A Message to the Field from the Board of Directors of Americans for the Arts: Report to the Field on the Task Force for Racial and Cultural Equity
To our members, strategic partners, patrons, artists, and the entire arts and culture community:
Americans for the Arts Board of Directors and senior leadership want to share, with all sincerity, that we have used these last months of organizational transition to reflect on our actions, and their effect on those we serve. We have taken a deep and critical look in the mirror to better understand how our work is being impacted by the societal issues affecting our members, partners, and all those dedicated to the arts and culture community.
First and foremost, we are humbled by the reports and formal/informal communications from our members and partners, which include a broad spectrum of often sobering feedback about association with Americans for the Arts. We want you to know we have heard the constructive criticism regarding the organization’s work toward racial and cultural equity. We acknowledge and apologize for our shortcomings. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) should be more centered in the ethos, structure, and substance of the organization. We also acknowledge the need for public accountability and evaluation of our DEI work, which has not been fully transparent. Also, we are taking steps to better engage and deeply listen to the field, without hubris. It is our goal as an organization to create active feedback loops and thoughtful response scenarios for our members and partners.
In our introspection, we acknowledge the importance of shared advocacy and shared leadership within the broader arts and culture community. We want to be better partners in this regard, and we realize our best efforts can only occur by rebuilding trust and realignment with the field. We know that it will take time and, more importantly, actions.
While Americans for the Arts has served millions directly and indirectly over the last several decades, the organization has been characterized as reactive and even transactional in its interactions with the field. We have not always led in a manner that is consistent with our aspirational values, and this has had an adverse impact on relationships with the field and our partners. Our recent changes are a pivot point we believe will offer notable change from the past.
Many members, partners, and patrons are reading this letter and may question these statements. They may not see themselves or their experience with Americans for the Arts in these words of contrition. But the truth is, we have come to hear and realize that more than just some of our constituents feel excluded, marginalized, and underserved. We are now mindful of the full spectrum of experiences, the unintended consequences to our organization, and the effect on our relevance to the field.
We have come to fully recognize that Americans for the Arts can do better in delivering consistent, high quality, and mutually beneficial leadership and service as a national organization. We want to begin this recognition by offering the findings from the board commissioned Task Force for Racial and Cultural Equity.
The Task Force for Racial and Cultural Equity was part of the organizational assessment immediately implemented by the Board at the end of 2020. The Task Force was led by Abel Lopez, Chair, Cultural Equity Committee of the Board. It consisted of Board members, staff, and independent arts and culture field experts with broad diversity across the United States in areas of social justice, arts and culture, academia, and in service to the field in their respective organizations. The Task Force was commissioned to ascertain organizational gaps in communications, programs, and service support to the field, specifically in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The commissioned Task Force deliberated for over five months. There are some on the Task Force who wish to remain anonymous and therefore the names of the individuals, in toto, have not been publicly released; in part, this was because the Task Force’s work was a raw undertaking with highly charged debates that got to the heart of the social fabric of our society and the arts’ role therein. In sharing the collected insights of the Task Force’s work, we hope it will be viewed as our organization’s dedicated first step to rebuilding trust with the larger field and our strategic partners as well.
The five themes below, which were identified by the Task Force, will inform our work to reimagine Americans for the Arts. Our commitment is to work with the thought leadership from the field to address the suggested actions from the Task Force more broadly as we embark upon the next Americans for the Arts strategic plan. We are purposefully calling this planning effort the Strategic Realignment Plan because it will realign the organization’s work with the needs of the field. We look forward to the engagement with the field as we move through this process during the next year. Also, we will be communicating the ways for the field to be involved and regularly sharing our progress through our website and through other communications.
We acknowledge that incremental change cannot and will not be a substitute for intentional and substantive change. We announce our commitment to measurable, accountable change as Americans for the Arts embarks on operationalizing and strategically centering equity in our work to serve the field and our partners.
These past months have allowed us to examine what we, as an organization, must embark upon to strategically realign Americans for the Arts to the current and future vision of the field and the country. We are committed to better understand the changes required to reimagine our organization as our best and highest self, and in the service to the community.
On behalf of Americans for the Arts and its Board of Directors, we thank you and look forward to continuing our work with you.
Chair, Board of Directors
CEO & President
Report from the Board of Directors to the Field on the Task Force for Racial and Cultural Equity
The five themes of potential actions
1. Americans for the Arts’ Scope and Delimitation of Racial and Cultural Equity
The recommendation of scope and delimitation of racial and cultural equity challenged Americans for the Arts to make racial equity a core focus of its work, and to address the fullest range of America’s diversity in artistic and cultural expressions. The Task Force urged Americans for the Arts to define and clarify those we serve and to include, among others, Local Arts Agency leaders who can help to define and implement strategies to advance racial and cultural equity as part of an ecosystem.
2. The realignment and/or expansion of Strategic Partnerships of Americans for the Arts to reflect the societal and cultural shift in the United States
The Task Force identified Strategic Partnerships as an area in which our organization needs to learn how to practice distributed leadership based on solidarity of purpose and collaboration to advance racial and cultural equity. Americans for the Arts has the opportunity to embrace partnership commitments with trusted leaders and organizations in the Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, and other cultural organizations that can inform our own effectiveness as an ally, advocate, and partner.
3. The Democratization of Policy and Advocacy Agendas to include and engage various communities
The Task Force also noted the importance of the democratization of the policy and advocacy agenda and recognizing those partners in the field that can be strong collaborators. The overarching theme is that racial and cultural equity policy in advocacy work must include democratization of the process and collaboration with those partners in setting and implementing more inclusive policy and advocacy agendas.
4. Budget Transparency for the organization’s key priorities and initiatives
Budget transparency was a theme of the findings. It was reported that Americans for the Arts can build trust in the field by providing more information on its financial commitments to core DEI initiatives and programs, demonstrating the full measure of resources expended in service to this priority.
5. Communications of Actions relating to racial and cultural equity and the external and internal alignment with core messages
The final theme focused on communications and specifically external communications of actions taken by Americans for the Arts to elevate presence and advancement of racial and cultural equity commitments. It was noted by the Task Force that Americans for the Arts’ communications can be enhanced by presenting information beyond intentions. The field is looking to Americans for the Arts for actions, metrics, and outcomes, which have not been forthcoming or clear for the field.