With Support of Third Parties, Aiming for Impact in Diversity Research
- June 28, 2016
- Liam Sweeney
Over the past two years, Ithaka S+R has had the opportunity to conduct several projects that study issues of equity, inclusion, and especially representative diversity, in the cultural and academic sectors. A recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education raised troubling questions about the diversity efforts at one major university, which it described as stuck in a “perpetual loop: Form a committee in reaction to a crisis, pledge to diversify the faculty, and then fail to follow through with action and resources needed to sustain progress.” As we launch our latest project in this area, focusing on academic libraries, we are mindful that these projects are only as useful as the impact they have. It is with a sense of cautious encouragement that I want to share some examples of positive impact via four nonprofits in the cultural sector, both nationally and in New York City. While this engagement still only represents initial steps in the process of raising awareness of equity, diversity, and inclusion issues in the cultural sector, we look forward to watching these conversations and initiatives turn to action and meaningful change.
The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) is a national membership organization of conservators. With over 3,500 members, AIC leads the art conservation sector in maintaining professional standards and promoting research, publications and education. After the Art Museum Staff Diversity report was published, AIC reached out to us, requesting further analysis of the conservation sector. We found that conservators were over 85% white. Drawing on these findings, Sanchita Balachandran delivered a talk at AIC’s annual 2016 meeting entitled: “Race, Diversity and Politics in Conservation: Our 21st Century Crisis.” In this talk, Balachandran addressed the complex relationship conservators have to the preservation of historic public artifacts that are embedded in racist contexts, such as Baltimore’s numerous confederate monuments. The paper also eloquently explores how difficult it is to break into the field with limited means.
The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) was a strong partner on the Art Museum Staff Diversity project. They are a membership organization for the museum community, committed to maintaining professional standards and practices among members and providing museum directors with a forum to foster discourse on the sector’s future. AAMD galvanized its members towards the project’s cause last year, yielding an extraordinary level of participation. They used the survey findings in framing a conversation between Ford Foundation president Darren Walker and MOMA president Agnes Gund on the barriers to and possibilities of diversifying museum boards and curatorial staff. Such discussions encourage us as our research turns to a new sector.
The Theater Subdistrict Council (TSC) is a nonprofit organization that allocates funds in New York City’s theater community. Comprised largely of city officials including the mayor, TSC has recently announced a diversity grant program. The organization will award up to $2 million to theater organizations that aim to increase the diversity of their non-performing artistic, production, technical and administrative positions–positions that were found to be lacking diversity in the Diversity in the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Community report. The grant is meant to support paid apprenticeships and fellowships that prepare individuals for careers in the discipline. This level of civic and philanthropic engagement with the research indicates that it is possible for these survey efforts to influence policies and affect change.
Dance/NYC has acted as an advisor and partner on our work with DCLA grantees. They are a nonprofit organization that serves many roles in the New York City dance community. From generating original research for its thousands of constituents, to advocating for equity and inclusion in organizational policies and practices, to convening leaders in the discipline for annual meetings, Dance/NYC serves as a hub for dance companies, nonprofits, and artists in New York. After the DCLA Diversity report was released they worked with us closely on a dance-specific report, offering a comparative analysis between the discipline and the larger cultural sector in the city. In their most recent symposium they included a session to discuss the findings from that report. We found in the conversation that dancers and participants valued the insights into the representative diversity of the discipline that the report yielded, as well as the comparison to peer disciplines such as theater, music, and museums. Lane Harwell, Executive Director of Dance/NYC has since published on the report and continues to provide insights for the discipline on these issues.
It is gratifying that these nonprofits–all leaders within the cultural sector–are championing issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. We hope our analysis is able to inform their arguments, and with the help of such organizations we maintain cautious optimism that these reports will not simply sit on the shelf.