Racial Equity Working Group

The following is a draft framework created by a group of leaders from The Chief Executive Program. Working together over the past year, we have developed a set of principles for advancing racial equity in arts and culture organizations. These principles, while still in draft form, have the support of the NAS team and the entire NAS Board of Directors. The next steps are to bring more NAS alumni into this work and to discuss how to put these principles into action in our organizations across the world.


The social construct of race in the U.S. is deeply ingrained in our national and personal psyches. The long journey of equity analysis and reflection will reveal how we’re all affected by the divisive ideology of race and how we can begin the individual and group work needed to proactively counteract inequity.

As leaders, one of our most important roles is in shepherding those who are unsure about, new to, or resistant to racial equity, and holding ourselves and others accountable. We know that despite having noble intentions, we are not perfect. We take responsibility for our missteps, ensuring that the guilt we may hold about historical inequities and mistakes we have made (personally or as an organization) does not block our progress forward.


To guide us in creating more equitable workplaces and communities, we’ve crafted the following three principles:

  1.     Brave conversations
  2.     With us, not for us
  3.     Power sharing


We commit to these principles below because by pursuing racial equity, we will create more just and inclusive organizations and communities, open our institutions to more people, right historical wrongs, and become stronger, more resilient and more vital organizations.

The Racial Equity working group consists of the following leaders:

  • Torrie Allen, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
  • Phillip Bahar, Chicago Humanities Festival
  • Jenny Bilfield, Washington Performing Arts Society
  • Priscilla Block, St. Louis ArtWorks
  • Julie Decker, Anchorage Museum
  • Laurie de Koch, Seattle JazzED
  • Ruth Dickey, Seattle Arts & Lectures
  • Scott Harrison, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
  • Suzan Jenkins, Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County
  • Jennifer McEwen, Town of Hilton Head Island
  • Alissa Novoselick, Living Arts
  • Teal Thibaud, Glass House Collective
  • Sunny Widmann, NAS



Brave Conversations

We commit to having brave conversations. The path to racial equity is fraught with deep-seated emotion and conflicting perspectives. As leaders, we will create cultures where learning is valued above being right and where individuals are invited to bring their whole, vulnerable selves to the conversation. We will model this by engaging in deep listening, asking questions, and not being afraid of acknowledging tension in a conversation. We will actively seek disconfirming information to challenge our own assumptions.  We use the term “conversation” but know that this journey to equity has a longer timeline than a single meeting.


We commit to:



With Us Not For Us

We commit to the creation, implementation, and transformation of programs with – not for – the people we serve. The path to racial equity is a continuous effort that must actively facilitate self-representation, meaningful input, leadership, and shared decision-making forthose who have lived the experience of being in an under-represented group. We recognize that we cannot and should not assume that one under-represented community speaks for all under-represented communities, nor assume that one member of a community represents all members of their community. Often this inclusion of diversity is complicated, multifaceted, inelegant and iterative, but it is critical to building organizations that serve their communities in authentic, responsible and sustainable ways.


We commit to:



Power Sharing

We commit to engaging in power sharing. Reaching racial equity cannot be possible unless we recognize and challenge power imbalances within our communities and professional structures. We must recognize that racial inequality is one of the greatest injustices of all time and work toward a more balanced power dynamic. We will question socio-historical contexts and structural factors that will hopefully lead to community-driven, shared leadership with a balance of power amongst all partners.

Many of us inherited structures and systems that do not serve our power sharing principle. As we commit to the below points, we acknowledge that much of this might feel like uncharted territory and mistakes will undoubtedly be made. Our intention is to continue working towards these commitments, despite any missteps we experience along the way.


We commit to: