August 1, 2021 — I recently had the opportunity to moderate a webinar with a panel of esteemed colleagues working in the field of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) to address “What an Anti-Racist Arts Organization Looks Like and How The Cultural Industry Can Respond To Racial Injustice.”
Sponsored by Arts Reach, an association of arts management, marketing and development professionals, the panelists discussed trends, challenges and successes they are experiencing in their efforts to help create anti-racist and EDI cultures in their respective workplaces or with their clients. The panelists were Brenda Williams-Butts, Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at New York Public Radio; Cheryl Rosario, Founder of CGR Consulting; Khalilah Elliot, Founder and Chief Disruptor of Gafford Communications, LLC, and Eugenia Harvey, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for The WNET Group.
I’d like to share key points from each of the panelists about what an anti-racist arts organization looks like, which I hope will inspire you to want to learn more:
- Brenda Williams-Butts: Working to create spaces for courageous dialogue and making it a strategic priority to dismantle systemic racism and inequality.
- Cheryl Rosario: It’s important to help organizations understand how to imbed DEI into their culture—it can’t be relegated to one department. It has to be from the ground-up; from the top down and include the board. It also must go beyond hiring to include retention.
- Khalilah Elliot: Post-George Floyd, the world looks very different. We must expand our efforts beyond audience development and make a commitment and investment. The “E” in EDI is Equity, and that’s my focus—equitable solutions.
- Eugenia Harvey: We created a program called Making Space and brought in consultants to help our employees of color deal with the pain of the racialized aggression they were dealing with on a daily basis, before they even get to work. We realized that in order to move the entire organization, we had to meet people where they are. The program has so far addressed the issues affecting the African-American employees and the Asian-American and Pacific Islander employees. We are next working with Latino employees. And our white allies have asked for training—they want to do better but are seeking to learn how.
Truly, this discussion provides tremendous food for thought about this critical issue and fuel for taking action. The transformation of an organization begins with its leaders and its public declaration (beyond social media) of its intention to become an anti-racist arts organization. But the cultural transformation of the organization must also include every individual on the team in order to successfully make the shift. It is a long-term, multi-year process. But it is possible if and when we are willing to take the first step.