6 Takeaways from ArtsBoston’s ‘Hiring and Retaining a Diverse Workforce’ Event
On Tuesday, July 24th a majority-people of color panel of experts in the arts administration field spoke to a majority-white audience at the Boston Center for Adult Education. They discussed the importance and value of diversity in all level of leadership at arts organizations. ArtsBoston put on the panel entitled “Hiring and Retaining a Diverse Workforce” featuring panelists Wyona Lynch-McWhite, Vice President of the Arts Consulting Group; Lecolion Washington, Executive Director/CEO of the Boston Community Music Center; Harold Steward, Managing Director of The Theater Offensive; and Evelyn Francis, Director of Programs at The Theater Offensive.
The event began with a set of predetermined questions, which panelists answered for an hour and a half before opening up for discussion and questions from the audience. Topics included the cultural norms of whiteness and white supremacy in the workplace and in art institutions, why diversity is important, how simply having a diversity statement is not enough, how arts organizations can be truly representative of the communities they work with and serve, the challenges faced by arts administrators/artists of color, the roles of white allies and folks with varying levels of privilege in arts organizations, pay equity in the arts, and more. There were countless important topics discussed, experiences shared, and advice given.
Though I learned a lot and received many resources to continue learning from, these were my main takeaways from the event:
- Opportunities are often shared with individuals in our own networks.
If white people don’t go to shows, events, popups, production, and concerts that people of color are putting on, why would you expect people of color to come to an all or majority-white space? If you are a white person who feels like you don’t have many people of color in your network, you need to do the work and foster those relationships. White creatives and arts administrators need to seek out, do research on, be a patron of, and appreciate artists of color and build our networks. It may not be comfortable. But this is just a fraction of the discomfort that people of color can feel in all-white institutions/a society that values the work of white artists differently than the work of artists of color.
2. White supremacy, homophobia, and ableism are insidious, pervasive ideologies that are not always obvious to those with privilege.
Arts organizations and arts administrators must continuously assess policies and organizational cultures that are in place and question the way things are done. Are the methods used really welcoming, supporting, and equitably treating all types of people?
3. “Hire for diversity, but onboard for assimilation.”
Before diversifying for diversity’s sake or specifically undertaking a search for a diversity candidate, arts organizations need to assess what support structures or culture of appreciation exist within the organization. Simply hiring people of color, people of different backgrounds, or people with different abilities, or “diversifying”, is not going to magically fix all of your organizational problems. Accept letting go of systems. If your organization hires people of diverse backgrounds and those people leave right away, there is an organizational and/or cultural problem that must be addressed. Organizations need to be a place where folks of different backgrounds and life experiences want to work.
4. White people and those with other levels of privilege need to do our homework.
White supremacy and the erasing of narratives of people of color, queer people, trans people, people with disabilities, has influenced how we see the world, how we understand history, and how we operate in our work and personal lives. Attend panels, listen to speakers who are different than you, look for resources, continue to work on how you interact with others and in different situations. Read things like the resources provided at this event.
5. You will make mistakes.
You may say the wrong thing. You may do something insensitive. When you’re called on it, apologize and keep trying to do better. There is no golden standard for diversity, acceptance, or celebration of difference. It won’t be easy, but it is necessary and worth it.
6. Intent and impact are two very different things.
It is not enough to intend to have a diverse workforce or to intend to support folks with different backgrounds, life-experiences, cultures, abilities, etc. once they are at your organization. Arts organizations need more than a diversity statement, they need a diversity plan that is carried out. They need individuals who are always working to improve themselves and their organizations.
You can watch a recording of the live-streamed event on HowlRound.
- Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Organization*
- White Supremacy Culture from Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups*
- Building Audiences: Stories from America’s Theaters — How Theaters Deal with Change in Building, Diversifying Audiences
- Next Generation Arts Network
- Board Source — Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Multiple Ways of Knowing in Teaching and Learning
*Materials provided at the event