A Diversity Problem in Arts Administration: The 2013 Salary Survey Reaction

Posted by Abe Flores, Jul 22, 2013 37 comments

AbeFlores_Headshot Abe Flores

Artists and their art are as diverse as our communities, but arts administrators are not. After reviewing the Local Arts Agencies Salaries 2013 research report, one thing jumped out at me: The arts administration field has a diversity problem. It’s not shocking to me that the salaries of arts administrators are not commensurate with their skills, education, experience, and responsibility (I have friends working at a utility company as coordinators who make more than Art EDs) but the demographics, although somewhat expected, are disconcerting. Ninety-two percent of the report’s respondents who identified as Executive Directors or CEOs are white. Eighty-six percent of the overall respondents are white.

The American for the Arts national convention gave me a lot to ponder about race and demographics, particularly Manuel Pastor’s presentation and the numerous conversations I had with my fellow Emerging Leaders on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change.

Growing up in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles, a working poor Latino neighborhood, I did not know any white people (aside from those on television) until I started college. Even in college, I never felt like a “minority” because there were always plenty of people with backgrounds similar to my own. It wasn’t until I began working in the arts field that the label “minority” seemed appropriate for me. In the subsequent years at many of the arts meetings, conferences, and events, I was the only Latino attending.  I found it very strange. In Los Angeles, where whites make up only 27% of the population, they made up the vast majority of the local arts administration field. I came to understand that when the cultural diversity of a community is not reflected in the individuals attempting to serve the community, the very act of communicating becomes a barrier, which limits the knowledge of needs, wants, and opportunities.

The reality that those charged with providing services to the arts are not reflective of those making the arts contributes to limited first-hand knowledge and understanding, and ultimately the unequal distribution of grant dollars. As the Fusing Arts report found, large organizations which focus primarily on Western European art forms make up about two percent of arts nonprofits yet receive more than half of awarded grant dollars. I believe it simply because granters fund what they know, understand, and have long been established.

As a Mexican-American, I can never be expected to speak for all Mexicans, let alone Latinos. But what I can do is literally speak the language, and begin to help bridge any divide that exists because I have a basic understanding of my community. In my mind the goal of diversity is not mere tokenism or a quota but rather greater understanding and connection among various groups. The arts are about connection and help us create meaning out of our world; without individuals who come from all of our diverse communities, many great art forms will remain in cultural silos. With increased diversity in the arts administration field, a greater understanding of what motivates these communities will be achieved and new monies will come into new communities following the increased knowledge and understanding.  In order to continue to stay relevant to the culture, the arts field must become a reflection of the American population with its continued demographic shifts. I am not here to say that only Mexicans can connect with a Mexican community and support Mexican art, but rather that serving the Mexican community requires Local Arts Agencies to hire a local guide.

Ultimately what diversity builds are bridges to all of our communities. Let’s learn about and support the great art from every culture. The Mexican community will benefit with Louis Armstrong and the white community from Mariachi Vargas. Everyone will benefit when these two worlds collide and we get new music influenced by jazz and mariachi.

I know that the arts field has been struggling with this issue for a long time and has worked consciously to address it. The Emerging Leaders Networks have good diverse representation and serve as a pipeline for individuals to enter the field. But with more Masters of Arts Management programs comes the further professionalization of the field making the accidental arts administrator increasingly uncommon. If the pool of new arts administrators will increasingly come from graduate programs, then diversity will remain an issue because of the low numbers of “minorities” receiving the overall bachelor’s degrees in the U.S: Hispanics 8.8%, Blacks 10.3%, and Whites 72.9% (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=72). The arts field can counter the systemic issues making that a reality with greater outreach to high school students who have a passion for the arts. We can’t just focus on college because unfortunately, they too don’t reflect the diversity of our communities.

Overt racism may no longer be socially accepted (e.g. the Paula Deen affair) but institutionalized racism continues to plague America. The lack of diversity in arts administration is in part a result of deep-rooted systemic factors. Many of our children face unequal opportunities in education and access to culture. The arts have a role in social justice work, most obviously in ensuring a complete education that includes the arts for all students. Diversity audits in organizations can result in increased awareness of the need for diversity. But I believe that a greater effort to identify young high school artists and arts lovers from diverse communities to provide them with mentorship, internship, and networking opportunities can begin to correct the diversity problem. Identify the passion, show what is possible, and help them get into college. That, along with getting artists in every classroom, should be the charge of the entire arts field.





37 responses for A Diversity Problem in Arts Administration: The 2013 Salary Survey Reaction


July 29, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Antonio, I can't wait to read your research. I do see professional development programs and internships as a major tool for combating/dismantling institutional racism.

