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Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative: Literature Review

April 27, 201627 April 2016

Diversity and equity

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This literature review investigates how some cultural organizations and funders have improved “diversity in cultural organizations, in the areas of their leadership, staffing, programming and audience composition”. Elements of diversity include race, culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and age.

The authors categorize the current state of the literature in this area as “emergent”: “The problems are being identified from many different points of view. Consensus on the nature of the problem is less defined. Proven solutions are difficult to find.”

Regarding boards of directors, the report indicates that the board’s commitment to diversity should be identified in its mission statement, and “robust recruitment and leadership pipelines” should be developed. More specifically, the report indicates that “increasing diversity, cultural equity and inclusion in arts nonprofit boards requires a commitment that permeates the entire organization, may require partnerships with organizations and people outside the arts, and will require a long-term commitment.”

The literature review found that “very few initiatives to increase diversity, cultural equity and inclusion in the arts and culture workforce have been formally evaluated”. The report relies instead on “a mix of program, project and initiative descriptions” to discuss staff recruitment (including a “clearly written diversity policy” for the workforce) and “changes to the systems that prepare young people for the workforce” (including steps to diversify the arts management student body as well as alternative pathways to arts careers).

Noting that “audiences and programming are intertwined”, the report indicates that “efforts to increase diversity, cultural equity and inclusion in one can improve the other. To do this, organizations must look beyond benchmark arts disciplines, passive audiences and formal arts venues.” The report highlights the shift in the notion of arts participation from passive “attendance” to the broader concept of “participation”: “Programming geared towards a wider participatory public shows promise of building greater cultural equity and inclusion in arts audiences and programming.”

While research that relates specifically to culturally specific arts organizations was not part of the original goal of the literature review, the authors indicate that these organizations’ “potential contribution to diversity, cultural equity and inclusion in the arts ecology emerged as a potentially powerful but not yet fully understood” consideration. Noting that diverse organizations “often face challenges of underfunding as well as systemic issues of racism and marginalization” and that “health may look different for culturally specific arts organizations”, the report argues that “the tools, methods and practices used to strengthen arts organizations in general may not be as effective for culturally specific arts organizations”.  Rather, “support for these organizations may require new models and development of new resources”.

The report concludes that “achieving diversity, cultural equity and inclusion in any organization is a long-term, iterative process that engages all parts and levels of the organization, no matter how big or small”. Lessons from successful diversity efforts indicate that there are three key processes for arts organizations: communication, collaboration, and consistency (i.e., building durable relationships and sustainable programs).

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