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Identity and the Cultural Workforce: Lessons Learned in Seven Years and Three Cities

June 20, 201820 June 2018

Human resources in the arts and culture / Diversity and equity

Grantmakers in the Arts


Arin Sullivan

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Based on experiences conducting demographic surveys of arts organizations in Chicago, Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Houston, this article outlines key findings regarding the measurement of identity-related characteristics (but not actual survey results). The surveys focused on five characteristics: race/ethnicity, age, gender, LBGTQ status, and disability status.

The author argues that, “while there are many ways in which funders can begin to make change, there is broad agreement that the arts cannot meaningfully represent the vast array of human expression through art and culture if our workforce fails to reflect the communities we serve.” Further, the author indicates that “gathering, analyzing, and sharing data are important and concrete steps to inform the process of change” toward greater levels of equity and inclusion. However, “collecting demographic information from our cultural workforce is a sensitive undertaking, touching on our most deep-seated concerns about privacy, fairness, and identity”.

The article highlights challenges related to collecting demographic data from arts employers rather than employees themselves, how American census categories do “not go far enough to capture the actual range of residents’ identities”, and some organizations’ concerns about “how demographic data might be used in funding decisions”. The author counsels funders to establish diversity goals and show how the data collection efforts are put to good use, that is, in providing “a realistic catalyst for change”. This could require “a longitudinal approach, returning to the survey as often as every two to three years, to strengthen that baseline knowledge and measure efforts to become more inclusive”.

In a context of increased “understanding of the ways in which racial and social inequities are the result of complex systemic issues”, the author notes that “ongoing data collection and measurement of progress toward established goals is a tool for system change and accountability”.

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