The 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”
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
- 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.