IN THIS EPISODE

We reflect on the wisdom of six CI to Eye guests who have shared their thoughts on racism and inequity in the arts and suggested steps to ensure cultural organizations are becoming more equitable institutions.

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THE ARTS ARE SIMILAR TO THE DIFFERENT WAYS PEOPLE PARTICIPATE IN EATING FOOD. THERE’S EVERYTHING FROM FIVE-STAR RESTAURANTS TO MICHELAN RESTAURANTS, DINERS TO FOOD TRUCKS. THERE’S SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE, BUT WE NEED VARIETY, JUST LIKE IN THE ARTS.

ABOUT MICHAEL

Jane Chu is the eleventh Chairman of the National Endowment for Arts (NEA). She has a background in arts administration, philanthropy, and is an accomplished artist and musician. During her tenure to date, Jane has awarded more than $400 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and artists, issued new research reports on arts participation and the impact of the arts and cultural industries on the nation's GDP, and has visited all 50 states. Before coming to the NEA, she served as the president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Erik Gensler: We are living through a critical and intense moment in our culture and in our world. Amidst the pandemic and economic crisis, our country is facing a reckoning over its 400 years of racism and racist policies that every organization must consider its role in this reckoning and its path forward. There is much work to be done now and into the future. This episode is a collection of CI to Eye guests talking about racism and justice. Many speak specifically about the arts world and others talk more broadly. These are leaders and thinkers pushing our field to be more thoughtful. As your organization charts your path forward, may these voices provide a guiding light.

Erik Gensler: Terri Lee Freeman is the President of the National Civil Rights Museum, where she works to emphasize the connection between the historic events of the mid-20th century Civil Rights Movement and the current issues affecting society today. We spoke in October of 2019.

Erik Gensler: We are living through a critical and intense moment in our culture and in our world. Amidst the pandemic and economic crisis, our country is facing a reckoning over its 400 years of racism and racist policies that every organization must consider its role in this reckoning and its path forward. There is much work to be done now and into the future. This episode is a collection of CI to Eye guests talking about racism and justice. Many speak specifically about the arts world and others talk more broadly. These are leaders and thinkers pushing our field to be more thoughtful. As your organization charts your path forward, may these voices provide a guiding light.

Erik Gensler: Terri Lee Freeman is the President of the National Civil Rights Museum, where she works to emphasize the connection between the historic events of the mid-20th century Civil Rights Movement and the current issues affecting society today. We spoke in October of 2019.

Terri Freeman: I have a belief that for us to get to where we need to get to, individuals do have to recognize, okay, this is my perspective and this is where I'm coming from because all systems, frankly, are made up of individuals. All systems can be changed by individuals and what we have now are systems that are so grounded in what, I guess, at some point, was seen to be acceptable, but as you start to dissect it, you realize that under all of these systems, there's a racial impact. So, if you take the criminal justice system and you look at, I remind people that King never talked about criminal justice because it wasn't an issue in the mid-20th century. The white people and the numbers of Black people who were incarcerated was just about the same. In fact, there may have been more white people incarcerated at that time. It wasn't until we decided we were going to have a war on drugs that you started to see a spike in incarceration levels and then you started seeing private prisons built and if you got a private prison, well, you need to keep it full (laughs). And so, how do you keep it full? You figure out a way to get bodies into those systems and so the systems in and of themselves become unjust and you can see that a lot of it cuts on racial lines, but to be able to begin to dismantle some of that, we have to know the position we sit in. So, Unpacking Racism for Action really is focusing on where the individual sitting in the room is, understanding their biases, trying to then flip the switch on those biases, and then using those individuals as megaphones, if you will, for other people who they come into contact with. I'll give you an example. Recently, I was talking with a woman at an event and we got into talking about unpacking racism—and this happened to be a white woman—and she said to me, she said, “Well, I want to know how I can help,” and I said to her, “Well, you are invited into rooms that I'm not invited into. If you have the ability to nip something in the bud when it starts to go sideways, that would be very helpful, for you to speak up.” And so, I think we have to recognize that there is a certain level of access that some people have that others, other people do not have and that being an ally is one thing, but being an accomplice is quite another. And so, what we’re looking for are people to become accomplices and actually saying … calling what is wrong, “wrong,” and stating what the truth and the fact is. And Unpacking Racism really helps people get to that truth and those facts. For me, what the museum stands for, just that, this idea of, kind of, patience, persistence, tenacity, a belief, and what the people who are chronicled in the museum represent overall. That is the most meaningful thing in this museum because it's a reminder that everyone, King included, who is represented in this museum was just an ordinary human being. They had no special powers. They had no special talents. They had nothing more than you and I have. What they did have was a goal and they decided that collectively, they were stronger than individually, and that collectively, they would push forward to reach that goal. That is the meaning of this museum and I think that it reminds me every day, if there is something that we want to accomplish, we can accomplish it. We've got so many more resources today than they had in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. If they could accomplish what they accomplished in a relatively short period of time, we certainly can push forward and accomplish the things that we need to accomplish today. So, it is truly just the meaning of this place and what it stands for that I'm almost in awe of every day.

