Monday, March 30, 2015

Programs for the Underserved; Programs for the Overserved. Time to Switch Priorities

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on……………."

Equity -- generally defined and understood as: fairness, justice and impartiality.

The issue has been center stage for us for sometime.  We have narrowed our focus on diversity as the core of the challenge of equity in the nonprofit arts - equity in access, equity in funding, equity in resource allocation and in the equation of people of color balanced with mainstream white domination in the decision making processes.  The axiom has been that if we can just make the nonprofit arts more diverse - particularly in its governance structures - then we will have met the equity challenge and it will be solved.

But diversity is a mask.  It's a symptom of the underlying issue - which is structural racism or inequity - and dealing with the symptom rather than the root cause is increasingly being recognized as an inadequate approach.

Diversity is limited in its meaning to the practical challenge of recruiting more people of color (or women, or gays, or young people,) to our Boards and staffs, and as audiences and supporters.   Diversity is a lovely word - innocuous, non-threatening; something everyone can agree on as a noble goal.  It appeals to our aspirational sensibilities.  Become more diverse?  Well, of course.  Who wouldn't want that?   In a sense, the diversity frame is a polite way to avoid digging deeper.  Whereas much of the rest of the nonprofit universe, talks about racial equity and structural racism (or ageism, or sexism or whatever).

The Woods Fund Chicago defines those two terms as follows:

“Structural racism is the cumulative impact of past and present policies and practices. Racial divisions, disinvestment, disenfranchisement and discriminatory polices have produced and exacerbated income inequality and disparate access to resources and opportunities for generations.  
Racial equity is a multi-issue framework that confronts racial disparities to  produce fair outcomes and opportunities for all communities.  It provides  proactive tools, synergistic strategies and more effective policy to address structural problems.  Racial equity strategies connect leaders and organizations across communities and bring solutions to scale.  Racial equity creates crucial spaces for those most impacted by inequities to build power and lead through collective practice and collective voice.”

Grantmakers in the Arts released an historic Statement of Purpose paper this week on Equity, recognizing the inequity of past policies and practices within the sector.

"Grantmakers in the Arts believes that:

  • Recommended solutions of the past, which have focused on diversity rather than structural inequities, have not resulted in nationwide successful outcomes in equitable inclusion and/or grantmaking to ALAANA artists and audiences. 
  • An historic societal and philanthropic bias for European artforms has undervalued the contributions of ALAANA artforms and artists. 
  • Arts funders are encouraged to implement relevant programs and create new structures in which ALAANA communities, artists, and arts organizations benefit as leaders, grantees, and partners. 
  • Addressing historic injustices is a vital component of achieving equity for ALAANA communities."

Having more diverse boards and staffs and supporters may very well help to address the structural realities that need to change in the long term, but it seems highly doubtful that our efforts to recruit a few more people of color (or age, gender etc.) will move the mountain much in the short term.  Adding two or three people of color to a thirty person board looks good, but doesn't really change the structure that has been at the heart of the inequities for so long.  Moreover, color is not the only determinant in trying to use diversity as a solution.  One can argue, for example, with some authority, that people of color appointed to an institution, that has a five figure donor requirement for Board membership, are as much defined by their economic status and kinship with Euro-centric board members as they are to their race.  The one percent is, above all, the one percent.  In many circumstances, economics will always trump other factors.  And one must consider that equity isn't just about color; for the arts anyway, its about a much fuller range of diversity - including organizational size. Diversity is both tricky and difficult as a means to correct past inequities.  Moreover, making diversity a reality is very time consuming, and I would argue that while it may be an important step in the process, the longer we take to address the inequities born from structural prejudices and biases compounds the inequities further.

The reality is that in the nonprofit arts, our progress in achieving real diversity that comes close to reflecting the actual diversity of the population, has been largely token to date.  We are, of course, legitimately trying, and many of those that are on the forefront will argue that there aren't enough people of color to populate every board, every staff.  While, on the surface that may be true, it can be also be argued that we simply aren't trying hard enough, and that we've got to radically change our approach to recruitment.

