Advancing Racial Equity in Arts and Culture, Part 1

Friday, August 28, 2015
by Salem Tsegaye, Program Associate, New York City Cultural Agenda Fund in The New York Community Trust
The New York City Cultural Agenda Fund made a grant to Race Forward, an organization that advances racial justice though research, media, and practice, to train 49 arts and cultural advocates on racial justice leadership. 
This was the first of four sessions in the Fund’s Cultural Advocacy & Equity Program, designed to offer advocates space, time, and resources to work together in generating ideas for shoring up advocacy efforts and fostering a more equitable cultural landscape in New York. (The Fund intends to make grants to support innovative arts and cultural advocacy projects that emerge from these workshops.)
This training kicked off the program to ground the remaining sessions and resulting advocacy projects in values of equity. It is intended to complement equity-related initiatives by City government including the City Department of Cultural Affairs’ examination of diversity among staff and leadership at cultural institutions, and new City legislation mandating a comprehensive cultural plan that is updated with input from a citizens’ advisory committee. 
We hope all of these efforts will ultimately advance equity in the cultural sector. It is important to keep in mind what Race Forward facilitators made clear:
  • Diversity ≠ equity (demographic variety is a means of advancing equity, not an end in itself)
  • Diversity ≠ inclusion (presence does not ensure voice in decision-making processes)
  • Equality ≠ equity (ideals of “sameness” differ from those of “fairness;” they fail to acknowledge structural imbalances and leave historically disadvantaged groups at the margins)
Equity = justice. During the training, advocates analyzed how they might make better choices at their respective organizations, and how they might develop strategies to advance racial justice (fair treatment of people of all races) in the cultural sector. These ideas will come in Part 2 of this post. In the meantime, I’d like to share some constructive criticism they offered: 
We have to change policies, practices, and resource distribution. In short, we all have a role to play, government and philanthropy included. Some of our funder colleagues are already making progress, such as Grantmakers in the Arts and its thoughtfully crafted racial equity statement, or the D5 coalition’s five-year effort to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sector. 
We must analyze how we make choices at our institutions, how they affect those we intend to serve, and how we can develop grantmaking strategies that promote fairness. 
Throughout the Cultural Advocacy & Equity Program, we will share advocates’ ideas to inspire collaboration, support, and thoughtful ways we all can contribute to advancing racial equity in the cultural sector. We invite you to join our learning community. Stay tuned for part two of this post. 
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