The term DEAI is not new, and if we break apart the words, they are all words we recognize, but put them together and they have the impact to strengthen the arts community like never before. Arts organizations are quickly realizing they need to make this a critical priority for the long-term viability of the arts sector, but there are many Do's and Dont's to integrating DEAI into your strategic plan.
So before we get into it, I wanted to first break apart each of these words with a diagram from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM).
I really love this diagram because it breaks down each of these words into short yet all encompassing definitions that also address how to integrate them into each organization. Although many organizations think of DEAI as a strategic plan, I believe it has to be something so much deeper than that in order to be effective and authentic. In order for DEAI to have an impact, it must be seen across all core functions of the organization, and must be an on-going conversation because our communities are constantly changing. Miss this integral part, and we start to see "Dont's" like these:
Diversity Initiatives Turning into Tokenism
Equity Initiatives Failing to Look at the Big Picture
Accessibility Initiatives Without Enough Staff Education
Inclusion Initiatives Mistakenly Not Serving the Intended Communities
....and there are many more Don'ts where these came from. We read these words: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion and I think many of us would go "of course we want to actively implement this," but it is not easy! As much as it seems like a no-brainer, many organizations either do not always have the funding, budget or resources to do all of these initiatives in the most effective way possible. Other times...(the disappointing times) the organization has all the funding and all the resources, but fails to look at the big picture and meaning, and frankly some of the initiatives just fall... well flat. It's there, but there is NO IMPACT. So, how do we implement each of these words in the most impactful way:
Diversity- When finding ways to become more diverse, we have to remember that it doesn't come from one staff member, one board member, one more person of color in the audience, one concert with one female composer... you see the pattern. It may start there, but must infiltrate into all core functions and missions of the organization. More importantly, these diverse voices need to be apart of the decision making processes, and be heard. Give these diverse voices a seat at the table to share their knowledge and opinions. Diversity initiatives need to be driven by the mission of the organization, not how good it makes the organization look on the paper or from the outside.
Equity- Equity initiatives I feel can be the most difficult--It truly is integrating something that goes against a cultural form that many times has thrived on the idea of high brow vs. low brow. How then can we democratize the ways people have access to resources, have access to visit a museum, have access to playing an instrument, and have the resources to be apart of the arts sector either as a staff member, board member, player, artist, audience member, visitor etc? Although creating equity initiatives in arts organizations with large budgets is important, I believe we must also focus on lifting underrepresented arts organizations in order to bring their voice into the conversation. This lift is not only monetarily, but also in the context of other resources, other opportunities, and through education. It is also looking at your own community and looking at who is underrepresented. You will see this is an issue that goes beyond race and ethnicity.
Accessibility- A key component of implementing impactful accessibility initiatives is training staff on them. What good does it do to have the resources, if staff members do not know how to utilize them? Often time accessibility advancements come with advancements in technology, which have a learning curve. Staff needs to both be aware of these resources, know how to access them, and know how to use them. When creating accessibility initiatives, we must also remember that a core function of the arts is to be a documentation of human experience. Human experience refers to all, no matter race, religion, background, or disability.
Inclusion- Where inclusion initiatives often fall flat is when they do not address what the community wants or needs. It is important for inclusion initiatives to always look at the community, have conversations, and create relationships in order to create programs that are going to best serve them.
I truly believe if we want to see a change in the arts that is more representative of the population, we must find ways to integrate DEAI in all of the core functions. We must remember it is not this "quick fix," it is not something you do with one program or one person. It is something that requires active conversations. These initiatives are are important whether an organization has a large fiscal budget, a small fiscal budget, whether it is a museums, orchestra, arts council, gallery and so forth. It needs to be implemented across the arts sector!