"Open the doors to a community that is eager to be involved and create more opportunities for marginalized people in the arts." – Meredith Burns
Inclusion and diversity in the arts are crucial. I believe that artists and arts organizations are the progressives that move society forward in regards to social and cultural norms and therefore it’s chiefly important that we become aware of some of the, oftentimes unintentional, ways that we are excluding marginalized people.
As the director of an arts organization (Art House Productions) in Jersey City, the most diverse city in the US, I witness every day the power that our rich cultural diversity brings to the community and I work hard to make sure that the programming at Art House reflects the community it serves. The three steps I’ve outlined are simple and will open the doors to populations of people that are eager to be involved but don’t always know if they're invited.
I began my career as an actor working off-broadway and regionally at theaters such as Pregones Theater/PRTT, The New Ohio, The Shakespeare Theater of DC, and Sierra Repertory. I was surrounded by lots of women as an actor in the theater but as an arts manager, that number decreased dramatically. I am a founding member of Glass Bandits Theater Company, a not-for-profit theater organization based in Brooklyn, and from 2010-2014 served as the company's Managing Director. From 2014-2017, I built and directed a comprehensive arts and literacy-based after school program at New Voices Middle School in Brooklyn serving upwards of 200 children daily. I received my BFA in acting from SUNY Purchase and am a proud member of AEA and SAG-AFTRA. Since February of 2017, I have been the executive director of Art House Productions here in Jersey City and have created two festivals (comedy and ACCESS JC Fridays) that have put diversity and inclusion at the forefront. My mission is to create more opportunities for marginalized people in the arts, including women, the LGBTQI population, people of color, the economically disadvantaged, and artists with disabilities.
If that's your mission too, here are three tips I think can help you do the same.
Make diversity and inclusion intentional. Do not just expect it to happen without making it a priority. If you're casting for a show or creating a new arts festival, make sure that you are actively seeking out diversity and reaching out to the communities you seek to include. It will not happen if you do not make it intentional.
Make sure your website includes language about your accessibility policies. I have heard from many people with disabilities that it is frustrating to them when they go on a website to learn more about a place or event and there is no info there regarding accessibility. This lack of information alienates people with disabilities and discourages them from attending your event. Also, don't forget to include your policies in all your marketing materials! Is your event/venue wheelchair accessible? Do you provide braille and/or large print programs? Is there a performance with a sign and/or audio interpretation? Is the art at your event/gallery hung at a certain height for easy wheelchair viewing? Do you offer sensory-friendly performances? These are a few of the accessibility options that you might want to consider.
- Make diversity part of your education plan. If you're an arts organization that educates, make sure you're including diversity and need-based scholarships. The Arts should be for EVERYONE, not just the financially and educationally privileged. All of us working in the arts are lucky enough to be working in the arts (however hard it is) and it is our responsibility as artists and arts administrators to make sure that we are reaching communities that do not have easy access to the arts. We need to go to these places, not always the other way around. We need to train the next generation of artists and arts leaders and it's extremely important that they reflect the great diversity of our towns, cities, and states.
Like the Arts, diversity brings strength and inclusion to every community. No matter where you are or what you do, you can use these three tips to make diversity in your business a priority. Don't just build it and think they will come. Be intentional, educate, and do the outreach to create the opportunities you want to see.