Erik Gensler: Acknowledged as one of the nation’s foremost expert on audience diversification by the Arts & Business Council, Donna Walker-Kuhne has devoted her professional career to increasing accessibility and connection to the arts. We spoke in September of 2018.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Everybody makes choices about their arts and cultural experience. And so, people of color who have not been invited to much of the various art forms, such as the opera, Broadway, until recently, ballet, until recently, museums haven't always been so engaging, and so there has to be a root that people can then spring from to decide that, "I'm going to be a part of this," based on how they're being engaged. So, it's not a direct sales piece. That's not a philosophical effort. That is a sales effort. The philosophical effort is, we need to change the dynamics in how we recognize the value of everyone that lives in our world. And to do that, we have to have a belief system that honors diversity and honors whoever you are, that you have the right to come and have a seat. So, with that as your philosophical framework, you build your marketing strategies. Then it can stick. Then it has resonance. Otherwise, it's simply a gesture. When I first started working at The Public Theater, when George C. Wolfe invited me to come and make an audience look like a subway stop, I had a vision, a dream, where in the lobby, it was like the United Nations. It was all kinds of different people there and everyone was smiling and laughing and the lights were twinkling, and I just thought, "This is a party." So, at the end of the day, the arts are a party. Which it should be. Which doesn't mean that they're not heavy topics and things that may not always make you smile. But that celebratory feeling, the notion of being invited, the getting the invitation, preparing yourself to go, I think that's what the arts experiences should be about. So, the invitation means that people who have been traditionally excluded from these experiences have to be invited. We're not just gonna come 'cause we woke up one day. It has to be, “We're invited, and we're invited in innumerous ways that we trust,” that means you'll be welcomed, which means a church experience visit. It means, you know, that social media. It means seeing flyers in my local grocery store. It means, "My girlfriend is also telling me I should go." Black Panther film gave us a fantastic template, how to engage people of color. I think that's really what we should follow. So, the title of my book is about how I think people of color should be engaged and what the thinking should be behind it. I'm a Buddhist. And in our Buddhist practice, we have a concept called kosen-rufu, which means, in a short version, world peace. It means respecting the dignity of each person's life. And when I saw Wakanda I thought, "So this is what it's like when Black people are in control, when we can control our destiny, when the colonizers aren't there trying to take away everything that's of value. This is what it looks like." I'd never seen it before. So, that movie showed me so many things. So, that was one vision that I got and saw. I'm gonna hold that one very closely. But also, I saw how people went to the film and that was really interesting to me, the fact that it did a billion point three was because, of course, it was so many repeat movie goers, but there was such an excitement because this was a story- One that was authentic, too. It didn't show men beatin' up the women and cursin' them out. It didn't show women that was struggling, prostitutes, raisin' 50 kids with drugs. It showed how most Black people live, just living our best, smart, you know, supporting each other, respecting women--that was huge--and that women actually ran the film. It was really a woman's movie. And how smart they were. We just couldn't get enough. We had to go. I saw it four times. And I have the DVD. You can't get enough because that's the only time we see that, where mainstream America actually honors the legacy and culture of African Americans. So, that was another piece. And then, seeing how people were going to the film, dressing up in African robes, drummers in the lobby, organizations buying out the house to make sure children could go and see it. I thought, "This is how theater should be. And we can do this."

