Diversity Definitions

http://www.artsandscience.org/templates/ascdesign20/images/asc-logo.jpgThe Arts and Science Council in Charlotte has been involved in some serious work to promote diversity, access, and inclusion. I attended a session at last June’s Americans for the Arts conference in Pittsburgh in which Robert Bush, now Interim Director of the Council, described their efforts.

In the twenty years from 1990-2010, the population of Charlotte rose from 500,000 to 1 million. In the same period, the city had the among the highest growth rates in Latino population in the country. In the 1990’s the ASC implemented a diversity program that, by the early 2000’s resulted in 30% of member board chairs being people of color. However, in Mr. Bush’s words, they “took their foot off the gas” of the efforts that accomplished that and by the end of the decade things had returned to the status quo with relatively few people of color in leadership positions.

In response to that “backsliding”, they implemented a series of skill building sessions for their operating support recipients which were attended by the Executive Director and Board Chair of each organization. Three sessions were required, each of which addressed some aspect of diversity work and included some form of arts experience. At the end of the third session, most participants requested more training and two more workshops were developed, delving more deeply into the topic. Participants draft a shared agreement to some form of accountability for action as a result of the sessions. Importantly, the ASC holds that its Diversity & Inclusion initiative “is broader than just board and staff make-up and should include programming and audience engagement.”

As I understand it, the initiative is built upon a conceptual foundation developed by Crossroads Charlotte, an initiative of the Foundation For The Carolinas. Simply put, it defines Trust as the end sought and marks access, inclusion, and equity as the paths to it.





“Clear the way”

“Have a say”

“Fair play”

The thing that particularly struck me about Mr. Bush’s presentation was the work that the Council had done in developing workable definitions (and explanations) of the  terminology that is central to this work. I’ve been given permission from their Access and Inclusion Task Force to share them here.

Elements of difference in individuals that include gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, age, culture, socio-economic status, geographic background, faith/religion, sexual orientation, profession, area of residence, length of time in the Charlotte area

Ensuring that:

  • A wide variety of individuals have opportunities to participate in shaping the cultural community of this area.
  • Arts/cultural organizations have a pool of diverse individuals they can tap for volunteer and paid assignments.
  • All residents of this metropolitan area can engage in cultural activities of interest to them.

ACCESS for cultural organizations includes
Access to diverse talent pool for board and staff
Access to diverse audiences through diverse programming
Access to diverse funding sources

ACCESS for the community includes
Access to diverse programming
Access to engagement and contribution through board service and volunteering

Ensuring that a wide variety of individuals are “at the table” and “bringing their authentic voice” at all levels and in all roles in the cultural community of this area.
The importance of creating an environment within cultural organizations (both board and staff) that welcomes and values a variety of diverse individuals.

There are always improvements that can be made in work such as this, but having a template with which to begin may be of benefit to the field in our efforts to be more fully open to our communities.



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  1. Tired of Trends says

    Much of this falls into the “goes without saying” department. The rest of it is absurd. It is depressing to imagine how much crucial arts funding is being directed toward these amateurishly intricate and ultimately meaningless analyses.

    What is needed in our country is not the endless division of Americans into arbitrary subgroups categorized by minute “elements of difference” but rather a holistic approach to the population of young people. With solid arts education across the board, the avenues of cultural appreciation will be rightfully open to all, and each will be free to follow his or her own natural inclinations toward becoming an arts appreciator, or not.

    Who are we to say others must take an interest in our interests? And following on that, why should we have to change the character of our interests to interest those who are otherwise not interested?

    Energies should be directed toward improving public education in this country, not toward codifying more and more invented categories of “difference” that supposedly require the transformation of our venerable cultural institutions into social engineering machines. The presumption that certain populations require being spoonfed modified pablum versions in order to take an interest in anything of substance in fact limits what they can “access” and is patronizing toward them. And it is equally insulting to those who have dedicated their lives to becoming specialists to demand that “all voices” have a place “at every level.”

    In my opinion, the expensive business of “diversity consulting” is an example of good intention spiralling out of control and threatening to destroy what it claims to promote.

    • says

      “[W]hy should we have to change the character of our interests to interest those who are otherwise not interested?”
      It depends on what kind of future (or lack thereof) you seek for your organizations.
      I’ll grant that there are changes that would be too much given our missions, but there are ways to open up the arts enterprise to be more welcoming to the communities we serve without patronizing or insulting them or giving up our own commitment to expression of the human spirit through art.

  2. Lauren Sahakian says

    Within an organization, the focus of diversity ought to be towards programming and the availability of different art forms and cultures rather than just gender or ethnicity. This seems like a much better way to grab a diverse audience rather than focusing on ethnically diverse staff. A diverse population is not engaged through an ethnically diverse staff. At best, a colorful staff provides an instrumental approximation of what might appeal to a diverse audience. For example, a white or black expert on Latin American art forms would be much more capable of serving the Latino population in Charlotte than a Latino board member with more general interest in the arts. This, of course, assumes that majority of Latinos are more interested in art of their heritage, which is often a poor assumption. History is filled with art that is transformed from one culture by another. Examples of this are jazz, blues, rock n’ roll, salsa, rap, and countless other forms that have become timeless, belonging to no ethnicity. Increasing the diversity of cultural curriculum increases the likelihood of engaging more people in the arts in Charlotte far more effectively than increasing the diversity of board members and staff within an organization.
    Redefining diversity to center on interest rather than race, I had described above, fits more precisely with the given definitions of access and inclusion. Access here is defined as art that anyone can participate in, and inclusion demands that diverse individuals are present at all levels and roles with the cultural community. From a marketing perspective, all groups of must be targeted in the Charlotte area, despite the fact that these groups are separated according to interest more than race. Diverse groups will be more likely to bring their voices to the table when released from the constraints of race, and enthusiasm will be more genuine. This in turn will promote increased marketability of the arts, allowing organizations in Charlotte to identify authentic demand for art.