Nonprofit board diversity is the news theme of the week. So we hear from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs that the boards and staff of NYC's cultural organizations do not look like the population. Only 35% are nonwhite while the city population is 67% nonwhite.
Why, you might ask, should this not be a surprising finding? History, good and bad, is one explanation. Distribution of wealth, particularly for larger, older institutions is another (although very tied into history). Networks, again relating to history and distribution of wealth. And what is the "so what"? Clearly one big impact is that the haves will have more and those who are not the haves, won't have or will have less. The consequence of this: what few resources are already allocated to the arts (proportionate to say, religion and education) are allocated predominantly to the few.
What to do? In private sector marketing terms I would suggest that the argument to the haves is that they are missing both tangible and intangible benefits by not even modestly redistributing their wealth. Such a redistribution actually can lift all "boats" benefiting the haves and have-less. The exchange benefit must be made evident for this transaction to occur.
In the public sector, policy aka demand, matters. And in this world, numbers matter and the voices of the many more should and can drown out the voices of the fewer.
And in the nonprofit sector, the focus of this study, I believe the challenge to effect change to be the greatest. As resources drive action, the haves again dominate. Like the light bulb, leaders must want to make change - must want to value change - must see what they are missing. Public policy, where the voices are largest in numbers - could have an impact. Imagine first that public money does not flow where diversity is absent. Imagine too that tax exemption is restricted where diversity is absent. But first we must imagine a community (and boards) that equally values its citizens and their contributions regardless of race or class. And imagine that the institutions that influence this reinforcement of values has this set of core values.
PS, as noted in another NY Times article today, the newly appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic, with one task to raise $360 million for its hall renovation: Dutch.
A new study has for the first time provided a racial breakdown of the New York City's cultural sector, and found that its diversity falls short of the city itself.
According to the report, commissioned by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, 35 percent of the people in the cultural sector — which includes museums, theaters and other organizations — are nonwhite. That compares to a city population that is 67 percent nonwhite.
The report tabulated data from nearly a thousand cultural groups, including WNYC, which had to answer a survey if they wanted public funding next year.
"There are really great bright spots in the cultural field but there are also places where the field is struggling," said Edwin Torres, Acting Commissioner of Cultural Affairs. "I think that, one, we have to be able to call it out and two, we have to do so supportively."
The museum sector, according to the report, is 59 percent white, making it more diverse than the theater sector, which is 70 percent white.
The problem is more stark at the upper reaches of cultural organizations: 74 percent of senior staff are white.
Andrea Louie, the executive editor of the Asian American Arts Alliance and an adviser to the authors of the report, said upper management is especially lacking in diversity because many people of color working in the arts come from grassroots backgrounds and have less access to wealthy networks that can help with fundraising.
"Because we're not able to access deeper pockets, we become less attractive as potential candidates to perhaps those higher-level roles at larger institutions," said Louie, who is a member of WNYC's Multicultural Advisory Council.
Some arts groups say they're taking active measures to address diversity. Clive Gillinson, the executive director of Carnegie Hall, noted that his organization had hired a consultant three years ago in order to address diversity on the board of trustees. Gillinson said that of the 70 trustees, nine were either black or Hispanic.
The report noted that gender equity has largely been achieved in the cultural sector, with 53 percent female employment. Among senior management, the figure is 54 percent. However, among the city's largest cultural groups — organizations with budgets exceeding $10 million — the figure drops to 49 percent.