Frequently Asked Questions - Cultural Equity

  • “To support a full creative life for all, Americans for the Arts commits to championing policies and practices of cultural equity that empower a just, inclusive, equitable nation.”
  • This Statement is accompanied by a definition for cultural equity; acknowledgements and affirmations of the conditions that propel the need for a new statement and for action; and strategic directions for our internal and external work to advance cultural equity.
  • Americans for the Arts defines cultural equity as: “Cultural equity embodies the values, policies, and practices that ensure that all people—including but not limited to those who have been historically underrepresented based on race/ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, or religion—are represented in the development of arts policy; the support of artists; the nurturing of accessible, thriving venues for expression; and the fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources.”
  • During the organization’s last strategic planning process in 2014, the Americans for the Arts board and staff collectively identified a need for stronger, more intentional work in the area of equity, diversity, and inclusion. The process of creating this statement began in June 2015.
  • The Americans for the Arts Board unanimously approved the Statement in April of 2016.
  • In addition to surveying and speaking with more than 3,000 people over the past year on issues of cultural equity, Americans for the Arts engaged more than 150 commentators including staff, members, advisory council members, stakeholders in the arts field, and partners throughout the nonprofit sector to contribute to the statement as it developed. While their participation was crucial to this process, their contribution does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the final Statement on Cultural Equity.
  • For years, Americans for the Arts’ unofficial slogan has been: All the Arts. All the people. That is because the core of Americans for the Arts’ mission has always been to increase access to all the arts for all Americans.
  • In 1988, the Board of Americans for the Arts issued the organization’s first written commitment to diversity and equity, which was refined in the intervening years, most recently in 2007.
  • The Board of Americans for the Arts was compelled to re-commit action, time, and resources toward cultural equity taking into account field-wide engagement with ongoing changing demographics, changing habits of participation and consumption of the arts that require our field’s agencies and institutions to change, and a need to support the creative life for all.
  • Americans for the Arts wants to demonstrate our commitment to the field by being proactive in pursuing equity, diversity, and inclusion internally and externally. In our upcoming budget and program planning processes, we will be using our Statement on Cultural Equity as a lens as we commit time and resources toward developing deeper more impactful strategies.
  • Over our nearly 60 years of existence, Americans for the Arts programming has addressed diversity, equity, and inclusion—sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly—but the systemic inequities that continue to exist in our field (and more broadly) make it clear that we have more work to do.
  • A few notable earlier programs include: partnering with organizations including The Association of American Cultures (from 1985); providing program models for educating at-risk youth through the YouthArts Toolkit (1995); creating an intern program that focuses on increasing diversity in the nonprofit arts field through the Diversity in Arts Leadership intern program (from 1996); addressing important issues of social change through the Animating Democracy initiative (from 1999); cultivating leadership from new members in the nonprofit arts field through the Emerging Leaders program (from 1999); as well as work on community cultural planning, public art, community development, and rural arts that aim to bring greater access to the arts for all people.
  • Despite past programs and ongoing commitment addressing equity, diversity, and inclusion, the work is far from finished, and Americans for the Arts will work with more intention on these issues within the nonprofit arts field and the country’s communities.
  • The Statement on Cultural Equity provides direction on what particular cultural equity action areas the organization will focus on, and allows us to be transparent about our priorities, processes, and progress.
  • Internally, the Statement affirms a commitment to our staff and board that they: a) develop the skills we need to be a more equitable organization, b) understand and work to fix inequities, and c) commit time and resources to increase internal diversity, inclusion, and equity.
  • Externally, Americans for the Arts’ adoption of the Statement shows our commitment to cultural equity through these four areas: a) affording those we serve the opportunities to learn the skills they need, b) improving the cultural leadership pipeline in our field, c) creating and sharing research on this topic, and d) advocating for public/private sector policies that champion cultural equity.
  • Being transparent about our process to shape and adopt the Statement and implement its strategies can offer an example for individuals and organizations seeking to act on cultural equity.
  • As an organization, we recognize that we are not expert in issues of equity, but seek to contribute to, and participate in, this dialogue from our areas of strength: leadership development, field education, research, and policy.
  • Americans for the Arts is committed to having a diverse staff; we strive for a staff that is ultimately reflective of the United States in all of its varying diversity and viewpoints. In our hiring policies, we look at the richness of our staff members through a variety of lenses, including but not limited, to: race/ethnicity, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, and religion.
  • In January 2016, Americans for the Arts formally implemented HR policies that will ensure the organization improves efforts in identifying, interviewing, and hiring people from diverse backgrounds. We commit to continuing staff position searches until we feel confident that at least one of the top five qualified candidates for any open position is of a diverse background.
  • We commit to a) identifying specific gaps in areas of diversity that we believe will help us reach a deeper pool of candidates through new and wider channels for promotion, b) examine our job post language and hiring process to ensure it is inclusive, and c) enhance the variety of voices and experiences within the organization.
  • Americans for the Arts is committed to a senior staff that is diverse; we strive for a senior staff that is ultimately reflective of America in all of its varying diversity and viewpoints. In our hiring policies, we look at the richness of our staff members through a variety of lenses, including but not limited, to: race/ethnicity, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, and religion. While our senior staff has diversity in many of these demographics, we do not currently have a senior staff that is as racially diverse as we would like it to be in order to reflect the country and the organizations and individuals that we serve.
  • In time, and with the HR policies outlined above, we fully expect the racial make-up (and other demographic compositions) of staff leadership, and overall staff, to change. In the meantime, however, we understand and embrace the obligation for Americans for the Arts to ensure that all members of the leadership team be the strongest equity allies possible as they carry out their work and fully engage the breadth of voices already within the organization.
