Why Diverse Boards are Essential for the Arts

October 16, 2022—Since 2020, we have witnessed a much-needed emphasis on the importance of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Access throughout arts and cultural sectors. This week, I want to shift the emphasis from the artists and those in frontline management positions to the power behind the C-Suite—the Board of Directors.

In my forthcoming book, Champions for the Arts, I write:

“The breadth and scope of an organization’s vision and its ability to articulate or manifest that vision is not bound by the size of the organization. Rather, it is bound by the size of its conviction. Without the concerted efforts of the executive leadership, including the Board of Directors, to ensure that the Senior and Executive-level staff are diverse, the success of the organization is limited….And executive leadership remains the single-most, critical factor in facilitating change that creates a positive and lasting impact, especially in the arts community.

Any arts organization or cultural institution seeking to expand its outreach and influence requires that its executive leadership first commit to implementing Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access (EDI&A) practices for all aspects of its organization, as well as its audiences.”

I recently was elected vice chair of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation (MAAF), and three new members also joined the 2023 Board of Directors—Jessica Ball (DE), John Rainero (VA), and Nicholas Hawkins (MD). For those of you who are not familiar, MAAF was established in 1979 to promote and support multi-state arts programming. The foundation’s region includes Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, and West Virginia. It is one of six regional arts organizations in the United States, and works in close partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and its member state and jurisdictional arts agencies.

The mid-Atlantic region also is home to more than a quarter of the nation’s artists, creative workers, and venues.

MAAF is most renowned for its international cultural exchange; often-modeled programs in performing arts touring; its knowledge and presence in the jazz field, and its support of folk and traditional arts. It’s 2020-2024 strategic plan sets out as its primary goal to “Embed, model, and highlight exemplary practices of equity, diversity, inclusion, and access in all of Mid Atlantic Arts’ policies and activities to address long-standing barriers to equitable access and build a stronger arts sector.”

Looking at the make-up of the 2023 Board of Directors, I think MAFF is making great strides to exemplify its goal. The board, including the officers, is comprised of 18 people and:

Three of its four officers are women; two officers are people of color.

Nine of the board members are women

Nine of the board members are people of color

And not only is the MAFF Board of Directors diverse, they bring to the table broad and extensive experience in all facets of the arts and culture. While the impact of this diverse board is still to be determined, I personally believe that this giant step forward sets an example for other Mid-Atlantic arts and culture organizations to model, which will create tremendous opportunities for broader community engagement and access to the arts.

As always, I would like to know what you think. What impact on the arts and culture sectors do you think a diverse board or diverse C-Suite can have, or what’s the impact you would like to see? I invite you to share your comments and thoughts below.

PS: In support of National Arts and Humanities Month, the Arts Action Fund of the Americans for the Arts has made available a 2022 Congressional Record report showing how members of both chambers have voted when it comes to arts funding and support. You can find the report at this link.


Photo caption: Newest members of MAAF Board (credit: Screenshot)

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