Erik Gensler: Jessica Schmidt is the Principal Consultant at Orchestrate Inclusion. Before her work as a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant to arts organizations, she led education and community engagement work at the Boston, Pittsburgh, and Dallas Symphony Orchestras. We spoke in November of 2018.

Jessica Schmidt: In the non-profit world and in the orchestra world, you are struggling to get from performance to performance. You're focused on, "When is the load in for this concert? When is rehearsal? Do we have our guest artist here? Do we have enough money for this performance?" You're so set in looking at what you're doing from day to day. There's very little time for reflection. And really good diversity, inclusion, and equity work requires a lot of reflection, a lot of time spent sitting down and taking a look at the messages that are being sent. Most of the time, we're sending messages unintentionally. And orchestras can do this in many different ways. And if you think about the experience of a patron coming through the doors of a traditional hall, as soon as you're walking up the steps to that hall, you're getting a message about whether you belong, whether your pieces of identity are things that you see in other people around you. As soon as you meet the front-of-house staff, you get a message about whether what you're wearing makes sense. A look on your face. You might not know where the restrooms are when you come in. They might be hard to access. When you go and sit in the hall, what happens when the patrons next to you are looking at you? What is it that they are sending to you in terms of messaging? Who do you see on the walls in the way of images, pictures? I was just with a client, and, uh, very luckily, we were having a meeting in a room filled with all the images of the individuals who had led that organization over time. And quite a wide number of people, but only two of them were women, and all of them were white. So, walking into that room, what message does that send to me about my place and my ability to potentially come into leadership at that organization? It's about being mindful, and frankly, it's about empathy, taking a look at the whole experience from the perspective of somebody who's walking through it, somebody that you might not know well yet. For a long time, my personal belief was that we have, in the orchestra field, been looking at a limited bottom line as to positive change around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We traditionally look at the outputs of onstage representation and audience. I hear a lot of orchestras start with that. "Well, we aren't diverse, and it's because of who is on stage. It's because of who's in our hall. How do we change that?" And that is a challenge for a number of reasons. One reason is that this takes so much time. True, excellent diversity, equity, and inclusion work takes years and years and years. And those outputs will take time to change. It is not something that the field is going to change overnight. Nor should it, because it wouldn't be sustainable. It's also frustrating because orchestras really do want to make change. And so, with that limited bottom line, they are unable to see other areas that could contribute to that change over time. In my mind, the onstage element is unbelievably important, one major piece of the entire DEI puzzle over time, as is the audience. But there are so many other pieces that are often overlooked. I talk with my clients about what messages are being sent around, for example, vendors and suppliers and contractors. Orchestras are creatures of tradition. They like to stick with someone or an organization that they've been working with for a long time. What about the power of an orchestra to use its name to work with a minority women-owned business and give some time and space to that business? What about the opportunity to take a look at hiring practices? Not just hiring, but retention practices for staff, being sure that there are practices in place to not only welcome people from a wide variety of backgrounds, but to be sure that they have a very positive work experience and stay at the organization. What about board governance? What do governance by-laws say about, again, who is welcome, who wants to stay? When a board member chooses to leave the board, what does an organization do to try to figure out, maybe, what happened? What's the story of that individual? Is there an exit interview? Is there an opportunity for them to be involved following? So, each of these little areas is a pressure point for change within the organization. It's only when all of them are looked at and considered and there's a plan behind each of them for positive change that you start to see the ... all of the ships rise with that rising tide. So, I'm encouraged with the onstage piece. I think that we are making positive leaps in terms of talking about the need to address the pathway and to be sure that everyone from every background is welcomed, that this art form is something that everyone can own and has access to. And that within itself has multiple moments in time that need to be examined, from elementary school to middle school, choosing your activity, to family choices. What is and isn't going to allow a young person to make a living? That's a very real choice for many families. To college to pre-professional to professional. So, it's gonna take a lot of time. The onstage piece is definitely important, but certainly one piece of the greater whole. I think we're also, in the orchestra field, comfortable talking about the artistic piece, so we jump to the onstage element. I, in my work, have built a strong personal desire that I recognize to connect with professional musicians in advancing their orchestras' DEI efforts. When we focus only on changing the onstage piece, which is, again, an important piece of the pie, an important piece of the puzzle that we have to take a look at, it can send a message if it's done in a reactive way that the people onstage don't belong there. And I think that's an interesting piece of this. How do we engage musicians, professional musicians who are onstage right now, in the process of looking at their entire organization, looking for opportunities to become more inclusive, to truly model equity? We've missed out, I think, on engaging many musicians because of the fear of, "Hold on. Does this mean we're changing the entire audition structure? What does this mean for me? I got here 30 years ago. Does this mean that my position is invalid as principal oboe?" Coming from a place of fear versus a place of productivity. And I think we have an army of musicians currently across the United States that are currently in orchestras who do care, who want to be a part of the process of both diversification and greater inclusion within their orchestras.