  • In 2015, Americans for the Arts contracted cultural diversity expert Carmen Morgan to help the organization assess and identify opportunities for change and growth in the realm of equity, diversity, and inclusion. As part of our commitment to equipping not only our senior leadership, but our whole staff to be culturally conscious, strong anti-racist and anti-inequity allies, Americans for the Arts will be providing formal training for all staff, board members, and advisory committee members.
  • We believe that everyone, regardless of their particular demographics, has an important role to play in pursuing cultural equity for all.
  • Internally, our assessment process is ongoing. The organization is working with cultural diversity expert Carmen Morgan on a cultural assessment of the organization, related programming in a summer staff retreat, and ongoing training.
  • Externally, Americans for the Arts will strive to be a part of field progress around equity, diversity, and inclusion by making use of our core strengths: research, convening the field, creating cross-sector partnerships for positive change, creating tools and resources for nonprofit arts professionals, and helping create arts policy for positive change. For each action area identified in the Statement on Cultural Equity, we have identified current (and known future) programming that addresses the goal, and are determining benchmarks for progress.
  • Americans for the Arts will report on measurable change and benchmarks in the area of cultural equity by engaging in and supporting conversations about where our field is, providing stakeholders a path toward greater cultural equity, measuring the progress along the way, and identifying opportunities to celebrate even the small victories as incremental as they may seem.
  • While some organizations have chosen to focus solely on issues of racial equity, we, after surveying and speaking with more than 3,000 people over the past year on issues of cultural equity and after conversations with more than 150 stakeholders, have deliberately chosen the frame of cultural equity, with a commitment to provide programs, services, and policies that address issues of racial discrimination.
  • While the Americans for the Arts Statement on Cultural Equity calls out specifically race/ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, and religion, the reality is that cultural equity speaks to the dismantling of discriminatory systems of all forms—anything that is creating a barrier to the full creative life of all.
  • The way that we do this work is through and in partnership with our members. Most often we work with our members across the country, who in turn work with their stakeholders in engaging constituents through culture and creating more equitable communities.
  • Americans for the Arts recognizes that systems of inequality are often interconnected and must be addressed on multiple fronts in order to foster true access. Racial equity is a top concern with our many varied stakeholders, and it is almost always accompanied by concerns about other areas of inequity—issues of urban/rural divide, issues of ageism, issues of gender discrimination, economic inequality, and more. We believe that each of the thousands of communities we serve has issues of cultural equity to tackle, but we understand that each set of inequities will likely differ, and that it is our obligation to create programs, tools, services, policies, and support networks to help those communities tackle whatever inequities they see as most crucial.
  • It is crucial to acknowledge that there are a tremendous number of people both inside and outside the arts field who have focused on cultural equity in various forms for decades. We are grateful for their work, and have learned (and will continue to learn) much from them in this ongoing effort. We also acknowledge that while cultural equity has been a value of Americans for the Arts since our inception nearly 60 years ago, we can do much more to further that agenda.
  • There is much that Americans for the Arts’ leadership, board, and staff is learning, and we know the work will be difficult and sometimes slower than we would like. Research such as the Local Arts Agency Census has demonstrated that the broad constituencies we serve are in many different places on the journey toward cultural equity, and that we have much to learn and to offer up to those we serve as we move forward. We look forward to listening to and learning from our partners and colleagues through examples, guidance, criticism, and advice.
  • The Statement on Cultural Equity will be shared externally on May 23 through the organization’s various communications channels and it will also be printed and shared with attendees at this June’s Annual Convention in Boston. In addition, we will be encouraging a variety of voices within the field to engage in a conversation about cultural equity through ARTSblog, other blogs relevant to the arts and culture field, social media, and in-person events at the Annual Convention, National Arts Marketing Project Conference, and beyond.
  • After the release and the Annual Convention, staff and board of Americans for the Arts will continue to pursue both external and internal goals related to the statement on cultural equity with strategic initiatives informed by and devised with constituents, partners, and experts.
  • Internally, we will complete our organizational assessment, engage in a full-staff retreat in summer of 2016, review the results of the cultural assessment, and determine how best to proceed.
  • Externally, after the release of the statement, we will continue support of existing programs that further our cultural equity goals with and for our 6,000 members and beyond, and will also announce three initial new programs (Equity 360, the expansion of our Title I work in arts education, and a National Arts Marketing Project residency designed specifically for culturally specific and rural arts organizations) meant as a first step toward more robust programming in this area.
  • We will continue to meet in taskforces internally, as well as with our various advisory bodies, to develop new initiatives, examine our existing policies, programs, and services, and support the progress of the field however appropriate.
  • Issues of cultural equity will be addressed and featured in our communications channels and offerings including social media, members’ magazines and materials, e-communications, and at our convenings.
  • The important work around cultural equity will be ongoing at Americans for the Arts. The release of the statement serves as a marker—a place in time—where Americans for the Arts makes a public re-commitment to this work.
  • Conversations around issues of cultural equity are often challenging and/or difficult. We acknowledge the wealth of knowledge around issues of cultural equity in the nonprofit arts field and we hope to gain advice, guidance, and feedback from our members and other stakeholders—our work will evolve through your guidance and input.
  • The kind of face-to-face conversations that take place at Annual Convention, Arts Advocacy Day, or the NAMP Conference aren’t always possible, so we ask that you reach out to Americans for the Arts staff members by e-mail or phone as you always have. In addition, we encourage you to send an e-mail to culturalequity@artsusa.org so Americans for the Arts staff can specifically address your questions or feedback about the Statement on Cultural Equity.