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Providing a Platform for Diverse Staff Members in Arts Organizations

Monday, July 24, 2017 11:11 AM | Anonymous

By Ariel Shelton – Program Manager, Community Engagement & Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center

About one year ago, I sat down with a former classmate of mine named Quanice Floyd.  We’d crossed paths at a networking event for non-profit professionals in DC, and the atmosphere was light, but strangely ridden with undertones of anxiety. This was the summer before the election, and tensions were higher than normal.  As a nation, we were coming to the collective realization that many people’s voices were being left out in the arts and culture sector, and as Quanice and I talked, we discovered that we were both finding ourselves surrounded by arts professionals who were unhappy with the lack of inclusiveness in arts programming. Countless non-profit arts organizations were being questioned about the homogenous nature of their teams, and many were (and continue to be) challenged on verifying the impact they had on their constituents and community members. They were being scrutinized for the artists that they were neglecting to support and uplift, and many stakeholders were beginning to examine the nature of the narratives that were being provided to community members.  Were these institutions reflecting a diaspora of communities?  Or were programming decisions being made from a narrowed cultural lens?

The evening wore on, and as Quanice and I continued talking, we were joined in conversation by colleagues from throughout the DC region that were also interested in working towards diversifying the work programmed by arts organizations. Repeatedly, we came back to the topic of hiring practices, and brainstormed on what it would take to aid organizations in onboarding staff members with diverse backgrounds, interests, and experiences.  We discussed a shared recognition that all organizations, both in and outside of the arts sector, benefit greatly from hiring staff members that have backgrounds and interests that reflect the diverse communities being served, in nuanced and intuitive ways.  Creating an environment filled with diverse voices provides cultural organizations with the opportunity to better reflect the different individuals and interests that lie in our shared communities, both in this country and globally.

We took this macro vision on the arts and culture non-profit sector, and began to narrow it to recognize the actionable steps that could be taken.  What resources could we provide as emerging administrators in order to build a platform and support the voices of people that come from communities that are traditionally not represented in the staff of arts organizations? What were our options in addressing these issues? 

This conversation led to Quanice’s visionary approach in creating the Arts Administrators of Color networking organization.  This organization was built as a direct response to the need for arts organizations to more authentically and adequately reflect the various cultures of the people they serve, and to create a space in which to engage with arts administrators of diverse cultural backgrounds. As a member of AAC-DMV, we recognize that America is great because it is a mixing bowl, and not a melting pot, and we work to support that. If we collectively neglect to work towards providing opportunities for individuals with diverse backgrounds and interests, and if support is not given by the entire sector to smaller grassroots and start up organizations (which tend to uplift niche cultural work and therefore help us all move towards a more inclusive sector), we’ll be stuck having the same conversations time and time again. I am delighted to join Quanice as a member of the planning committee, and work alongside a group of arts administrators in the DMV that are excited to help support and guide this vision.  By providing mentorship, networking, and professional development opportunities for people in the DMV that have been doing this work for years, and for those emerging leaders that are looking to join the arts and culture sector, we have already seen great impact, and have been told by a myriad of participants and allies that this work is viable and necessary for the continued growth and strength of the arts sector as a whole.

During the pilot year under Quanice’s leadership, the AAC-DMV has:

  • ·         Garnered over 500 members via Facebook
  • ·         Provided leads for over 100 job opportunities
  • ·         Launched a website (visit us here!)
  • ·         Initiated a mentorship program, directly impacting 20+ participants

As we continue to expand, we do need your help to ensure this network remains sustainable and well supported.  As with any small non-profit, it is lead with limited resources, and a massive vision. 

If you, or someone you know, may be interested in supporting the official launch of the Arts Administrators of Color – DMV, we invite you to join us as we party, network, and share the journey of our pilot year on July 26.  We are excited to extend a 20% off code to EALDC members (EALAAC), and would be honored to have you join us.

Opportunities like this don’t happen without the support of many.  Thank you for creating the robust and creative world we enjoy in the nation’s capital, and we hope to see you soon!

Emerging Arts Leaders DC (EALDC) is a part of the national Emerging Leaders Network, developed by Americans for the Arts, and is fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas.
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