Indeed, if surface diversity is the issue, our boards, staffs, and even audiences remain white and older.  In an NEA funded study: "Diversity on Cultural Boards: Implications for Organizational Value and Impact" (Francie Ostrower, Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin) noted these conclusions:

  • "On average, 91 percent of board members were white, 4 percent were African-American or black, 2 percent were Hispanic, and 3 percent were in the “Other” category.  
  • Fully 58.7 % of the boards had only white, non-Hispanic members. Virtually every board (98 percent) had at least one white member, 26 percent had one or more African-American or Black members, 19 percent had one or more Hispanic members, and 14 percent had one or more “other” members. 
  • Diversity may also be thought of in terms of the number of different racial and/or ethnic groups represented. The picture that emerges from this perspective is also one of considerable homogeneity. Most boards (just over 59 percent) are comprised of members of just one of the racial/ethnic groups, and virtually all of these are white. Twenty-seven percent of boards reported members from two of the racial/ethnic groups queried.6 In fourteen percent of cases, boards included members of three or more groups.
  • Among organizations in the two smallest size groups, boards are on average 91 and 92 percent white respectively. The figure is 87 percent in the next two larger size groups, and drops just slightly, to 85 percent, among the largest organizations. While large organizations less often have exclusively white boards, they are still overwhelmingly white.
  • It is one thing for a board to be 90 percent or more white in a community that is 90 percent white, but quite another in a community that is 50 percent white. Even more relevant is the demographic composition of the organization’s audience members, since these are individuals that are interested in the organization’s activities.  In counties that are over 75 percent white, the average board was 96 percent white (standard deviation of 12). However, when we turn to counties where the population drops to 50 to 75 percent white, the average board is still 93 percent white (standard deviation of 12). In counties with populations that are less than 50 percent white, the average percent of white board members drops considerably – but at 74 percent (with a standard deviation of 25), it is still considerably higher than the county average."
We are quick to register our valuation of diversity, but seem slow to translate that value into action that actually builds diversity.  And diversity is only the scab on the wound of structural inequity.  Structures are by their nature more permanent and more difficult to change.  Consider the diversity challenge in terms of tenure of the very established leadership that likely has to change as described in this report from Ruth McCambridge, writing for Nonprofit Quarterly, cited by GIA.

  • "Relatively long CEO tenures:  More than 40 percent of grantmaker CEOs have been CEO for ten or more years. This is almost exactly the same percentage as was found in the recent survey of nonprofits performed by BoardSource, where it was reported that 41 percent of the CEOs who responded had been in their positions for 10 years or longer. 
  • Relatively older executive leadership: Sixty-one percent of foundation CEOs were aged 50 to 64. According to Vickie Spruill, 17 percent of foundation leaders—CEOs and Chief Giving Officers—and six percent of full-time staff in respondent organizations were aged 65 or older. Only four (not four percent, four) were under 30. 
  • The bigger the grantmaker, the older the leadership: About 90 percent of grantmakers with $500 million or more in assets were led by CEOs who were age 50 or older; this proportion drops slightly with decreases in asset size. The lowest proportion of CEOs over 50 was among grantmakers with less than $10 million."

If some groups are underserved, then others must be overserved.
One one level we do have diversity though, and have for some time -- and that is on the programming level.  We have created some very valuable and even effective programs, like those for Youth At Risk, Underserved Communities, Disadvantaged Populations, and Marginalized Groups. And though these programs are well intended and worthy, they are a damning indictment of our maintenance of the status quo of the structural problems.  The very nomenclature reveals a dichotomy.  If we recognize that there are Youth At Risk, Underserved Communities, Disadvantaged Populations, and Marginalized Groups, that is a tacit admission that our main program support has been, and continues to be, for Privileged Youth, Adequately or Overserved Communities, Advantaged Populations and Mainstream Groups. The structure of our support favors not the neediest among us then, but those that are faring best.  And it has for a long time.

