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Looking at Diversity Across Cultural Institutions in New York City

Diversity and inclusion are of substantial importance across our society. In recent years, Ithaka S+R has had the opportunity to conduct research projects on these issues in our cultural communities. Last year, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation commissioned Ithaka S+R to conduct a large-scale study of the demographic diversity of art museum staff. Today, we release the findings from a similar study of New York City cultural organizations.

In this project, funded by the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, we had the privilege of working in close partnership with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) to study its grantee community. This community encompasses an incredible range of cultural organizations: it includes visual arts, dance, and theater, but also gardens, zoos, and a variety of other organizations, from very large internationally known institutions to comparatively small community undertakings.

In consultation with DCLA and an advisory committee comprised of the leadership of several DCLA grantee organizations, we developed a survey instrument designed to provide rich comparability across this community. The instrument included two components: a spreadsheet that each DCLA grantee organization was asked to fill out indicating the demographic categories into which each of its employees fell, and a survey questionnaire, which focused on perceptions of diversity, barriers to increasing diversity, and successful initiatives toward fostering diversity on an organizational level.

And, working closely with DCLA and its deputy director Edwin Torres, we were able to solicit an extremely strong level of participation. More than 900 organizations that received funding from DCLA in recent years participated, and as a result this study is a comprehensive treatment of the staff demographics of this population.

It is outside of the scope of our work to speculate on the policy implications of these findings. Compared with the art museum groups that we previously studied nationally, the New York City cultural organizations have greater racial and ethnic diversity. But at the same time, minorities are underrepresented relative to the overall population of New York City. We also need to find better ways to capture people with disabilities, who are not well-represented in these survey results.

Our objective in this project is to provide a set of measures against which the New York City cultural community can gauge itself, as well as a baseline against which change can be measured over time. We hope that these data provide a useful contribution to the evaluation and policy-making around diversity and inclusion.

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