January 30, 2015

NYC Department of Cultural Affairs – Discussing Diversity

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This week, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs took the first step in a new initiative to examine diversity in the City’s arts and cultural sector. DCA Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl invited executive leaders of the City’s major institutions and smaller organizations to participate in a discussion about why diversity matters in our sector, hosted by the Ford Foundation.

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker framed the discussion by emphasizing that diversity should be viewed not as a sacrifice but as a way to build excellence, strength, energy, and renewal. “Diversity,” said Walker, “is a way to broaden networks and links, expand political connections, and increase legitimacy in a broad-based way.”

Commissioner Finkelpearl continued the discussion by saying that while the conversation on diversity was beginning with race, all areas are important, including sexual orientation, and disability. He talked about the need to create a plan for change, beginning with a goal for expanding staff and board diversity and developing a strategy for achieving the goal within a given timeframe. And in order to make a plan, we need more data, adding that a privately-funded survey will be distributed to the sector with the expectation of full participation. He emphasized that while accomplishing the goal may take time, there is real urgency to start the work now. Organizations need to create a pipeline where people of color have points of entry into our organizations as professional staff, decision-makers, board members, and audiences.

The Roundtable constituency – teaching artists and administrators conducting the arts education programs on behalf of New York’s arts and cultural sector – is engaged in the most diverse arts activities in the field. Thousands of arts professionals work in schools and communities every day, helping tens of thousands students of color achieve in and through the arts. An important question is how to more effectively integrate participants in the arts in education and community-based arts programs happening out in communities with the arts institutions that put them there. How can these vibrant and relevant programs be part of the pipeline that brings young people of color and the diverse teaching artists working with them into the heart of arts organizations – offices, board rooms, concert halls, theatres, and museums – adding to the excellence, relevance, and innovation of our sector?

The discussion on diversity in the arts sector is one that the Roundtable will continue to engage in. A session at our 2015 Face to Face conference (April 7 & 8, 2015), developed by arts administrators of color who work for organization members of the Roundtable, is a good example of the need to put this issue firmly on the table. In this interactive panel, entitled “In Full Color” three veteran arts administrators of color will share their professional journeys, identifying the challenges and supports they have encountered on the pathway to managerial and leadership positions in the field of arts education.

The DCA discussion this week has given the sector notice that change is needed to make our field more broadly accessible and representative of the interests of all New Yorkers.

What can you do to help change the culture and create opportunities for more diverse participation in all aspects of the arts sector in NYC?