September 5, 2021—More than ever before, arts organizations throughout the country are recognizing that their survival depends upon their responsiveness to this era of demands for social and racial justice and the need for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access (EDI&A). Forward-thinking, “woke” organizations are taking bold action—they are determined that welcoming diverse audiences is a priority for how they intend to do business.
What I’ve learned over the course of more than 30 years of community engagement, and as I also have documented in my first book, Invitation to the Party, there are numerous ways to foster a diverse and inclusive environment. These initiatives can be staff-led, board-led, or also involve community participation.
But first and foremost, I believe the most effective programs are the result of research. Research helps organizations understand what’s missing and provides a bedrock for developing and building the most effective solutions for addressing EDI&A issues.
Signature Theatre in New York recently worked with the audience research firm, Slover Linett, to examine ways the theater could deepen and broaden its relationship with its audience. I am a member of the theater’s Board of Trustees and Chairperson of the Board’s EDI&A Committee, and I think it’s important to share with the readers of Arts & Culture Connections what we learned as the result of this process.
In addition to the first wave of qualitative research with general audience members, Signature Theatre decided to expand its understanding of where it needed to grow. We asked Slover Linett to conduct a round of interviews with Black and Latinx audience members, focusing on the issues of “welcome” and “belonging.”
Measures for creating a welcoming and inclusive environment involve more than a issuing statement. For those organizations struggling with how to move forward, the Signature Theatre study offers ideas for first steps.