Americans for the Arts’ staff, board, members and councils are united by a common purpose: To build recognition and support for the extraordinary and dynamic value of the arts and to lead, serve, and advance the diverse networks of organizations and individuals who cultivate the arts in America. As our website states, we endeavor to “ensure that every American has access to the transformative power of the arts.”
We, as an organization, have taken multi-year steps towards making racial and cultural equity the guiding principle in everything we do. Those steps have not been enough.
We need to do more – to increase our efforts and communicate those efforts to our stakeholders more effectively. To that end, our board has commissioned an Equity Task Force to be led by Abel Lopez, Chair of our Board Cultural Equity Committee. The Task Force will advise us on strategies for the field that will lead to transparent and accountable actions. The Task Force’s members will consist of outside experts, as well as members of our board and staff. The Task Force gets underway this month, with Abel overseeing its work.
At its November meeting, our Board of Directors adopted a Statement of Recommitment to Racial and Cultural Equity, which includes specific financial targets; goals around the hiring of vendors, contractors, and staff; enhanced measurement and accountability efforts; and more.
Our Board is currently made up of 26 members, of whom 40% are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). Two new members are to start in January 2021, and both with expertise in addressing issues of DEI. In 2021, the board will be 45% BIPOC. We will continue our efforts to increase diversity on the Board, for doing so is critical to the guiding principles of our organization.
We are also working to ensure that we have BIPOC voices within our staff leadership, partners, and advisory groups. On that point, Ruby Lopez Harper, our Senior Director of Local Arts Advancement, will begin formally leading our DEI strategies and programming.
In addition to the measures outlined above, we have taken the following steps:
- We have dedicated staff resources which now includes six staff members whose job descriptions include an explicit focus on equity (including two staffers whose entire portfolio is around equity in arts leadership), and we mandate that all staff members integrate a cultural equity focus into their work. 40% of our current staff are BIPOC.
- We have increased financial resources expended directly on cultural, equity-related initiatives.
- We have mandated staff participation in DEI through monthly Learning Lab opportunities focused on building competencies around diversity, equity and inclusion concepts, while also focusing on ways to build mutual respect and appreciation in the workplace, with required staff participation in annual anti-racism training.
- We have offered staff opportunities in DEI including stipends for an organizational library focused on anti-racism and social justice; put a policy into place that has supported the creation of affinity groups at the organization; and have set up a matching fund for staff contributions to social justice orgs.
- We have earmarked sponsorship resources to the field to support lowering the barriers of access to professional development, particularly for those who otherwise would not have access to such training, including scholarships for the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, Public Art & Civic Design Conference, and the National Arts Marketing Project Conference.
- We have also expanded our DEI programming portfolio for the field, including Equity in Arts Leadership, the 20-year-old Emerging Leaders program; expanding our 28-year-old Diversity in Arts Leadership (DIAL) internship program to national scale; launching new virtual learning opportunities for mid-career leaders of color; building the Arts & Culture Leaders of Color Fellowship program; expanding the Arts & Culture Leaders of Color Network; and debuting the Johnson Fellowship Program. All of these programs are designed to amplify BIPOC, disabled and/or LGBTQ+ voices and leadership in the arts.
In pursuing this work, we have not always communicated our efforts well across our organization, our constituents and with the councils. This has become apparent in the wake of Quanice Floyd’s piece – “The Failure of Arts Organizations to Move Toward Racial Equity” – taking us to task for failing to address racial equity in the arts.
We take Quanice’s criticisms to heart. Her piece raises important questions about Americans for the Arts’ progress on equity, diversity and inclusion. We have made strides, but, as I said, we need to do more.
Separately, a former staffer at our organization released an article making allegations already made in a complaint dual-filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as the D.C. Office of Human Rights.
These allegations have no merit. The former staffer is a litigant seeking a settlement; his piece may be read in that light. His claims were investigated internally and by an outside law firm, which found no basis for the allegations. We are contesting his new legal allegations and are confident that the integrity of our work will be clear.
That said, broader assertions about the workplace environment at Americans for the Arts require further attention, as these allegations are taken seriously by both the management and the board. Americans for the Arts is an equal opportunity employer committed to treating all employees fairly. We expressly prohibit any and all forms of discrimination or harassment, as well as retaliation for reporting discrimination or harassment. Therefore, our Board of Directors has voted to appoint an independent law firm to conduct an investigation into assertions of the workplace environment at Americans for the Arts. The law firm will operate independently of Americans for the Arts’ executive team and report directly to the Board. The Board is also bringing in an outside consultant with DEI expertise to review our policies and procedures and make recommendations on practices within our operations.
I appreciate that these two pieces raise issues of great concern to our stakeholders. Because of this, the management and the board have acted swiftly in response and remedy. In executing our mission, we should never hesitate to examine our own conduct and strive for the highest standards. After all, that is what art does: It holds a mirror to life so that we can examine ourselves and know ourselves.
If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or Chief Operating Officer, Mara Walker.
Robert L. Lynch
President & CEO