The first semester of teaching my newest course at New York University, “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts,” has just ended. This course introduced the students to the concepts of culture, diversity, and equity, and assessed the ways that arts and cultural organizations can either include or exclude people from different backgrounds. It also addressed how to cultivate a culture of diversity and inclusion at an arts organization; how to incorporate equity and inclusion in an artistic mission; how to recruit and retain employees from underrepresented populations, and how to effectively engage boards and executive leadership around these issues.
It was a 7-week, deep-dive into ED&I and why it is necessary, and we used two books as our guides: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo and my first book, Invitation to the Party.
Ms. DiAngelo’s book propels its readers to squarely look at their own fragility around racial issues and helps them understand why good intentions are not enough. Her book also offers strategies, conversations and reflections that make it possible to truly understand the concepts of ED&I, not only from the perspective of the broader society, but also as it relates to our efforts to expand access to the arts. And my book is a guide for inviting, engaging and partnering with diverse communities, sharing the successful strategies and methods I have used over the course of my career.
Our guest speakers were outstanding! They were:
Durell Deon Cooper, Program Officer, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs
Victoria Bailey, Executive Director of the Theatre Development Fund (TDF)
Ginny Louloudes, Executive Director, Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (ART/NY)
Sandra Jackson Dumont – Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose Chairman of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
Each of the speakers were deeply immersed in ED&I work from a leadership perspective, which is where this work should begin, live and thrive in any arts organization.
I was very impressed with this inaugural cohort—the 10 students all worked for New York-based arts organization. Every week, their homework assignments and in-class discussions reflected that they were peeling away the layers of discomfort and judgement that often emerge during frank discussions about ED&I and the arts. They also spent time thinking about and discussing initiatives to address the needs of people with disabilities; needs which transcend race, ethnicity and class. I applaud their bravery, honesty and sincere efforts to dig deeper.
This course was an enriching experience for me, as well. It was the first time, in an educational institution setting, that I engaged in a frank discussion about race with a predominantly white group. The participants were eager to embrace the subject matter and learn how to apply it to real-life situations. Consequently, the course emerged as an organic platform for all of us to learn from each other without judgement.
There also were two important take-aways that I hope the readers of Arts & Culture Connections will ponder, as well. First, it is impossible to be effective with ED&I without initially looking inward and analyzing what inner changes are needed in order to be heard, to be trusted, and to maintain authenticity. Second, ED&I is a long-term investment of financial resources and time to achieve the goal of making the arts available and accessible to all people.
Each of the students presented a final assignment based on their assessment of the needs of their respective institutions, and it seemed to me that they are all committed to changing the dynamics where they work, first beginning with themselves. I can’t wait to check in with them in a few months to see how they are progressing with this daunting challenge, and I look forward to teaching the course again this fall.
Book cover credit: White Fragility – Beacon Press
Invitation to the Party – Theatre Communications Group