Friday, June 19, 2020

Increasing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at NYC Cultural institutions

For the last two and a half years, I have been a student in the Weissman Arts Administration Master's program at Baruch College in New York City. And for the last semester, I have been working on my capstone project and writing my M.A. thesis. I graduated on June 8th, 2020. My thesis was nominated for the Marlow Prize in Arts Leadership 2019/20. Although I didn't win, it's still a great honor. This article is about my capstone and thesis, and why I think it's important.

Before I go into detail about my project, I want to share why I chose it. For the last five years, I have been involved in a number of art-related "passion projects." Many of them landed me within circles of people and organizations, such as the phenomenal Dr. Marta Moreno Vega at Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, working to advance cultural equity and social justice through arts and culture. I've been lucky enough to work on a few substantial projects which followed the creation of and directly affected the development of NYC Department of Cultural Affairs' (DCLA) first ever cultural plan, called CreateNYC, published in 2017. One major tenet of the plan was diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within NYC's cultural institutions. Since the plan's release, there has been an Action Plan (2019) with related DEI programs and initiatives launched. 

This kind of work is important to me because I understand the impact, personally. I come from a working-class, first-generation Puerto Rican and Ukrainian, multi-ethnic/racial background. I'm what they call a "non-traditional student." I am also a "first-generation college student" and "lifetime learner." My road has been a winding one. My college career started out as a teenager at BMCC (CUNY) for my A.A., then as an adult at Hunter (CUNY) for my B.A., and later at Baruch (CUNY) achieving my M.A. I know first hand how important CUNY is. I understand how CUNY offers an accessible entry-point (or for me, various entry-points) for people striving towards higher education; those who might not want to, or be able to attend other universities for a myriad of reasons.

It is CUNY's accessibility and affordability which make the student body incredibly diverse, both socioeconomically and in terms of race and ethnicity. Because of this great diversity, the DCLA decided to partner with CUNY to create initiatives meant to help increase DEI at cultural institutions, as was the call made by the cultural plan. One such initiative, CUNY Cultural Corps, offers students paid internships at arts organizations. 

During my time as a grad student at Baruch, I noticed some things that made me question the DCLA's Action Plan and CUNY's Cultural Corps program. Particularly, I questioned the functionality of DEI initiatives as they related to graduate students like myself who were studying the specialized field of arts administration. From there, I came up with the idea for my capstone project, CUNY as Cultural Conduit: Pathways for Arts Administration Graduate Students Towards Securing Leadership Positions and Increasing DEI at NYC's Cultural Institutions. I have included the thesis Abstract, below. 
     This capstone project aims to identify gaps, increase communication, connections, and opportunities in creating a more culturally diverse and equitable pathway towards leadership positions at New York City's arts and cultural institutions. Through consulting for the Baruch College (CUNY) Weissman School of Arts and Sciences MA program in Arts Administration, I use it as a particular focus and example of professional leadership training, and make a case as to why this talent pool should and may be incorporated into a road toward leadership positions at New York City cultural institutions, and assisting in increasing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) therein. 

     According to research findings of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) Cultural Plan, CreateNYC (2017), "Staff and leadership of the city's arts and cultural sector should more fully reflect the diversity of our city's population," with a strategy being to, "Support programs that promote arts and culture career pathways for individuals in underserved communities, such as DCLA/CUNY Cultural Corps." Yet three years after the plan's release, the administration struggles to implement accountability measures for cultural institutions or create a viable talent pathway toward leadership positions (as noted at City Council hearing at City Hall, Sept 17th, 2019, "Oversight - Diversity in Cultural Institutions and The New York City DCLA Workforce Demographics Pilot Study- Findings, Results, and Next Steps”). While it is true that CUNY Cultural Corps has provided paid internship opportunities to undergraduate students, CUNY graduate-level students majoring in specialized Arts Administration programs were left out until recently being incorporated into the program as of Fall 2020.   

     Through a series of interviews with arts and cultural professionals who are directly involved in or knowledgeable about policies and practices related to Arts Administration graduate programs, public policy, hiring practices and DEI initiatives, I have gained an understanding of current trends and programs in place for students aiming for careers in the arts and cultural field. By researching scholarly literature and gathering data on aforementioned topics, I have analyzed my findings in terms of the need, potential, and proven strategies towards increasing DEI in cultural organizations. Finally, I have identified areas of opportunity for the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences MA program in Arts Administration, including but not limited to those offered by the DCLA/CUNY Cultural Corps

In the midst of my last semester at Baruch, and while writing my thesis, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The good news is that I had a lot of time to sit at home to research and write. I presented my thesis on May 18th to my program director, David Milch, and a group of my peers, on Zoom. I also had my graduation commencement ceremony on Zoom, June 8th.

During the time in-between, a major uprising sparked across the U.S. as a result of the murder of a Black man in Minneapolis, MN, named George Floyd, at the hands of the police. Protests abound as people of all walks of life passionately call for systemic racism to be identified and remedied, once and for all. Corporations and institutions - including many arts organizations - have released statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and rejecting racism.

However, when we look at the arts and cultural field specifically, the inequities have historically been, and are still stark. Many arts and cultural workers have been saying publicly that these organizations will have to do better than releasing a mere statement, they will have to put the long-term work to increase diversity and address the structural racism present within their own systems.

With that said, I plan on taking the ideas presented within my thesis and advocating for them to be brought to fruition as one small part of the process of dismantling inequitable structures so prevalent in our field. I believe that DEI programs, in conjunction with policy and system change, will be necessary in creating new pathways towards diversifying the arts and cultural field, as we collectively begin to address these issues.

I will end with an excerpt from a statement recently released by Gonzalo Casals, one of my former professors, mentor, and newly-appointed Commissioner of the DCLA.

Let’s talk about gatekeeping. Let’s examine the power dynamics in our daily interactions in order to understand how our decisions risk perpetuating a system of oppression. No one should be waiting for this moment to pass and for things to “return to normal.” Our new normal has to be constant engagement in the work of undoing racial injustice through examination and collective action.

[If you would like to  request a copy of my thesis or want updates on the follow-up work related to my project, please feel free to contact me via email.]

No comments:

Post a Comment

My Work in Debtfair at the Whitney Biennial

A few months ago, I responded to an open call from Occupy Museums for their Debtfair project. OM is a movement born out of Occupy Wall S...