Diversity in casting and beyond

bu Jini Stolk

Some controversies should be consigned to history, but the fact that Native Earth Performing Arts is hosting a Community Forum about diverse casting on May 26th, featuring a panel of distinguished Artistic Directors, proves that this particular issue is still, unfortunately, alive and kicking.

Somewhere in my dusty files I have an article I wrote on Cross-Cultural Casting for Canadian Theatre Review (a bottle of wine to anyone who can find it online) when Sandi Ross at CAEA, Sandra Tulloch and Jean Yoon at Theatre Ontario, and Rose Jacobson and I at TTA were actively promoting colour-blind and diverse casting.

What can be said at this point that is more true and inspirational than Soheil Parsa’s Director’s Notes for his marvellous Blood Wedding: “A culturally-diverse member in our cast is not representing her/his race or culture on the stage; rather, she/he represents her/his unique individuality as an artist, and as a human being. We aren’t emphasizing the predominance of different cultural identities in the world, but are simply saying that this, as a whole, is the human race we represent, in all its beauty and vulnerability.”

Adam Thurman from the Mission Paradox blog is always clear and strong about diversity in the arts. In “Starting at the Source” he hopes the community can soon move beyond reflecting America’s broadly diverse society to embracing diversity of thought and assumptions. He argues that traditional standard interviewing and hiring practices tend to favour traditional standard applicants for both staff and board openings, and notes as I have, that small efforts to counteract unconscious bias can yield important results.

In Canada, DiverseCity on Board, part of Ryerson’s new Global Diversity Exchange, is helping by identifying and training excellent board candidates for non-profit and public institutions.

AND, if you’re not yet convinced, the New York Times just reported on the NYC Cultural Affairs Department’s “Plans to Study the Diversity of Its Cultural Groups” – including boards, staffs and audiences of organizations including museums, orchestras and dance troupes – in an attempt to make clear that diversity should be a priority for institutions when it comes to naming trustees or hiring employees.

“Over 90 percent of staffs at museums nationally are white,” according to Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, (I wonder if things are much different in Canada), although he emphasizes that the purpose of the study is to learn from how people develop diverse audiences and staffs and boards, highlighting the positive, and sharing best practices. This is something I will be very interested in following.

Anne Pasternak – formerly president and artistic director of the public art group Creative Time, just appointed Director of the Brooklyn Museum – says that based on census figures showing an increase in New York’s minority population, her organization has already been changing its hiring practices. “Everything we do in the organization now is seen through the lens of equity,” she said. “If you want to have audiences for the arts in the city, where are they going to come from? It’s not only an issue of what feels good and what’s right. It’s an issue of survival.”

More fascinating reading:

Annual NGO Ranking Shows White Savior Status Quo Remains Intact . Scathing stats from the Nonprofit Quarterly on board gender, diversity and values imbalance.

The supply and demand of diversity and inclusion . Vu Le on why the problem with the nonprofit sector’s diversity strategies is that they increase demand without increasing supply.

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