Diversity and Genuine Engagement

DiversityIn February Malesha Taylor posted “Is Your Theatre Only ‘Diverse and Inclusive’ Twice a Year?“, a meditation on diversity initiatives, outreach, and inclusiveness on HowlRound. There were so many spot on observations it’s hard to know where to begin.

She begins by describing a ten-week consultancy she had with a theatre company to foster diverse audience development. When she began she “was in a mindset of ‘audience development’ but soon discovered [her] best approach would be to be in a mindset of genuine community engagement.” She bemoans an all-too-prevalent assumption that diversity can be achieved by one-off or short term efforts. (When do lasting relationships really form out of a single attempt at speed-dating?) She concludes that too many attempts to achieve diversity are simply seeking ways to sell more tickets: “Can the theatre see itself as a benefit to the community and not the other way around?” (When stated this baldly, the self-serving nature of this kind of pursuit of “diversity” is pretty obvious.) She cites the problem with “outreach” quoting Emily Golding-Olivera:

Why do we see communities of color as targets of “outreach” instead of our customer base? African Americans consumers command a total of 1 trillion dollars of spending power. Companies that build these relationships are benefiting, in both the short and long-term.

(This is a long-standing hot button for me. See Outreach).

And the issue of the myopic quest for diversity is one I have addressed previously (The Self-Centered Pursuit of Diversity):

“Diverse audiences” as a goal is self-serving, it’s self-focused/artcentric. It’s about making the organization look better or feel better about itself. The goal should be serving/making life better for diverse communities.

But it is the concern with “genuine community engagement” that most interests me here. Her advice:

If the community is to be reflected in the theatre, and the community is in fact diverse, why not simply engage in an organic relationship [an on-going, permanent one] with the community and let the diversity in the audience be a result of that engagement? “

is the heart of the matter whether the pursuit is of diversity or, frankly, any new communities: development of organic relationships.

Great advice in so many different aspects.



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