Erik Gensler: Cardozie Jones is the founding principal of True North EDI, a consulting firm committed to equity, diversity, and interdependence. Cardozie has worked with organizations on the policies, practices, and systems that have the potential to create inequity and exclusion in our workplaces and society. We spoke in July of 2019.

Cardozie Jones: We live in a society that is anti-Black, so I'm not immune to that society as a Black person, which is part of the craziness of internalized racism. But again, to the point of police officers or any kind of agent of an institution, we're seeing anyone who is really susceptible to really harmful values and belief systems that are old and ancient. I moved to New York from Philadelphia to do theater and I was a musical theater student at NYU for a year before I recognized I was paying a lot of money to be a part of an industry, a business, that, like I said, was steeped in historical and systemic racism. And so, once I left NYU and kind of also became, I think, disenchanted with theater, I stumbled upon a media studies class at Hunter College, where I’d transferred to, and it was in that class where I recognize kind of an awakening of myself when the professor began showing us … and this wasn't even the theme of the class. It was, like, Media 101, but the professor took it upon herself to focus on representations of race and gender in the media, which for me is, like, that's the gold. Like, you're doing it yourself because the system doesn't support you doing it. But for me, I think realizing how much … what I felt like I had been lied to for eighteen years, I've been not only lied to, but, like, fed a slow poison that kind of made me very passive, made me insecure, made me, I think, judgmental of people who look like me. And with that awakening, I realized a passion that I had had for this work and for, I think, this kind of critical thinking and that just kind of, I'd say, set me off into a path of education. I didn't want to do media in the traditional sense. Actually, I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I found a school that was hiring and I began working at the school and the first real class I taught was kind of a media studies class for freshmen in high school. And I swear to you that those, when they were seniors, like, they remembered everything we talked about in ways that I think what I learned about education was we can be teaching all the things, but if it's not relevant, if it's not transformative, if it's not tapping into young people's ability to question the beliefs and values and more of a society—and for these students were mostly Black and Latino students, the values that really put them on the outside of society—and if we’re not questioning that, I'm not sure what education is for. And that turned into me realizing, “Oh, the young people are not the problem. It's the adults. (laughs) The adults are the ones who desperately need kind of a reeducation,” and that is what set me on the course of, I'd say, professional development in adult teaching spaces and that transformed into a more general education, nonprofit, philanthropy, for-profit world. For truly human and holistic environments where people can come to the office, come to the workplace, and be their full, authentic, cultural selves and recognizing that for that to happen, we have to have real conversation and ultimately real action around … when it comes to the kind of environments we are creating, the kind of systems that we are producing and reproducing, the kind of beliefs that we put forward … and considering in what ways are our mission and beliefs aligned with our actual outcomes? I think it requires really hard conversations. So, how are we having conversations around what power looks like, how it's being used and monopolized, and what would it look like to get to a more human, a more holistic, a more communal place? I'm not saying where everyone is making all the decisions, but I'm saying everyone gets to come together and decide how we're gonna make decisions, at the very least, and collaborate. And yeah, I think diversity as a general term is important, but I want to make sure that we're not thinking that diversity as the answer. Diversity is a thread in this very, very complex tapestry that we're looking to address. And the big things I'd say, start thinking about other words other than diversity. Diversity is not the problem. We're diverse. We're here, we are diverse people. The question is, for me, in addition to diversity, what does power look like? What does sharing look like? What do communities look like where those communities are for everyone?