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P Lundy says
August 01, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Abe, thank you for your article. I was thrilled to read such a wonderfully insightful piece on this matter. This dialogue is so necessary and I am glad that I stumbled into it. It has been an issue that I know we struggle with in our own community, having an Arts Administrative task force that represents the diversity that exists in our own arts community. I love what you said here, because this constantly baffles me:

"The reality that those charged with providing services to the arts are not reflective of those making the arts contributes to limited first-hand knowledge and understanding, and ultimately the unequal distribution of grant dollars. As the Fusing Arts report found, large organizations which focus primarily on Western European art forms make up about two percent of arts nonprofits yet receive more than half of awarded grant dollars. I believe it simply because granters fund what they know, understand, and have long been established."

Unfortunately, I have been a first hand witness of these sorts of practices and its sad because communities are not receiving the maximum benefit from its artists and arts professionals whose engagement, cultural background, and diversity (i.e. all the examples Antonio listed in his article. Great article Antonio! Very timely) could add greater depth, understanding, education, healing, stability, wholeness, you name it, to its community. How can artists and arts groups in smaller, under-served and highly politicized communities work together to demand equal representation, equal opportunity for funding and equal voice in decisions being made that affects them directly especially when they feel threatened by possible backlash though withholding of future funds or worse?

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Antonio C. Cuyler says
July 23, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Abe et al.,

I agree completely with what has been expressed. Those who recruit students into their Arts Management programs need to initiate the change and proactively recruit diverse candidates into their programs. I recently wrote about this in an article, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10632921.2013.786009#.Ue7aGY...

We need diverse managers, and I mean those with disabilities and managers from the LGTBQQIAS community too, with the intellectual capital to make a difference in culturally-specific and non-culturally specific arts organizations.

I am further disturbed by a system of arts patronage that asks people from all walks of life for public financial support through their tax dollars, but leads to no real community engagement or the development of new cultural capital.

Lastly, I hope this revived attention on this topic inspires real action and change. Contrary to what some people believe, as demonstrated in the Trayvon Martin case, we do not live in a post-racial society.

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July 23, 2013 at 2:59 pm

"... a greater effort to identify young high school artists and arts lovers from diverse communities to provide them with mentorship, internship, and networking opportunities can begin to correct the diversity problem. Identify the passion, show what is possible, and help them get into college. That, along with getting artists in every classroom, should be the charge of the entire arts field..."

I could not agree more! Bravo, Abe!

I'm the product of a after-school/ summer arts conservatory in Albuquerque, NM that introduced me to the arts and helped me gain access to an education in art practice and arts administration. This was only possible because of the opportunities I had as a teen to discover my interest in art and to create a network within some art world circles at an early age.

Because of this early opportunity I was prepared to apply to college and confident enough in an arts focused path that I did not major in more "socially acceptable subjects" (i.e. pre-med, pre-law, etc). I graduated from a top-tier liberal arts college with a degree in studio art and multiple arts admin internships under my belt. Went on to work at The Studio Museum in Harlem in NYC and have recently returned to my hometown to work as the Visual Art Program Director at the same program that brought me up, Working Classroom.

My ultimate goal in my new role is to give more young artists and arts administrators all of the opportunities and experiences possible so that they feel confident choosing a career in the arts- and that they can make a living! I think it is also important to encourage our peers who also come from underrepresented communities to participate in the mainstream in addition to making progress in our own communities.

My brother (a working artist) and I have also formed an artist collective, Vecinos Artist Collective, with 6 other emerging New Mexican creatives. Through this collective effort we've been able to leverage funding and legitimacy to sit at the table with mainstream contenders.

I've made it a priority to ALWAYS look to see who's around or behind me so we can help each other make our way...

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Abe Flores says
July 24, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Thank you for what you do Gabrielle!

Yes, internships are extremely important. I got my start in the arts field with an internship in the LA County Arts Commission's Arts for All initiative. As an amateur musicians (to the fullest extent of the definition) the idea of a job that mixed all my passions (arts,politics, education) was news to me.

What I find alarming is that I know there are extremely talented young minority artists out there and great local arts scenes - that just never get their due. I think of the documentary "Innocente", if that art space never existed - where would she be?

I think it comes down to creating opportunities.

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Laura Zamarripa says
August 01, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Gabrielle what a great story! I discovered the visual arts as a high school student through a teen docent program at the El Paso Museum of Art. I've been an arts administrator for ten years now, though I wasn't confident in my decision early on as you were. There was certain family and friend pressure to "study something useful," not art history, but I was extremely lucky to receive one of the McDermott internships at the Dallas Museum of Art after college. My journey has also led me back to the place where my curiosity for arts was born; I'm the head of education for the El Paso Museum of Art, and though I don't have as much time in the galleries with the students as I used to, I'm making decisions with my staff on a regular basis on how to develop the next generation of diverse museum goers and artists.

