Investing in the Future of the Arts

October 23, 2021—I believe one of our greatest challenges as arts administrators is to keep our eyes on the present, as well as the future. That’s why I advocate mentorship and teaching as the cornerstones for ensuring that anti-racist organizations aren’t a fad, but rather the bedrock of our nations’ arts and cultural institutions for generations to come.

To help shape the future also requires that we invest in the hands-on training of these future leaders—the Chief Executive Officers, Chief Operations Officers, Executive Directors and Artistic Directors. I am grateful to the arts partners who are working with me and the graduate students taking my class, Audience Development and Community Engagement, at New York University to make a dent in that goal.

The course work includes learning the fundamental concepts of Audience Development and Community Engagement for the arts. There also are guest speakers and class visits to multicultural arts spaces, including City Lore, The Clemente, National Museum of the American Indian-New York, Asian American Arts Alliance and Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theater.

This is more than theory. This course opens doors to arts and cultural organizations that are mostly unfamiliar to the students. The site visits provide context and access to arts leaders, as well as an opportunity for collaboration.

Over the course of the class, the students and I also unpack definitions; review case studies, and we study the application of EDI principles. And we discuss the strategies for dealing with resistance from organizational leadership and/or the board of directors.

My vision for my students is that each one of them will not only learn to develop effective Audience Development and Community Engagement programs, but also be able to flex their muscles and address resistance to change with confidence, courage, and wisdom as Champions of the Arts and Champions of EDI&A (access).

The course provides every student with an opportunity to develop an understanding of the value and limitless potential of all people, no matter what their race, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, or age. I also seek to ensure that the more exposure and access they have to diverse people, the more opportunities they have to grow as potential arts leaders. This is EDI in action.

It is with this spirit that I offer my students hands-on learning and the opportunity to interact with arts organizations that serve communities of color. Their projects require that they work with the leadership of those organizations, as if they are clients. In partnership, the students develop viable research that helps the organization in its Audience Development and Community Engagement efforts.

The students are required to create reports that are similar to a marketing plan. The reports include an assessment of the organization’s current situation; suggested strategies and opportunities; accountability metrics, and a timeline This enables the students to learn, in real time, what works and what doesn’t; to receive invaluable feedback from their “clients,” as well as feedback from their fellow students.

I can tell from the responses I have received from the students at the end of the course that they value being able to translate Audience Development and Community Engagement from theory to practice, especially when there is limited budget and staff.

I urge the readers of Arts & Culture Connections to look for opportunities to share what you’ve learned with students or mentees. To foster an equitable and inclusive culture begins at the front door of our industry—the kaleidoscope called “The Arts.”

More than offering the works of people of color on stages, in exhibitions, or in musical performances, the future of our multicultural nation requires the creation of opportunities for more decision makers of color to emerge. That’s the groundwork we all must do now if we are truly to build a culture with Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access as its foundation.

As always, I would like to know what you think. I invite you to share your comments and thoughts below.

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