Erik Gensler: Dr. Robin DiAngelo is the bestselling author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism. White Fragility has yet to leave the New York Times bestseller list since its debut in June 2018, Dr. DiAngelo has been a consultant and trainer for over 20 years on racial and social justice issues. We spoke in April of 2019.

Robin DiAngelo: We take for granted racial comfort and it becomes something to which we come to feel entitled. You know, as a white person, I move through a deeply racially unjust society with a taken-for-granted sense of comfort. I move through the world racially comfortable, virtually 24/7. And while not everyone can say that, certainly white people can say that, overall, and we come to feel entitled to that comfort and talking about racism’s uncomfortable. So, then we also think, “Well, then something must be wrong if you are suggesting things that, that cause discomfort for me.” So, the mainstream definition of a racist is an individual—always an individual—who consciously doesn't like people based on race—apparently, it has to be conscious to count—and intentionally would want to be mean or hurtful to them. It also seems to need to be intentional in order for it to count. And so, when I say, “In order for it to count,” apparently, it's just based on how white people respond when it's ever suggested that we've said or done anything racially problematic. You'll notice that we tend to insist that we didn't do that, which would speak to the, “We have to be aware of doing it,” and that we didn't mean to do it, which would speak to, “It needs to be intentional.” So, based on that definition, a racist is a mean person who would want to hurt someone else based on race. And most white people do not relate to that definition. And so, we end up perceiving a suggestion that we're complicit with racism as a question to our very moral integrity, right? And so, that's probably the baseline of our defensiveness. Then, you add a few other dynamics. One is the ideology of individualism, which is connected to another apparent misunderstanding, which is socialization. So, it would appear that most white people don't understand the process of socialization and believe that they can be exempt from the very cultural water that we live and swim in. Right? And so, to generalize about patterns that are consistent and observable and documentable is perceived as a breach in the social contract, right? Which is, “Everyone must be responded to as a unique individual who could be exempt from these forces just because we see ourselves as exempt or we want to be exempt.” So, individualism and a lack of understanding of socialization are another piece that make it so difficult to talk to us. And I would also add internalized superiority. I do not believe any white person can grow up and not know that it's better to be white. In fact, the research is very clear that actually everyone who grows up here understands at a very early age, as early as three to four, that it's better to be white. Nobody misses that message. And really, there's been no space outside of that message for me in my life and any other white person's life. But we can never admit to that, right? Because, again, that would mean that we were bad people. When you put it all together, it makes for a rather irrational stew. All people have racial bias, right? There is no such thing as human objectivity. Human beings are not objective and we internalize preconceived notions or prejudices about social others as defined in our culture. Everyone has racial bias. When you back one group's collective racial bias with legal authority and institutional control, it's transformed into a far-reaching system. It becomes the default because those who control the institution set policies and practices and norms are in the position, conscious or not, intentional or not, to embed and infuse their racial biases into the very fabric of the society. So, it becomes the default. And the example I always use is women being granted suffrage—and let's be clear, white women were granted access to suffrage by white men in 1920. White women certainly could be biased towards men prior to suffrage, but they couldn't literally deny every single man in the society their civil rights. But men could and did deny every single woman in society her civil rights because their bias was backed by legal authority, institutional control, which transforms it.

