The Impact of “The ‘D’ Word” in Arts Leadership

This post is the first in a three-part Blogging Fellows series on equity, diversity, and inclusion. Read the full series.

Leaders of arts and culture organizations must make a demonstrated commitment if the field is to prioritize the inclusion of a wide range of identities and experiences on its boards and administrative teams.

On the heels of the National Innovation Summit for Arts & Culture, where the final “fishbowl” discussion ignited a discourse on race and inclusion, the topics of equity, diversity, and inclusion have become prevalent in recent online conversations within the arts community. Since participating in Theatre Communications Group’s Fall Forum (#TCGFF) Twitter conversation and a recent HowlRound Weekly Howl on diversity and equity, one question has been on my mind: does the lack of diversity among arts leadership indicate our own failings? What approaches should arts leaders and organizations consider to achieve diverse arts leadership?

An uncomfortable truth

As an artist and arts leader of color, it is uncomfortable for me to admit that I have yet to interview for a job and see another person of color on the other side of the table. If you are a qualified arts leader of color, knowing that the audience and staff of a theatre company looks nothing like you or your diverse population of friends could potentially ostracize you from joining an institution. While I have been fortunate to interact with a great number of boards of trustees, the setting of a board meeting is not often representative of a wide range of identities or experiences. That is not to say I have ever felt significant tension when attending any of these meetings, but I am of the opinion that there is an astounding amount of comfort with the way things are.

Leadership must open up the conversation and make a commitment

In the future, the leaders of innovative arts institutions must be able to connect with communities that represent a range of race, class, age, sexuality, and disability identities and experiences. If we are to make the arts more inclusive, organizational leaders must commit to opening up the conversation about diversity and constructively address it with members of a community, staff and board. In order to do this, these leaders must acknowledge that both participation in the arts – and the opportunity to shape what that participation looks like from an administrative role – should not be cultural privileges for the few.

Future staff and boards of arts organizations

As I tweeted in one of my online discourses, no theatre can be its best self without actively formulating a long-term solution to making the arts more inclusive – a solution that should encourage staff and boards to be inclusive, as well. In order to connect with a diverse range of communities and individuals, arts organizations’ boards must be equipped to represent and consider the experiences of those communities – and if they aren’t already connected to those individuals, they should be encouraged to meet some new people. Boards need to be socially and institutionally aware enough to recognize that diversity, like term limits, should be a necessary function for optimal productivity in supporting our cultural arts institutions to the best of their ability.

Addressing how diversity positively impacts your mission and public perception as an institution is a conversation that field leaders must act upon in hiring practices and board cultivation. The possibilities for prioritizing diversity should be a conversation that arts institutions share with one another and implement regularly as a best practice. Someday, I want to be part of an arts and culture field where offices, boardrooms, and gala attendees of organizations reflect the world we live in. But will this ever be a priority?

Kelvin Dinkins, Jr. is a Creative Producer-Artist-Manager currently completing an MFA in Theatre Management & Producing at Columbia University and has a BA in English/Theatre from Princeton University. He has a background in non-profit theatre management and development with an interest in promoting the innovative development of cultural arts institutions and supporting communities that are artistically underserved or in need of a creative renaissance. Kelvin is currently the Communications and Development Manager for The Civilians, the New York-based center for investigative theatre boldly exploring the intersections of theater and society. Follow him on Twitter at @KBD217.