It seems like there is a lot of positive energy around this topic to plan and implement progress on at least a regional level.

Please feel free to email me with thoughts: zamarripali [at] elpasotexas.gov

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Patricia Garza says
July 22, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Thank you Abe for contributing to this discussion that has been brewing in full force in theatres, in particular at Theatre Communications Group annual conferences.

I totally 100% agree that the systemic racism inherent in our institutions is what is continually prolonging the lack of change. Until universities and arts organization, for that matter, overtly change their recruitment tactics and evaluation metrics we may continue to not move that needle. I always challenge myself to look at our own outreach plans and recruitment materials and see if I am following my own values around diversity.

Let's state what we are aiming for and then proceed!

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Abe Flores says
July 24, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Patricia, the blog is in large part a result of our awesome Pittsburgh conversations. We need to talk about it and better yet be intentional about addressing it. Its not going to fix itself.

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Crystal says
July 22, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Great article Abe!

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Abe Flores says
July 24, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Thank you!

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Antonio C. Cuyler says
August 07, 2013 at 12:04 pm
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July 23, 2013 at 7:50 am

Thank you for your thoughtfulness, Abe. This issue is incredibly important, and to borrow a phrase from the sports community -- we must keep our eye on the ball. Even when budgets, tuition, staff, boards,funding, and other issues distract us, we must continue to examine our own houses and stay on task. A strong field of arts administrators is a diverse field in the same way that a strong arts program includes all art forms.

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Abe Flores says
July 24, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I appreciate the positive feedback. Yes! eye on the ball. We have to be intentional there are bigger systemic forces at play. The arts field must recognize the challenge and not get overwhelmed with thinking it must fix the system all at once. The arts have an incredible piece of the solution= Human connection.

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Janet Brown says
July 23, 2013 at 11:55 am

This is an issue that will not easily or quickly be resolved. But if we don't start acknowledging that institutional racism exists and addressing its structural concerns, we will never move forward. Thank you Abe. Finding students in high schools, and perhaps even establishing college scholarship programs for arts administrators from ALANA communities is a beginning.

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Abe Flores says
July 24, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Yes its a start, and nothing new. The STEM fields are already doing it (http://www.nih.gov/news/health/apr2013/od-23.htm)

Three things must occur at once:1) fund more "informal arts"(i hate that term, but I don't have a better one) and minority arts 2) Raise awareness of arts management to minority youths and give them scholarships 3) Increase access to the arts and arts education in under-served areas.

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Abe Flores says
July 24, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Thank you. There is a degree of professionalization that must occur if (and that is a big if) a local art scene wants reach a larger audience, and if the artists want to make a living off their work.

I see parallels to what you are saying with what is happening in LA with our mural laws. There is the established, legendary, and vital mural org & the individual (sometimes up and coming) muralists. What the muralists can learn from the org (in my opinion) is critical to the entire mural movement- How do you save old mural,produce new ones that wont get white washed, and get an honest wage.

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Abe Flores says
July 24, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Cristina, I feel you. My first suggestion is intern/volunteer at the places you want to work. My second is send me an email, and we can set up a call to chat. Best of luck!

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Patricia Garza says
July 24, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Hi Antonio! So good to see you contributing to this dialogue from our AAAE connection. Thank you for the link to your article-I know the last time we all met in Claremont you were mentioning that this was going to be coming out. Bravo to you for doing the work.

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Kelly Armstead says
July 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Outstanding article and long over-due... Bravo Abe!

As an African-American woman working in Arts Education at a performing arts center I can 100% agree. In addition to more diverse arts administrators, managers, etc.,

We also need to focus on "bridging the gap" between high schools & colleges. At our center, we've implemented a Teen Ambassador program which provides a plethora of FREE opportunities for students to meet, work with, learn from all aspects of the "behind the scenes" in the theater industry ... including sitting on head-set during B'way shows, tweeting & writing reviews and/or chatting with renowned artist, directors and so forth.

The dialogue must continue followed by action ...

Embracing and celebrating our collective cultural contributions to this world is essential.

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Abe Flores says
July 25, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Thank you for your work! I love what I am hearing. Lets find a role for every kid who is interested in any art institution!

Of all the fields, the arts require diversity in order for them to achieve their goals.

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July 25, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Thank you so much for this article, Abe. It resonates and I think I've already shared it with about ten colleagues.