If we are serious about addressing the needs of our sectors that are underserved, at risk, disadvantaged and marginalized, then we need to re-allocate more of our resources to changing the realities so that there aren't any communities that we can easily and readily define as underserved etc.  But we haven't done that.  Our moves have been incremental and small; too small.

Numerous studies confirm that the wealthiest and largest cultural organizations among us continue to reap the bounty of the long tradition and practice whereby the biggest white organizations get the lion's share of our funding and resource allocation - stunningly disproportionately so in many instances.   And that inequity has the unintended consequence of keeping the status quo of the structure which perpetuates the over served, the privileged, the mainstream and the advantaged.  And that seems true for public and private funding.

In Holly Sidford's 2011 landmark study, "Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy,"   the gulf between funding for the marginal, disadvantaged, underserved arts communities became all too apparent:

"Only 10 percent of grant dollars made to support the arts (such as visual arts, performing arts and museums) explicitly benefit the poor, ethnic and racial minorities, the elderly and other marginalized populations. Less than 4 percent of grants dollars support advancing social justice goals through the arts. 
Further, 55 percent of arts grants go to organizations with budgets greater than $5 million, which represent less than 2 percent of the more than 100,000 arts and culture nonprofits. Recent research demonstrates that the primary audience of these large institutions is predominantly white and upper-income."

For a funder with an annual grant budget of say ten million dollars, to award four or five million dollars to a single large budget, established Euro-centric cultural institution (whether it be a museum, an opera, a symphony or whatever) is really unconscionable and egregious today.  Not uncommon (and one need only look to those funder's governing Boards and the historical pattern of those people's interests and overlapping - and sometimes conflicting - loyalties) to understand why, but it ought to be unacceptable -- under any theory.  That is not to say the recipients of this favored support aren't valuable. They are and we need to support and protect them.  But no longer at the expense of those who were the victims of the inequity of the system.   As a matter of equity - it's time for a turnaround change.

How did we get to where we are?

What is equitable depends on the criteria used in any given set of circumstances.  In the earliest days of the nonprofit arts, the majority population, particularly the wealthy class, was anglo white and controlled most philanthropic efforts.  Early on the established criteria for funding was centered on artistic excellence, which was almost exclusively applied to white cultural art forms, where factors such as diversity, connection to community, and even box office success were irrelevant.  It was unnecessary to consider anything else but the excellence of the art being considered. And the only art being considered was Euro-centric. In this example, those making the art, their experience, reputations, and prior work may legitimately be considered, but only to the extent that the product itself qualifies as excellent.  What constitutes excellence is, of course, invariably subjective - even if the judgment is the conclusion of so called experts or peers (and who qualifies as a peer would be open to debate).   As long as every artist and organization had an equal opportunity to apply for the funds, and an equal chance to be favorably considered according to criteria that itself passed an equity test for fairness and impartiality, then the final conclusion - while it might be disputed on the standard of excellence (comparative or otherwise) - wouldn't necessarily be inequitable. Moreover, those making the philanthropic (and later government) decisions regarding the allocation of funding were the very white backers of the doctrine of excellence that considered only white art.  And if the only criteria, the only standards were Euro centric art, then it's not surprising that the structure of funding became a defacto one of bias and prejudice. Moving towards diversity, by itself, is not likely to change that structure.  At least not anytime soon.

The problem with excellence as the prime (and maybe exclusive) standard is its very subjectivity.  Excellence is a relative concept and must be considered not in a vacuum, but in the context (and community) of the art being considered - its legacy, audience, perceptions and practitioner techniques and skills.  If excellence was, for a time, the gold standard (and it certainly sounds like a reasonable approach), judging what qualified as excellent suffered from the prejudice of the bias of those making the decisions.  Not a prejudice against any art form or product, but a bias in favor of certain forms as created by certain artists.  Excellence needed to be judged by the standards of the ecosystem and community from which the art sprang - not always the dominant white community.  And it wasn't.

