A model for equity diversity and inclusion

By the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures

As members of a larger national and international field of activity, one that prioritizes the value that artistic and cultural practices have for our many communities, the National Association for Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) participates in conversations on issues that may be internal to a particular region or population and, at the same time, we are also part of broader discussions about precisely how our field itself is organized and shaped. These are usually good opportunities to consider not only the more external social forces that influence and often motivate how our organizational activities — through programming, initiatives, or actionable measures — are in the end structured, but also how the very nature of our own individual participation can determine or at least enable the shape, dynamics, and just as easily the unresolved conflicts within our field of arts and culture(s).

Two themes that commonly appear as topics in these macro-level discussions, although usually in some mystified form, are diversity and inclusion. Quite often, these terms are used in ways that blur two very distinct ideas. On other occasions, they are used to implement policies and recommendations whose goals counteract the ideals that these two terms stand for, a strategy we will address further ahead. We view these as a chance to, at the very least, normalize some thoughtful, candid, and nuanced dialogue about what diversity and inclusion can mean in the 21st century, in order to move beyond its mere discussion by actually working toward its realization. And what better time than now?

If we consider the most recurring misconceptions about these two very different terms — diversity and inclusion — they have to do with either making them interchangeable – so that they both end up meaning the same thing — or with suggesting that if we’ve got one, then we’ve automatically got the other. Either way, the point is that a lack of clarity on what these two concepts are about is a great way of not realizing them. And so we must ask: Is diversity the same thing as inclusion? If we manage to create an environment of inclusion, does that mean we have diversity? Is it true that we can have diversity without any inclusion? And finally, perhaps the most powerful question, why does it matter that we achieve either of these equitable goals?

The strange part is that, under most conditions, it doesn’t matter. In fact, diversity and inclusion — or D&I — only matter within a framework of democracy, within a shared political context through which we’re all recognized as equals: democracy being itself that framework which, in the end, presents us with equality. There have been, of course, all too many other socio-politico models in our recent past that also tried to arrive at democracy — a goal that we ourselves are still distant from — by managing or curtailing the obverse dynamics of a capitalist economy, an economic model whose smooth functioning naturally undermines equality. So then, perhaps, the core of our predicament lies in how to move past what’s generally referred to as the crisis or failure of modern representation, which is where we believe D&I can serve as a model for transcending said crisis/failure. In short, we at NALAC believe diversity and inclusion to be a model for equity.

Is diversity the same thing as inclusion?

So let’s start by looking at some working definitions of D&I taken from three distinct yet overlapping institutional coordinates: the private sector, our public body of governance, and academia. PepsiCo defines “diversity as all the unique characteristics that make up each of us: personality, lifestyle, thought processes, work experience, ethnicity, race, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, age, national origin, disability, veteran status or other differences.” Furthermore, their corporate view of inclusion means a “workplace culture that values different perspectives, builds employee engagement, fosters creativity, fuels innovation and helps us attract the very best talent.” (our italics).

An example from our most immediate public consortium, the nation-state, hails from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Their 2011 document, Guidance for Agency-Specific Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plans, defines “…workforce diversity as a collection of individual attributes that together help agencies pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively. These include, but are not limited to, characteristics such as national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. The concept also encompasses differences among people concerning where they are from and where they have lived and their differences of thought and life experiences. We define inclusion as a culture that connects each employee to the organization; encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness; and leverages diversity throughout the organization so that all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential.” (our italics)

This last definition comes from our knowledge-based institutional networks, or academia, through UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity & Inclusion, which provides a glossary that defines D&I in the following manner: “Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another … A broad definition includes not only race, ethnicity, and gender …but also age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. It also involves different ideas, perspectives, and values. Inclusion is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate … It is the “active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity — in people, in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in (intellectual, social, cultural, and geographical) communities with which individuals might connect — in ways that increase one’s awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions (Clayton-Pedersen, O’Neil, and Musil: 2007).” (our italics)

By now it’s clear that, despite their distinct origin and context, there’s significant overlap between these descriptions of D&I. We could attribute that, perhaps, to just how present such ideas are within these varied organizational structures while they continue to evolve and while they seek to realize their promising potential. In reality though, as last year’s report from Deloitte University Press indicates, there’s an astonishing gap between many organizations’ statements on or goals toward diversity and their implementation of said goals, which is one major reason why a “record number of corporate clients are either reviving and rebuilding their diversity programs.”

Still, the deliberate prevalence of our topic along with the projected increase of cross-sector inclusion programs suggests that there is a sense in which its importance is clear, and that we’d be pretty hard-pressed, at this point, to find any agents or entities presumably operating within the public, private, or knowledge-based sectors that would experience confusion over D&I.

“To thrive in the long term, it is crucial that museums bring the demographic profile of their staff into alignment with that of the communities they serve.” 

