In Brief

Diversity in NYC Arts Organizations Falls Short of City Demographics

In 2017, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to link future funding for cultural institutions to the diversity of their employees and boards. A new study released by the city shows demographic alignment is still far away.

NYC City Hall (via Wikimedia Commons)

The demographics of New York’s cultural nonprofits are not reflective of the city’s diversity. According to a new report, about two-thirds of New Yorkers are people of color while two-thirds of the people running arts organizations are white.

The pilot survey, completed by Southern Methodist University and largely funded by a grant from Deutsche Bank, collected data from 65 DCLA-funded groups. The university’s DataArts program received responses from about 7,000 individuals, which is nearly a 26 percent response rate compared to the total workforce size at participating organizations. Participants were asked about their heritage (race, ethnicity, and nation of origin), age, gender, and sexual orientation. Their answers were also organized in the report according to a list of 25 roles, which included artist/performer, curator, education, and board.

Critics have long-accused art institutions of failing to reflect the diversity of New Yorkers. The new research claims that 11 percent of art workers identified as Hispanic, compared to 29 percent of the city’s population; 10 percent identified as Black, compared to 22 percent; and 6 percent identified as Asian, compared to 14 percent of residents. The contrast is stark when focusing on cultural leadership: boards and executives are 70 percent and 68 percent white, respectively.

On the other hand, the study found that cultural organizations are disproportionately female (65 percent, compared to 52 percent of New Yorkers). LGBTQ-identifying individuals accounted for 15 percent of participants while disabled people held 8 percent of the workforce.

Screenshot from the DCLA/SMU DataArts report

“This new DataArts survey gives us a tool we can use to do that more effectively and over time,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl in a statement. “The data we gather will help us design programs to support NYC’s arts and cultural institutions in their ongoing efforts to create opportunities for all New Yorkers.”

The report comes as 33 members of the Cultural Institutions Group (who are located on city-owned property) formally adopt diversity, equity, and inclusion plans required by the city. According to a DCLA press release, these plans will implement strategies and policies to address the lack of diversity within individual institutions. After submitting their plans, DCLA conducted a review process and coordinated with each member to finalize their plans, which required full board approval. The municipal agency plans to extend the survey to nearly 1,000 constituent organizations by 2020 to provide a baseline for understanding New York’s demographics.

Four years ago, the city released a similar study conducted by the group Ithaka S+R, which was privately funded and captured data on 922 DCLA-funded organizations. It’s difficult, however, to compare the two reports because the former asked one employee per organization to fill out a demographics spreadsheet for all employers at their institution whereas the latter was anonymously self-reported.

Screenshot from the DCLA/SMU DataArts report

Data from the latest report, when organized by job titles and race, also reveal the biggest diversity problems at DLCA-funded arts organizations. Editorial workers (consisting of 44 responses) are 86 percent white; on the other side of the spectrum, security personnel (196 responses) are 20 percent white with the majority of employees identifying at Black (37 percent).

Calls to diversify the art world have intensified in recent months. Frank discussions of museum worker salaries and unpaid internships have paved the way for reforms. In June, the Association of Art Museum Directors called on organizations to provide paid internships. And only a week ago, the American Alliance of Museums selected 51 museums for a board diversity and inclusion initiative backed by $4 million in grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Alice L. Walton Foundation, and Ford Foundation The money will go toward programs providing the framework, training, and resources for museum leaders to build inclusive environments that reflect the communities they serve.

In 2017, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to link future funding for museums and art institutions to the diversity of their employees and boards. None have faced a loss of funding yet, but, as the New York Times reports, they could in the future if they don’t follow through with their plans to diversity.

“My feeling — and I’ve been to many board meetings — is that this is being embraced,” Finkelpearl told the newspaper. “Everyone has the right to have the expectation that the cultural life of New York City should be reflective of the communities.”

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