But even excellence of artistic creation was never the sole criteria for funding support.  The excellence or quality of the organization making, facilitating or enabling the art also became a factor as funder sought organizations that had the capacity to carry out their missions and which could be sustainable over time.    Funders logically and understandably wanted their limited resources to have the widest impact and farthest reach.  Not surprisingly early on the largest cultural institutions with the deepest pockets (virtually all of which tended to be Euro-centric and white) tended to come out on top under both criteria.  Though not admitted to, there was clearly a bias and prejudice at work here that justified the lion's share of funding going to these organizations.  And that reality continues today.

I'm not suggesting the arts are racist per se.  I think, compared to most fields, we acquit ourselves fairly well in terms of our genuine belief in inclusion.  But structural racism and inequity exists in the wider society, and that impacts our framework and our legacy.  And because structural inequity is often, if not invisible, then certainly harder to pinpoint and recognize, our structures are suspect too.  Whether racist, sexist, ageist or otherwise, there is substantial evidence that there has been, for a long time, an inequity in the nonprofit arts - from funding to seats at decision making tables.

Having more diversity - particularly, I think, people of color and younger people - is necessary and will help to address - over time - the structural aspects of inequity.  Meaningful, representative diversity gives us not only a better 'face' for our publics, but it increases the representation of the whole at the decision making tables.  But it is still only the face of what we do and who we are.  Even sea change improvements in the diversity of our boards, staffs (especially senior management), supporters, funders, donors, audiences and more, will not, by itself, necessarily address the structural aspects of inequity as they have existed and may continue to exist.  We've got to move away from "diversity" as the centerpiece of moving towards equity.

So what ought we to do?  Some would argue - and with moral persuasion at least partly on their side - that in order to make up for the past unfairness and injustice of the inequity in our field, the pendulum now ought to swing far to the other side, and we need to consciously allocate most of our efforts and funding and resources to those who for too long have gotten the short end of the stick.  But despite many segments of the arts being the beneficiaries of inequitable policies and practices, those art forms and those institutions are, for the most part, in my opinion, worthy of preservation, and so what we ought to do is move dramatically to the center of a balanced approach; not compound the sin by repeating it.  But moving to that center involves allocation of a huge amount of money now to those who have for so long gotten what might be argued as the 'scraps'.

There is a concept in law - he who seeks equity, must do equity - that basically holds that moving from one inequitable posture to another is unacceptable.  I think that concept applies to us.  We need to move dramatically from support for the over served, the privileged, the advantaged and the mainstream to a more equitable center approach so that those among us - multicultural organizations, smaller budgeted organizations, and others left out - can be as quickly as possible brought up to an even level - not in terms of dollar for dollar funding, not in terms of penalizing those who previously benefited at the expense of those on the other end, not an absolute equality - but as something more reasonable and reasoned -- and equitable -- fairer, just and more impartial.

Will we get there?  Yes.  The question is when.  And the answer lies not in how diverse we are.  The Trojan Horse that is diversity is a canard that masks the real challenge we face.  How we admit and accept the structural aspects of who we are that facilitated getting to the point we're at -- and then changing all that - is the only real solution.

Embracing GIA's Statement of Purpose - by private and public funders - and by individual arts organizations - and all of us really -  is a good start, but realization of its goals will not come easy and not come quick.  But it is a start.  Whether or not the goals are attained, GIA has taken a bold and historic step in moving all of us towards addressing the underlying problem of structural inequity rather than just the surface challenge of greater diversity.  If we don't embrace this manifesto, then very likely the overserved, the mainstream, the privileged and the advantaged among us will continue to disproportionately benefit, while the underserved, marginalized, at risk and disadvantaged sectors of our field will stay that way.  That's not fair.  It's not equitable.  And it's not good for anyone.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit