and, perhaps most importantly, breaking out of the 'diversity' pigeonhole.

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