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.
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:
- Brave conversations
- With us, not for us
- 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
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:
- Using our positional power to call others into our racial equity work
- Speaking up when we identify racist structures and actions and engage in a conversation around them
- Creating an inclusive (but not conflict-averse) space for every person and every perspective
- Leaving combative debates and point-scoring behind in favor of getting curious
- Getting below the surface to what is real, honest, difficult and sometimes deeply troubling
- Emphasizing the importance of ‘going on together’
- Acknowledging that a really brave conversation will not be finished, completed or concluded in a single gathering. Instead, the gathering should begin the relational work that’s foundational for continuing collaboration, by opening the members of the group up to one another’s underlying aspirations
- Listening deeply to identify potential alignment instead of seeking to antagonize
- Actively seeking disconfirming information to challenge our own assumptions
- Adopting grace on this sometimes messy, sometimes awkward, never linear journey to understanding
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:
- Acknowledging the power dynamics at play in our organizations between various groups of people and identities, and working to make visible and mitigate the disparities
- Acknowledging the biases we hold, being willing to listen and change our perspective
- Managing the vulnerabilities and emotions we experience in order to give space for the voices of others
- Creating space for the diversity of opinions and beliefs both within a community
- Affirming intersectionality (understanding that people are made up of many different identities) and supporting the expression of complex identities
- Paying attention to who is at the table, asking who is missing, why they are missing and finding ways to bring them into the conversation
- Ensuring that the decision-making power dynamic is shared with the community/communities that is/are being impacted by those decisions – not only through opportunities to represent their own voices, but also by raising their voices, ideas, and concerns to others who hold power
- Enhancing our understanding of how systems of power and oppression operate in both daily and larger societal contexts and using this understanding as the lens through which we interpret the context of our programs.
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:
- Using our power to empower others, as opposed to a “command and control” approach
- Nurturing an environment and creating processes where all voices can be heard
- Acknowledging that great leaders come in all forms, races, ages and backgrounds; they use different styles and approaches; and can be found in any position on the org chart
- Distributing power through cooperative decision-making processes, when appropriate
- Building awareness of how our own privileges influence how we experience the world as a leader
- Analyzing how perspective is different between those in formal positions of authority and those who are not
- Acknowledging that we all have implicit biases, and that as leaders we need to check our biases by inviting other voices and perspectives to the table
- Acknowledging and messaging that dismantling the racial power structure has to be intentional