Americans for the Arts: Designing Our Destiny


Americans for the Arts has worked to ensure everyone has the opportunity to engage and participate in the arts, for more than six decades. Through our research and advocacy efforts, we have helped establish the National Endowment for the Arts, increased the number of local arts agencies, and expanded the understanding of how the arts strengthen our communities. However, as the world shifted, Americans for the Arts failed to keep up with the evolution of our nation. 

Events of 2020 forced us to address the organizational concerns about internal and external inequities. Publicly and privately, we were called on to elevate racial equity, diversity, transparency, and accountability. We needed to eliminate gatekeeping, be collaborative, and be more inclusive of community-based and grassroots arts organizations. For staff well-being, we needed to be receptive to solid concerns about our work environment. Stakeholders told us we tended to be reactive and transactional in our dealings with them. We had not led in a manner consistent with the values of the arts and culture sector, which had an adverse impact on our individual and organizational relationships.

We heard the call.  Embraced a path of transformation and began a journey toward our evolution.

In early 2021, the staff of Americans for the Arts engaged in a process to assess the workplace culture through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The information gathered formed the basis of the Workplace Culture Rebuild, an organizational commitment to continually develop a diverse, people-first workplace culture, which continues today.

With new executive leadership and a team of consultants to help guide our path forward, we launched a Strategic Realignment Process (SRP) in December 2021. Our purpose was to identify the specific and unique role of Americans for the Arts within the arts and culture community, and to align our mission with their needs. Success would mean nothing less than a full recalibration of our work and relationships.

We engaged more than 1,000 people in one-on-one meetings, focus groups, national surveys, and workshops. Nearly 200 subject matter contributors responded to regular prompts about the organization’s past, present, and future. Our consultants synthesized the data and feedback, and in partnership with staff, designed a Strategic Framework and a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Blueprint.

We heard overwhelmingly that how we do our work is as important as what we do. Several takeaways emerged for how our constituents view the role and priorities of Americans for the Arts.

  • An undeniable message was communicated that we must center equity and inclusion across all our work, not limit it to certain projects or treat it as a separate program.
  • We learned that stakeholders want Americans for the Arts to continue our advocacy and research efforts but in support of the arts and culture ecosystem, and also want us to increase the quality and frequency of collaboration with them to set policy agendas openly and collectively.
  • Our work with local arts agencies was validated, but we need to create reciprocal relationships, uplift the work of others, build coalitions, and engage grassroots leadership.

The SRP has laid the foundation for our transformation, including the necessary internal journey of healing and rebuilding trust. Simultaneously, we are already reimagining our work and our organization. For instance, Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 has centered equity and inclusion across the study, from survey design to how we engage with participants to communications strategies. Internally, we have redesigned our HR department into a People and Culture team, dedicated to establishing a healthy, people-first, inspiring work culture.

Strengthening communities through the arts is our North Star. We aspire to position the arts and culture sector as a vital driver for the cultural, social, educational, and economic power of the arts to help solve some of the greatest challenges in America. Central to achieving this is adopting equitable advocacy as the lens through which all our decisions are made. This approach centers equity in all organizational practices, interactions, and programming in both approach and outcomes.

Across the organization, we are implementing inclusive and transparent ways of working together to begin breaking down structural silos, transitioning to a team structure, and adopting a collective leadership approach.

Equally important, and more visible to you over time, will be the external transformation in what we do. The work starts now on a new strategic plan with refreshed values, vision, and mission that will help Americans for the Arts best serve and meet the needs of the arts and culture community. 

The natural progression of this journey is also evolving our organizational image to visually reflect our transformation, focused on the spirit and path of a renewed American for the Arts.

As we embark on the next stages to continue designing our destiny, we remain encouraged and inspired by the work that led to this transformation, and we are proud to now share it with you. We are excited about the work ahead, and for the more impactful and inclusive Americans for the Arts that we are building together!