For if diversity is just an aspect of a situation or a property of an activity, and inclusion is merely the process or mechanism by which such activities and situations take place, then our own field of arts and culture(s) has the creative advantage to achieve this state. After all, the relation we’re dealing with is, in a lot of ways, like that between form (inclusion) and content (diversity).

This year has indeed offered us at NALAC some particularly bold glimpses into the status of our arts organizations, arts administrators, and creative professionals of color. Particularly when it comes to our shared status in relation to our more financially prosperous counterparts within the sphere of arts and culture. We’ve caught a glimpse by way of either a study, a positional statement, or a philanthropic recommendation whose purpose has been to reveal some pretty measurable differences out in the field that have to do with employment practices, funding policy, and even donorship. Taken altogether, though, it’s easy to read these diverse efforts as a way of struggling to shape a more cohesive response to a larger concern within our shared practice -that concern being an inevitably far more diverse American landscape. This makes our struggle to ethically integrate new worlds of difference part of an ongoing phase of, shall we say, growing pains connected to the realization of equity.

If we recall this past March, Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) put forth a remarkable Statement of Purpose on Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy meant “to increase arts funding for ALAANA (African, Latino(a), Asian, Arab, and Native American) artists, arts organizations, children, and adults” and also preface their Racial Equity Forum. It was soon after in April, during the opening for the new building of the Whitney Museum of American Art, that our First Lady Michelle Obama made her timely remarks sharing how “there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood. In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.” Needless to say, the July release of a crucial Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation brought the dynamics of our dominant museums’ internal culture into sharper focus through a set of poignant findings. Key among these was how “Non-Hispanic White staff continue to dominate the job categories most closely associated with the intellectual and educational mission of museums, including those of curators, conservators, educators, and leadership. In that subset of positions, 84 percent is Non-Hispanic White, 6 percent Asian, 4 percent Black, 3 percent Hispanic White, and 3 percent Two or More Races.  With the exception of the Asian demographic category, which makes up 5 percent of the United States population today, these proportions do not come close to representing the diversity of the American population.”

The report’s press release was accompanied by two comments that helped intentionalize its core findings and information. The first was from Susan Taylor, then President of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), who stated that the “entire field is now better prepared to encourage the changes that will be necessary if U.S. art museums are to reflect, and address, the increasing diversity of the American people.” The second was from Elizabeth Merritt, director of the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) Center for the Future of Museums, who succinctly expressed that, “To thrive in the long term, it is crucial that museums bring the demographic profile of their staff into alignment with that of the communities they serve. This will require challenging a broad range of assumptions about how museums train, recruit and manage the staff responsible for collections, interpretation, education and leadership of our institutions. And it will require taking a hard, uncomfortable look at the conscious and unconscious influences that have shaped our institutional culture and created the current imbalance.“(our italics)

Stranger still is how the findings of this report — exclusionary culture and a balanced sameness — eerily converged with the findings of a revised report on employee demographic for 14 of the largest tech companies published by Fortune that same month. This scenario was underscored again in August by a Los Angeles Times article announcing how Twitter “plans to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the U.S. from 10 percent to 11 percent overall, and from 7 percent to 9 percent in tech roles. It also wants to see the number of underrepresented minorities in leadership roles rise to 6 percent.”

Looking back, these snapshots give us an idea of what the status quo is or what the existing state of affairs is in the sphere we work in. And although these recent statements, reports, and demographics are ways of commenting on the rare and weakened conditions of/for inclusion, they nevertheless come from an informed position or, at least, from a position that knows the benefits that D&I bring in terms of our country’s economic performance, for example. Due to a broad understanding of D&Is function as engines for innovation, the commenting sources remain oriented towards a future that favors equity. This perception is not uncommon throughout private, public, pedagogical, NGO, or foundational sectors where the adaptive organizational features that our topic makes feasible along with the complex or optimized interactions that are consequently made possible are mutually grasped. In other words, the immanent potential for transformative capital growth –both financial and symbolic- that our topic represents for incentivized stakeholders is a difficult thing to overlook.

Difficult, but not impossible.

By that we mean there certainly are examples of glimpses from this year that position themselves away from the values we have just described. An easy example would be the latest study by the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland, Diversity In The Arts: The Past, Present, and Future of African American and Latino Museums, Dance Companies, and Theater Companies, published in September 2015. The report was overseen by Michael Kaiser, DeVos Institute chairman and former Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts president, who was interviewed in a corresponding L.A. Times article where he commented on the nature of this endeavor. The article shared two of the key findings, one of which was “that minority-focused arts organizations’ most debilitating weakness has been difficulty in attracting private, individual donors, a demographic whose charitable giving far exceeds the grantmaking of foundations, corporations and government.” The report itself finds this to be “the most important single statistic in the study” though oddly encourages funders to instead support “a limited number of organizations with larger grants to a smaller cohort that can manage themselves effectively, make the best art, and have the biggest impact on their communities.”