White people are way behind the curve in learning to talk opening about institutional race and racism. I realized this after several conversations at AFTA, and Justin Laing of the Heintz Endowments was kind enough to provide me with a reading list to help get me up to speed on the history and terminology I need to be an active participant in this dialogue. Currently, I'm reading "Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice," by Paul Kivel, which carefully defines white privilege and white benefits and is intended to help the reader notice institutional racism surrounding him/her.

Several older white people have commented on your article (in various locations-- Facebook included) that "don't worry, we dinosaurs will be out of your way soon!". This seems to downplay the effects of racism and isn't actually supported by the research being done by people like Dr. Antonio Cuyler (hi Antonio!). This is not a problem that will go away on its own. It takes the kind of strategic, long-term effort you describe in your blog post.

Thank you for your thoughtful post, and I look forward to working with you on these issues for many years to come.

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Abe Flores says
July 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm

That was one of my biggest takeaways in at the AFTA convention. White people need to be part of this conversation. Whites are not monolithic and are actually have a huge role in actualizing diversity.

Thank you for being awesome.

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Abe Flores says
July 25, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Thank you for the great article, It was very enlightening ( I wish I would have read it before I wrote my piece).

I think we need a new phrase to substitute "Affirmative action". It conjures in too many people's minds unhelpful scenarios all revolving around quotas for unqualified minorities.

In regards to messaging, the case for diversity is too often lost in the process to actualize diversity. I know first hand the systemic barriers minorities face in getting into college but affirmative action foes seem not to care where we came from just what are GPA is and how many AP courses we took. Any talk regarding lack of opportunities and difficult circumstances is lost. How is a university better or the arts field better when it is diverse? I think if we led with that and work backwards from their in describing the process then Affirmative Action (or whatever euphemism) will not be a loaded word.

Thank you again for the article. It got my brain buzzing.

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July 25, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Thank you for this! As "accidental arts administrator" I've combated the inevitable glass ceiling of my career. I'm a Nuyorican working on Broadway, for one of the "super not-for-profits," and almost always find myself not only being the only minority in a meeting, but sometimes the only one in my own theater -- in NYC! Change has been slow, but we cannot be discouraged by the pace of advancement. Hopefully the fruits of our efforts will be awarded to the generation that follows us.

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July 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Kelly, your program sounds wonderful. There maybe opportunities for Strategic alliances with the Arts & Business Council of NYC, the Getty Foundation, Steppenwolf Theatre, and or Wolf Trap.

Abe and Joseph, I am happy to say that there are diversity programs successfully recruiting and professionally preparing arts managers of color. For example, I'm studying Wolf Trap's internship program, but also the diversity program within the internship program. The data shows that since 1999 the Josie A. Bass program for African Americans has hosted 100 interns. Wolf Trap also later added the Los Padres program for interns from Spanish-speaking backgrounds. Several of these interns go on to have thriving careers as arts managers. For example, Cristine Davis, the new general manager of the performing arts alliance.

Hi Camille! I applaud your efforts at wanting to do more. Diversity in the Arts is not just a people of color thing, it really is a human thing. It's strange to think that we have to re-educate ourselves to appreciate that which is a fact, the beauty of human difference.

The change is coming, I just hope we in the arts are ready to do something great with it.

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Alicia M. Crowe says
August 28, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Thank you Antonio for such a informative and insightful article. I just happened to come across it. Your article perspective inspired me. As an African-American woman, I can appreciate this conversation on diversity and inclusion.
I also appreciate this blog. As an attorney/artist, I have always kept my artistic endeavors in the background to my day job. Now, I don't have to do that after learning about the career. I have transitioned into arts administration and started working with my local arts council.

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Dr. Antonio C. Cuyler says
August 29, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Congratulations on the transition Alicia! An arts council is the perfect place for someone with you skills. Thank you for your comments on my article. I hope we can move from conversing about the issue to action about changing the issue.

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Cristina Ibarra says
July 29, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Thank you for a great article and discussion! Is the report on "Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change" publicly available online for further reading?

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July 29, 2013 at 6:55 pm

"White people are way behind the curve in learning to talk open[ly] about institutional race and racism..."

Really? ALL white people? Some white people? Every other white person? Urban white people? Rural white people? Rich white people? Poor white people? Republican white people? Democrat white people?

Which white people, exactly, please?

Seems to me that everyone is talking about it almost constantly and, in fact, cannot escape being obliged to talk about it. No?

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Antonio C. Cuyler says
July 30, 2013 at 2:08 am


Maybe the problem is how we talk about institutionalized racism. And I don't mean just White people. As I stated earlier, the lack of diversity in the arts is not just a "White people" problem. If we talk about institutionalized racism in a way that is dismissive and remiss of real concerns, than White privilege and institutional racism seems to persist, no?

