I am currently looking for a job. And for many, if not all, the job postings I read, I would lean towards hiring a candidate of color if I were hiring. That’s my truth. We need more racial diversity in arts management and leadership. No question. Even with my experience, skills and ideas, I would shy from hiring myself if I could help it. I would racially diversify my team.
Now, I very much understand that race is complicated. Arab people are technically White, Latino & Hispanic mean different things, and Black & White can be difficult to distinguish.
I am aware of my whiteness. When I was most aware was not while volunteering overseas, it was when I shaved my head for childhood cancer research in 2012. I could see my scars and my scalp. I am not sure why, maybe it was the hint of a skinhead connotation, but I can honestly say I felt my whiteness.
“The White-Savior Industrial Complex” is of great concern for those of us white community artists, teaching artists and social practice artists. Much of our work is in communities of color. Part of our duty is to remain collaborators and learners, no matter the context. It is paramount.
In the landmark 2003 Supreme Court case of Grutter v. Bollinger, the court ruled that affirmative action was Constitutional if part of a holistic, race-conscious admissions process and not based on a quota system. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the ruling that the University of Michigan Law School had a compelling interest in promoting class diversity, deciding that Admissions may favor “underrepresented minority groups,” that also took into account many other factors in evaluating every applicant.
Skin shades and facial features always tell an incomplete story.
The Gender Gap is another problem. Shockingly, there are altogether fewer women running big companies than men named John. In arts education, dance, and other fields women over number men to a great degree, but men lead most of the companies and organizations. You can read more at WomenArts.org among other resources.
Religion is less a part of the conversation because we value our secular society and privacy, but I say it is becoming increasingly important in America that we find ways to bring together conservatives and liberals. The Christian Right, Orthodox/Hasidic Jews, Mormons, and other faith communities are becoming more insular, more intense in their fundamentalism; allowing this alienation is increasing the divisions in our country. The arts can mend these sutures. Those of Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or Shinto faith should feel welcome to apply to our staff teams and boards.
Then there are the socio-economics at play in our work. Prominent universities give out the most valuable degrees in our industry and cost students the most. Free programs do not always do always have the desired effect, as the level of education and awareness, lack of transportation and child care, and interest in other activities also have an impact.
A young ballerina’s family must make huge financial sacrifices to help their daughter become competitive, but it is rarely enough; Michaela Deprince, Irlan Santos da Silva, and Misty Copeland are not the norm. Much of our arts outreach to poorer communities is focused on widely-distributed access, cross-sectoral values, and transferable skills, not the high-level training in management or performance required for professional work. George Heymont’s article, “What Happens to the Gifted Child Who is Poor?” and Jeff Guo’s piece, “These Kids Were Geniuses” touch loosely on the subject. Can the arts do both? Arts for everyone AND free training for the gifted from underrepresented minority groups? More programs means more jobs, and more future artists and arts goers, which leads to more programs, and more jobs.
Diversity in the arts is an old conversation becoming more relevant in my life as I proceed through my job search. I am white, straight, married, Mid-Western, female, lower middle-class, childless, Lutheran/Agnostic, and the only child of an elementary school custodian and a secretary who are so much more than those titles suggest. My extended family (1st cousins and their husbands/wives) are of racial diversity with Hispanic, Asian, Arab, Black, Mixed-Race and White all being represented. I am the only one among them to attend a 4-year college. I feel guilty about that. Not really white guilt, but a certain guilt.
Old/Young, Urban/Suburban/Rural, Male/Female/Trans/Intersex, Gay/Straight/Queer, Conservative/Liberal, Dark/Light, Sikh/Jew/Baptist/Agnostic, Curly Hair/Straight Hair/Bald…. I can tell you that arts organizations need a diversity of story in our staff teams, casts, and senior leadership. Promoting diversity and using a race-conscious selection process are needed in the arts on both the professional and training/education levels. This demands workforce development in the arts so that there continues to be work for people of all different makeups. For myself. For my peers.