Erik Gensler: Afa Dworkin is the President and Artistic Director of the Sphinx Organization, whose mission is to transform lives through the power of diversity in the arts. We spoke in November of 2017.

Afa Dworkin: And not only do we have absolutely no trouble filling the roster, there's usually kind of a very complex and a sensitive process to have to turn down perfectly qualified musicians who were ready to come in and teach and give back and participate, but just due to economics and numbers, it's not possible. So, in other words, there's a plethora of well qualified, well prepared, um, musicians of color who would absolutely only better the quality of what we're able to produce on stage, not only in terms of orchestral players or orchestral music, but also in the field of chamber music, in terms of pedagogy, and otherwise. But one of the things that we're finding with our young musicians, especially, is that they're certainly well poised, well qualified, but there is a decline in the desire to join these collectives, such as orchestras, and to remain, kind of, for the majority of their career, to remain the only one. It's a very alienating experience. It's certainly not a very welcoming proposition. So, as a result, folks look for alternative ways to build a career, many times turning to, kind of, an entrepreneurial approach, combining various aspects of what they can do as artists and as citizens and turning away from these traditional careers, because they feel that the climate, frankly, isn't very welcoming. It's not very empathetic and not very understanding. And, of course, Europe still struggles with it quite a bit more. Um, we've made quite a bit, quite a bit of progress here in the States, but, you know, that did not start until the seventies. It's unlikely that sometime in the seventies, the field woke up and the women somehow overnight became better orchestral players. Highly unlikely. But the system changed to, essentially, make way and not only permit women to enter orchestral ranks, but also encourage and create opportunities where they would be given specifically to women to address this stark issue of lack of representation. Now, that kind of thing has not yet occurred for musicians of color and it would take a very drastic systemic change in terms of early access, then real commitment to the rigor that is necessary throughout their schooling, and then really cultivating that desire and commitment to earn a spot in an orchestra. And that takes not only resources and time, but really a great deal of mentorship. And currently, these systems only exist very sporadically and episodically and not at all systemically, which is why, because there's that kind of a lack of follow through. We don't see a notable change yet in our numbers. So, essentially, in the seventies, there was a reform in the audition process and that all auditions for orchestral … for professional orchestras would occur behind a screen. So, as to disguise or eliminate the factor of knowing which gender this is, and everyone would sort of have, you know, um, allegedly, a level playing field and it has made a difference, I would say, in representation of women in orchestras. I think that's pretty apparent, really, across the board, both with smaller and regional orchestras, but also major orchestras have seen quite a bit of an increase, um, which is really great. Whenever someone asks me, “Why didn't that make a real difference, not a tremendous difference, for Black and Latino musicians?” because I think these are separate problems. Women did not really have lesser access to music education, not in terms of differentiation by gender. There may be other factors that would have implicitly discriminated or provided less opportunities. There's certainly that, but these are not kind of comparable values because still what we're not addressing is access for Blacks and Latinos to early training and then, that sort of, you know, the commitment to mentorship and to developing these young people. And since there's a lack of systemic inclusion at every level, then by the time we get to a level of auditioning for orchestras, there are all these factors that have already contributed to that alienation and lack of desire and sometimes readiness to audition for professional orchestras. So, if we, if we care to equalize it, you know, it would be next to impossible because of course our societal problems with historical discrimination and lack of equity unfortunately don't compare. It's tough to, kind of, label whether a bias is explicit or implicit, but there's presence of both. Um, certainly not difficult to observe, not just intuitive, but very, very apparent. In other words, when something as drastic as a blind audition, which in theory, you know, from an independent perspective, probably sounds highly ridiculous because the idea that we would choose a living, breathing leader, human being, someone who’d contributed to kind of the health of a collective, which is an orchestra, um, and we're … this is essentially creating a family, a cohort of musicians who had spent so much time together, creating music, sharing it, engaging with the community, developing the next generation of listeners and participants … The idea that we would elect to ask them for a snippet of their artistry behind the screen, just so that we can actually be objective, you know, probably no other field does this, that I've heard of, certainly.