What Do You Perceive As Biggest Impediment to Equity Efforts?

Advisory Board for the Arts had sent out a survey on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access (DEI&A) efforts that non-profit organizations were undertaking. They released the results in infographic form this week.

Keeping in mind that the respondents were self-selected so there wasn’t a lot of rigor behind the process, the results are still an interesting preliminary view of what organizations perceive is going on with their efforts.

I was particularly interested in the pressures and challenges section where respondents indicated there was a lot of pressure to do more in relation to DEI&A across a number of internal and external constituencies. The biggest perceived source of pressure to do less is among board members and individual donors. Still there wasn’t perceived pressure either way from unions, donors, corporate sponsors, and audience members.

This all makes me yearn for a more complete study of the question. My suspicion is that groups who were already very interested in implementing DEI&A chose to answer the survey and so they were either inclined to view their efforts favorably or their constituencies were aligned toward DEI&A efforts to begin with.

However, it would be great if these results were close to reality because that would mean the impediment to change couldn’t necessarily be blamed on external groups. They are shown as largely indifferent in this area. Even board members who were seen as most in opposition to DEI&A efforts were more likely to be for or indifferent to them rather than against.

In terms of challenges and hurdles, the survey found that developing an authentic, rather than performative, stance and creating meaningful metrics to hold the organizational accountable were among the top concerns people had.

Stuff to ponder so take a look.

They Are Serious About Play

I didn’t properly record the source, but last week someone tweeted a link to the LEGO Foundation’s document, Creating Creators, which has the subtitle: “How can we enhance creativity in education systems?”

The document is a collection of seven essays on the subject. What interested me was the more international perspective on the topic than I had really previously seen. There are pieces written by the Minister of Basic Education for the Republic of South Africa as well as one by a student of that country’s University of Pretoria. Apparently teaching to the test is also perceived to be a problem in South Africa.

There was also an essay discussing how the  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will test for creative thinking for the first time in 2021. The PISA is the cause of much hand wringing over how students in the US compare to students in other countries in different subject areas so it can be worth paying attention to the results when they are issued and using them to initiate conversations.

That is if the PISA is administered next year. I was surprised there was no acknowledgement of the impact of the global pandemic in any of the essays. It turns out that while this document is new to me, it was actually published in 2019. With so much learning disrupted this year, they may decide to postpone the administration of the test for awhile longer.

I poked around the LEGO Foundation’s site a little bit and was not surprised to find they had created “A guide to playful distance learning – online and offline.” While it is focused on educational institutions it has a lot of fun ideas that arts & cultural organizations and libraries can use for their programs –or individual parents can use with their kids.

As the title of this post indicates, LEGO Foundation is serious about play and the Knowledge Base section of their website reflects that. It is a good place to visit for research and ideas on the topic.

Germany Would Like You To Perform With Confidence

Big thanks to Rainer Glaap who sent me a link to a news report that Germany has created a $2.5 billion cancellation fund that would allow event organizers to plan shows in the third and fourth quarter of 2021 with some confidence by promising to cover any Covid related losses. They are also working on funding to mitigate against losses due to capacity restrictions.

Scholz said that the federal government would like to reimburse all costs “which were made in optimistic expectation and cannot be realised due to corona restrictions” for events in the second half of 2021. “Otherwise the pandemic will be over at some point, but there will be no concerts. And so the whole machinery with the many self-employed soloists and musicians gets back on its feet,” he added.

Scholz says he is also working on a funding program to support cultural events that are financially impacted by capacity restrictions enforced due to coronavirus, as well as hybrid shows.

Apparently Austria implemented a similar program in October and ended up putting it into practice a short time later:

The protective umbrella was put to use sooner rather than later when Austria went into lockdown on 3 November. The lockdown was lifted today, however leisure facilities and cultural institutions will not be permitted to reopen.

Similarly motivated to stimulate cultural activity, the article reports that Denmark had provided subsidies for organizing socially distanced events in September and October.

The insurance and subsidy approaches both provide interesting models for the Save Our Stages effort in the US. I suspect other countries have arrived at additional plans that would be equally viable and worth exploring.

Who Is Prioritized In Programming Decisions

The Atlantic ran an article about how museums are having to deal with questions about equity and representation in their programming that are posed by both external and internal constituencies.

The content of the article is pretty much applicable to every arts and cultural organization, regardless of discipline because the root of the problem seems to be the process by which programming decisions are made.

The collection departments at museums don’t tend to engage with the educational staff—who help interpret exhibitions by organizing lectures and seminars that can enhance public understanding of a display’s importance—until too late. “When I was first in the art-museum world as an educator, we were presented exhibitions after they had been curated and decided upon,” she said. “And then it was our job to figure out how to teach from those exhibitions. How the content mattered, how relevant it was to our community, all those decisions were made outside my office.”

In that sense, context enters the conversation at the end of the decision-making process. And even when educators are involved, they can sometimes focus too much on scholarship—as with the “White Gold” exhibit—trapping museums in a cycle of overemphasizing academics and underemphasizing analysis in a racial and historical context, leading to misguided exhibitions. “What curatorial processes could benefit from are open-ended questions rather than setting out theses to prove,” Bradley said.

This basic scenario has long existed across arts and cultural disciplines. This is part of what people are referencing when they discuss silos in organizations. A programming decision is made by one group and then another group is tasked with marketing it to some segment of the community. What this does is put those who weren’t involved in the decision making in the position of reverse engineering a rationale for the value of the programming and trying to make it stick. A better alternative would be starting from the question of what will be valued by the community and letting the programming decisions emerge from that.

How one goes about discussing the question of what will be valued differs from place to place and organization to organization. Some of the museums mentioned in The Atlantic article received feedback from community partner organizations, others made an intentional decision to involve people without formal arts training so that the process didn’t get bogged down in academic lingo and context.

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