Avoiding the Cultural Equity Blob
The topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion have gained momentum and are now positioned at the forefront of many conversations among organizations and arts administrators. From research reports to Twitter chats, from conference workshops to inter-office training sessions, members of the field have accepted the challenge of adapting to our country’s demographic changes and to adopting the language to improve how we engage diverse communities—as audiences and as employees.
However, despite these progressive and much needed efforts of equity and inclusion of diverse communities I am concerned. As a person of color, I am excited to see these topics become organizational priorities, but in many instances these efforts seem more suited as the step-sibling of “outreach” and “community engagement” rather than a conscious shift in organizational culture. For me, the pursuit of more equitable programs, organizations and cultural workplaces are rooted in:
Authenticity: So you’ve decided explore making changes in how your organization reflects diversity, equity and inclusion internally and in your programming. Fantastic! But why? Why now? What set the precedent? Can you respond to this question without bringing up other organizations and diversity, equity and inclusion as rising trends? The sincerity of you inspiration and vision for the outcome alters the tone of your efforts -- for the better.
- Power: A reflection of Authenticity. I was on a Museum Hue panel earlier this year with Magda Martinez of Fleisher Art Memorial where she articulated equity in terms of power. Who are the people around the table and leading the conversation? What is the relationship/dynamic as the group makes progress towards improvements in an organization’s outlook on diversity, equity and inclusion?
Successful work towards a more diverse, equitable and inclusive field hinges on authenticity, balance of power. I am often asked for my opinion—as a woman, as a person of color, as a young person—and then I never hear from them again. Like the Blob, my opinion is consumed to make an organization stronger, gain control and is not necessarily learned from. This undervalues the perspective(s) that are essential in understanding why and how to update an organization through a cultural equity lens.
Lastly, how do our efforts compare to those of other local nonprofits? Diversity, equity and inclusion are bigger than the arts and hold cross-sector relevance. Are we comparing our successes to our cultural peers or to efforts outside of the field? This is an opportunity to go beyond the bubble of arts and culture, rail against its stereotypes of exclusion and parochialism and speak to the broader, social relevance of our sector—just as education and public safety are making adaptive changes, so too is arts and culture.