Let’s pause and think for a moment.

By now, several aspects of this particular study have been called into question — from its methodology to its instrumental and co-optable value — but there is a far simpler quality to be noticed. Let’s consider the central logic: based on the tenet that arts organizations of color are under-resourced, underfunded, and working to expand an under-developed donor base, the proposed solution is to redistribute available resources to our dominant network of arts institutions, which already possess an asymmetrical portion of wealth resources, foundational support, and donor base. This line of thinking is usually called circular reasoning. In this case it is also specifically prescriptive. By that we mean that it specifically restates the problem as if it was the solution. In other words, because of our dominant institutions’ “chronic” inequality and inability to implement D&I (refer to previous portion of this article), philanthropy and donors should minimally support arts organizations of color and rather concentrate funding toward our dominant institutions.

Or, if put another way, arts organizations of color that often emerged out of poorer communities as a response to the previously described inequities are struggling fiscally therefore we must reallocate the vast majority of our available resources to the institutions they’ve primarily been excluded from. Approached from a purely economic position, we could restate the findings as such: because poverty is a permanent condition of our current economic order, we should reroute our palliative efforts to instead support the sources of that condition. One could go on. And the reason one could go on is because the report’s recommendations are crafted in a way that blur and consequently mask two complementary flows or movements of consolidation: on the one hand, support for dominant institutions is being consolidated, whereas on the other, Black and Latino/a organizations are being asked to consolidate their vying for a now more limited support.

Let’s rather look at some elements that are generally overlooked by studies — such as this last one — whose primary effect is to curb the types of mobilization necessary for realizing D&I through the scope of our work together in the field. For example, if we encourage the redirection of entrepreneurial and philanthropic investment (art donors and funders included) toward our already most-successful institutions, then we should not be surprised if this redirected support flows along the stratified lines of antiquated social hierarchies — precisely the fixed hierarchies (often along class and racial/ethnic divisions) that our topic seeks to overcome. Therefore, the goals of D&I encourage donors and funders to diversify their support streams based on the significance and function of an organization’s or institution’s goals rather than consolidate along hegemonic lines.

The other element of the equation that tends to be overlooked is the counterpart to the more material types of support resources (financial, real estate, and so on), that is, the less tangible resource of time, or the often eluded temporal resource. If we look at the dominant organizations that emerged out of the kinds of prescribed and hierarchical institutional layouts put forth by these more regressive studies, one can see the prized role that time has played in their successful development. In other words, institutions of this order now possess a history through which they were vested by public and private resources that in turn translated into leverage for garnering the support of individual donors. In time, individual donors grew to become the broader base of support we call donorship. The crucial temporal resource was the time necessary for the previously described long-term support to take effect.

The inevitable question becomes: why would it seem feasible that our organizations of color (color not being reduced/distorted to Black and Latin@) would not need or stand to benefit from that kind of long-term investment?

On yet another level, studies in the service of (economic) demobilization tend to erase all ethnicities from the spectrum but black and brown. This is a major disservice to artists and arts organizations of all color that have worked far too long to empower each other, to foster solidarity, and to purposely bridge our limitations by working together through regenerative models. It’s thus disappointing when our intercultural familia undergoes facile erasures or has to evade projected divisions. The uneven outcomes of such inaccuracies also yield overt distortions that do not help prompt a better understanding of our white familia. Understanding structures of whiteness is one thing (and by now a requirement for navigating and ideally altering stratified or congealed social orders), but one would be deeply mistaken to confuse that with the realities of our myriad white ethnicities — the vast majority of which are seldom financially wealthy, strictly Eurocentric, heteronormative, or simply homogeneous.

So, after offering a brief description of the main features that characterize the purpose, use, and propensities of D&I, we can see the kinds of effects it suggests for our sphere of activity. And like any other concern that also happens to be an expression of social justice, it’s path of realization will no doubt encounter push-and-pulls from many directions (as our examples illustrate). So it will be up to our collaborative field of imaginers and creative practitioners to rotate the dial in order to move beyond this frame, in search of more just conditions. Because although Diversity and Inclusion are, strangely enough, also in line with current imperatives of our economic order, equity is still a rather more elusive commodity.

The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.


We accept submissions on topics relevant to the field: advocacy, artistic issues, arts policy, community building, development, employment, engagement, touring, and other topics that deal with the business of dance. We cannot publish criticism, single-company season announcements, and single-company or single artist profiles. Additionally, we welcome feedback on articles. If you have a topic that you would like to see addressed or feedback, please contact communications@danceusa.org.

Share this post...