Living in the future

by Jini Stolk

Being on the right side of history definitely involves being diverse and inclusive onstage, backstage, in the office, on the board, and in the theatre.

We’ve been incredibly lucky in Toronto to have experienced on our stages the artistic contributions of one of the world’s most varied gatherings of cultures, ethnicities, races and international backgrounds.

I was reminded of the impact of new art and artists during a celebration of International Dance Day hosted by Lieutenant Governor David C. Onley and organized by the small but mighty KasheDance, which was celebrating its fifth anniversary. Artistic Director Kevin Ormsby spoke about his experience of being an immigrant artist in Canada – using his own cultural sensibilities as a catalyst “not only for expression but also for understanding, civic engagement and social activism….(using dance) to highlight the practitioner’s and viewers’ culture, society and inner being…(leading) to unique perspectives of who we are as a people.”

Adam Thurman of Mission Paradox has three bracing guiding principles to diversity in the theatre: 1. Any form of diversity is valid. Age, geographic, racial, gender. It’s all good; 2. Any arts organization that seeks diversity with an authentic and sustained effort will get there eventually. They may need a little help and a little guidance, but things will work out. 3. Any arts organization that doesn’t want to embrace a more diverse audience/staff/board/whatever should NOT feel forced to do so. They should just be allowed to perish like any other creature that is slow to evolve.

Since I’m assuming we don’t want to wind up dying like the dinosaurs, let’s see where we’re at and where we need to get to. According to Hill Strategies, a Canadian study of arts attendance by diverse audiences reports that the arts attendance rate for immigrants, Aboriginal people, Anglophones in Quebec, and Francophones outside Quebec is similar to that of Canadians overall, where 71% attended one of five arts activities – art galleries, theatre performances, pop concerts, classical concerts, and cultural festivals – in 2010. (Canadians with disabilities show the only marked difference with only 61% reporting that amount of attendance: we’ve talked about that before.*)

Not too bad for a start, but that leaves lots of room for growth and if your audience is not as diverse as you’d like it to be some of the help and guidance Adam Thurman talks about is in his webinar on building diverse audiences, available for $35 from Americans for the Arts.

A Mowat Sector Signal on Diversity reports that the nonprofit sector as a whole is not doing well in our offices. They analyzed the findings from the Looking Ahead Leadership Survey and ask “What does it mean when the majority of organizations in the sector are not deliberately pursuing diversity in their recruitment practices?” especially when the not-for-profit sector has long talked about the importance of making diversity and inclusion a priority.

As for our boards, we have a long way to go and a lot still to gain from bringing more varied perspectives to arts board tables.

I was interested to see that the museums world is currently doing a survey as part of The Canadian Museums and Youth Diversity Experience Project to assist in developing guidelines and best practice models for diversity in museums. The survey covers various forms of diversity and is intended to help identify areas of strength and areas that could be further developed in engaging diverse audiences across Canada. I’m looking forward to the resulting report.

* If you want to help to make the arts and cultural sector accessible and inclusive to all, and raise the percentage of people with disabilities who participate in and attend the arts, Tangled Art + Disability (formerly the Abilities Arts Festival) is inviting applications for the position of Artistic Director.



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