Diversification Begins with a Theory of Change
I “fell” into equity, diversity, and inclusion work in my previous profession as a college admissions officer. Frankly, if I’m being completely honest, I “fell” into college admission work because the starving artist pathway seemed a bit too daunting to pursue at that time. As an immigrant and a first-generation college student, failure and risk-taking did not seem like practical options to me. However, in the ten years I spent within the world of college admissions, I grew eager to recruit, counsel, and admit students from diverse backgrounds because I knew how important it was for me to see such representation during my time as a student.
When I finally pivoted into arts administration, inching my way closer toward being a full-time creative, I was a bit surprised to find how much the sector was struggling with issues of diversification. Over time, I suppose I had grown accustomed to an industry that had no issue tackling diversification head-on and I expected the arts, the champion of inclusion, would be the same way.
I’ve come to realize that my power to create change in the arts is rooted in my being.
Build A Theory of Change
I am fortunate enough to oversee two great projects at ArtsBoston: the ArtsBoston Audience Lab, funded by the Barr Foundation, and the Network for Arts Administrators of Color, launched with seed funding from Bank of America. Both programs are helping to drive the change we desperately need in greater Boston’s arts sector. For the ArtsBoston Audience Lab, diversification (specifically audiences of color) began with a Theory of Change—a blueprint designed in collaboration with the ten participating organizations in the Lab. When organizations state that they want more “diversity” in their audiences, we ask them to think a step further:
What is the real change we want to see in the sector?
It can’t just be about our audiences. If we want meaningful change to happen, we have to build out a long-term strategy that includes structural and institutional change.
Creating the Logic Model was the first critical step in the launch of the ArtsBoston Audience Lab. As a cohort, we needed to clearly define the problem, and build out a set of strategies, outputs, and outcomes toward the ultimate goal of systemic change.
Collective buy-in is paramount. We recognized the need for the participating organizations to come to a unified conclusion. One of the most rewarding parts of the process was watching the cohort members’ initial discomfort in taking ownership of our collective complicity in the lack of audiences of color attending performances. Before moving forward, we had to recognize that we all contribute to The Problem that Greater Boston is a racially divided city, and local arts and culture organizations contribute to this problem by serving audiences that are not reflective of the city’s population, which is majority people of color.
From there, we were able to set The Goal that participating arts and culture organizations will invest and achieve success in engaging and retaining more audiences of color; with a Final Impact five or more years down the line that strives for sector-wide change, a commitment to audience diversification, an improved trust from our audiences for a better experience and stronger participation, and an ArtsBoston that provides a range of support for the sector around issues of Audience Diversification and Cultural Competency.
It takes a village and I’ve come to realize that my power to create change in the arts is rooted in my being. It also comes from a sense of belonging and a desire to see more people who look like me in positions of power in our sector. It is the reason I created the Network for Arts Administrators of Color, the reason I enjoy the exploratory nature of the ArtsBoston Audience Lab, and the reason I continue to push for change both for our audiences and for the people of color who work in our industry. As a creative, arts consumer, and administrator, I want to be in a sector that is willing to change and willing to do the hard work necessary for change. A plan of action is important, but a willingness to implement change, to make mistakes, to reassess, and to forge ahead is essential for a better future for our arts and cultural sector.