On June 3rd, ArtsFund hosted the cultural convening Beyond Engagement 2.0: Local Pathways to Equity & Inclusion in the Arts. Nearly 100 participants representing over 60 organizations attended, representing arts and cultural service organizations of all scales and disciplines from throughout the region, as well as civic leaders and funders both public and private.
The convening examined local strategies, barriers, tools and next steps towards greater equity and inclusion in the arts. Models were shared by featured guests Leonard Garfield, Executive Director, Museum of History and Industry, Sarah Wilke, Managing Director, On the Boards, and Jeffrey Herrmann, Managing Director, Seattle Repertory Theatre. The discussion was moderated by Vivian Phillips, Director of Marketing and Communications, Seattle Theatre Group.
Leading off the discussion, MOHAI’s Leonard Garfield stressed the importance of examining lessons learned in an institution’s past that will help shape the future. He emphasized that thinking about engagement and inclusion is not something to do once, but rather, something to be done on an ongoing basis, being responsive enough to “reinvent ourselves every day”. MOHAI targets specific communities and creates avenues through their programming where those communities can tell their own stories. From working with teen advisors to corporate partners, engagement and inclusion is, in this way, a “selfish exercise — it makes us better” as an organization.
Sarah Wilke spoke similarly about how On the Boards believes that equity will “make our art better.” Strategies to move towards a more equitable organization include both internal and external approaches: a focus on new voices, on the art and artists represented at OtBs, and on questioning power structures within the organization in tandem with an aggressive effort to diversify board representation. OtB’s Ambassadors Project engages new voices that wouldn’t necessarily be present at the organization through specially curated events and discussions. Wilke emphasized the need to “learn how to trust other ideas, and actually hear what other ideas are”, as well as the need to be accountable.
Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Jeffrey Herrmann shared his beliefs that equity and inclusion starts with the art on the stage. The energy for this work needs to come from the people in leadership positions, including the board, and while the conversations surrounding it can be difficult, we “have to keep talking about it, even when we are sick of it.” Jeffrey shared the example of the Connectivity Department at Wooly Mammoth Theatre in Washington D.C., where he served as Managing Director before coming to the Rep. With the desire to reposition theater as more than entertainment and as vital to the health of our communities, the department sculpts connectivity opportunities around every production, including post-show discussions, events, podcasts, video blogs, crowd-sourced art projects, exhibits from local artists, and more.
In the open discussion that followed, thoughts were shared on topics including:
- Strategies for measuring audience and community engagement
- The importance of allowing the next generation to help guide the discussion around equity and inclusion
- Addressing the complexities around changing demographics of our city and region and how to be present to those changes as cultural organizations
- Power in curatorial programming positions
- Challenges of organizational change
Multiple regional organizations shared their work, perspectives and challenges, as well as upcoming initiatives and training opportunities. Also referenced was the compilation of additional resources available on the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture’s Arts & Social Change site.
Vivian Phillips wrapped the event suggesting we move beyond deficit language to fully claim that “equity is an asset.”
This was a follow-up to a December 2014 conversation hosted by ArtsFund. At that time, the focus was on national models, with featured speakers Bill Rauch, Artistic Director, Oregon Shakespeare Company and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Chief of Programs and Pedagogy, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
The event was held at the Seattle Asian Art Museum and was generously sponsored by The Boeing Company.