For example, I love opera. But, opera companies rarely program operas by anybody but able-bodied, heterosexual, dead White men. See the most frequently produced operas here, http://www.operaamerica.org/content/research/quick1112.aspx

Why is this? Furthermore, what of the correlation between what is produced, who decides it should be produced, and who comes to see what is produced?

If we in the arts want to solve the diversity problem regarding arts managers, artists, and audiences, we have to stop having cyclical conversations that don't lead to action and progress. I'm continuously astonished that more people of color don't even know that arts management exist as a possible career choice.

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Antonio C. Cuyler says
August 01, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Thanks P. Lundy!

You raise an excellent question. I would suggest it starts with involvement in the political process that supports public funding at the city, county, state, regional, and/or national levels. "Public" funding means just that. And all of those whose taxes have contributed to these public funds should have a voice in determining the mechanism and systems that should equitable fund all arts organizations.

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chrissy.deal@westaf.org says
August 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Abe - what an insightful piece. Thank you for crafting this important message and, as a result, prompting such rich dialogue. I have just recently taken on a new role at the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) working with their multicultural/diversity initiatives throughout the Western US. As a long-time arts administrator/volunteer/patron with a commitment to helping nonprofits work toward racial equity, I'm eager to connect with folks like you and others who have posted as WESTAF continues to explore ways to engage promising leaders of color in its efforts.

Having just started last week, I'm still very much in the information-gathering phase. Thankfully, I'm not completely new to the work but would be hard-pressed to describe exactly what the aforementioned "efforts" will look like/be knowing it will take time (especially when I'm still trying to learn how the printer and coffee makers work.) While I don't have anything concrete to put before you all quite yet, I didn't want to miss out on "meeting" folks on this thread.

That said, I'm beginning to sense a groundswell of support among emerging and mid-level arts leaders of color and white allies for more movement - and by that I mean true ACTION - on this issue. As a Latina who has been looking forward to this time for a long while, I'm honored to be a part of the conversation and hopefully the solution.

Let's stay in touch!
Chrissy (chrissy.deal [at] westaf.org)

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Carol R Williams says
August 28, 2013 at 11:25 pm

I have been talking about this for years and it's refreshing to have someone recognize it's relevance. Especially when it comes to 2D visual or fine art. Would like to see more pro-active local agencies focused on why,how and ACTION especially when it comes to having white allies that also wish to see more diversity in positions of power in the arts. I have been researching the topic for about 4 years and tried to get a scholarship to attend the PhD program I got into but they did not see it as a problem. They thought that science and math were bigger issues for people of color. I beg to differ. One is no more important than the other and the art world is in dire need of a more diverse and inclusive outlook. This can only happen if both individuals of color see the arts just as viable as the culture that wishes to truly see their art as valuable and worthy of recognition. Black kids do not dream about being painters and those that do have their families eventually talk them out of it because it doesn't make money. What most don't understand is that it is very difficult to get into even arts administration if you don't have a degree. I had a dream to do an action awareness conference around the issue and bring a diverse group folks together to truly address the issue. If any of you would be into something like that email me klove4art@gmail.com 2014 would be a great year for something like that.

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August 28, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Forgot, BTW This is the reason I have started work on 'Art of the Game'
specifically to address this issue/challenge
I am looking for board members currently
If you are interested in pro-active action email klove4art@gmail.com
You can check it out at: http://klove4art.wix.com/art-of-the-game

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Arturo Zavala says
July 23, 2013 at 10:28 am

Great article. What I see is it that there are plenty of great Latino Arts Administrators currently in the field working within their communities. The problem is that our main stream institutions are not willing recognizing their work. I like the idea of working with high school students, but the change also needs to happen from within the organizations because there is a lot of great art currently happening in minority communities, its just not happening in our current mainstream organizations (perhaps making these organizations obsolete). So why should Latino Administrators look for guidance from these organizations and buy into the bullshit hierarchy when these organizations have done little to nothing for our communities?

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Cristina Uranga says
July 23, 2013 at 10:34 am

Thank you Abe for being "my voice" and the voice of my community! I am an MBA (Marketing) and MA Arts Management graduate with a 3.9 GPA looking for a job in this ocean where it seems only one type of fish swims.

I've applied EVERYWHERE with no success. Any suggestions?

Again, great article! Congrats!

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Antonio C. Cuyler says
July 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I apologize if the link to the article I referenced did not open. Please download it for free here, http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/g5d8fwzGqSFfyfDziEtt/full#.UfAIP42siM4

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