Open Arms With Grasping Fists Not A Welcoming Appearance

So by now you have probably heard about the ill-advised job posting made by the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields which said they were “…seeking a director who would work not only to attract a more diverse audience but to maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.’”

My first thought was, this the type of faux pas that is bound to occur more often because organizations know they need to be more diverse but don’t have someone to advise them on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Or if the company does, the staff member’s advice is either not heeded or the person doesn’t feel empowered to point out how problematic this type of language is.

Even though they were making a mess of it, I viewed it as a sign of progress that people were starting to say the quiet part aloud as it were, and admitting they needed to actively pursue creating a welcoming environment instead of claiming everyone is welcome and they don’t discriminate.

While the museum has revised the job description to omit the word “white,” I don’t think it helped matters that the CEO of the museum was quoted in the NY Times article saying that the use of “white” was “..intended to indicate that the museum would not abandon its existing audience as part of its efforts toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion.”

That makes DEI efforts sound like a zero sum game where one group must lose out if another group is to gain something. For years the message has been that arts and culture enriches everyone’s lives so theoretically diversifying programming should offer a broader range of opportunities for enrichment, correct? So why is there an automatic assumption and implication that someone is going to lose?

I think back to the talks Nina Simon has given where she talks about creating new doorways through which people can experience a cultural institution. She does mention that not everything is for everyone. Certainly given the limits of time, space and resources there is a good chance there will be less of some content. But if it was assumed everyone had the capacity to enjoy the content that was previously offered, they are likely equally capable of enjoying new content.

So of course, I should have known Nina would be able to summarize all of this in just a couple tweets.

 

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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