A review of ADEI practices at major performing arts organizations reveals that the onus of inclusion is placed on BIPOC staff members. Jaime Sharp proposes a solution.
During my time as the EDI research fellow for the Association of Arts Administration Educators, I chose to focus on the current ADEI (accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion) practice and staffing efforts at major performing arts organizations (opera, orchestra, theatre, and multi-disciplinary). I interviewed senior-level full-time ADEI team members from various organizations, finding the scope of areas that these roles cover and the very different approaches to address essentially the same problem. My data revealed that there is no one answer to fix the universal issue of inclusivity in the arts.
As I have organized my research, I began an analysis of how I believe arts administration training and education programs can incorporate proper ADEI practices within their curriculum. This would enable all staff members (not just those with underrepresented identities) to have these tools prior to entering the professional field. My current discoveries show that organizations allow the onus and greater responsibility of ensuring safe company culture to a token member(s) of the organization, mostly commonly a BIPOC person. How can we attempt to nurture that?
A better way
With my research, I sought to propose solutions that allow non-white arts administrators the ability to operate at full capacity without being subject to societal issues within their place of work. These takeaways fall into four major categories: academic curriculum and training; organizational practice and representation; community connection and education; and HR policy, hiring, and recruitment. The decolonization of current classroom exercises will prepare future arts leaders to enter the field with an inherent inclusive mindset. This may look like inviting guest lecturers, incorporating ADEI courses requirements and/or thesis obligations, discussing portrayal of BIPOC artists onstage and the language utilized when promoting events, and ensuring board representation by abolishing the giving requirement or encouraging non-monetary contribution.
These ideals should extend to accessibility during the search for new hires within companies (beginning with the termination of gatekeeping language commonly found in job posts), and an allotted transitional period for team members being onboarded. The work must be ongoing – organizations should enact continuous trainings, ADEI strategic planning, annonymous surveys to identify flaws in company culture, and ensure representation across all departments and levels of leadership. Companies cannot just reconstruct internally, but they must nourish a community-centric outlook in order to intentionally connect with and serve their people. This enables organizations to discover what their community needs, as opposed to telling their community what they want.
While my findings serve to be beneficial on paper, the shift in our industry will only begin when words are put to action.