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Embracing Arlington Arts produces a Theater/Arts Management Education podcast series that features special topics of interest that we delve into in much greater detail. The goal is to create a better understand about the performing arts among patrons, students and other interested parties.

Diversity and Cultural Equity

A major impediment to achieving more diversity in the arts and culture industry is that while all agree that concrete changes must be made, there has been a lack of insight into how and what these changes should entail to garner results. Therefore, in order to help theaters and their leaders achieve their goals of greater cultural equity and diversity, Embracing Arlington Arts is planning to offer a comprehensive training and educational project for non-profit arts organizations on best practices for achieving better cultural equity – a MUST for the long-term viability of the arts sector. This multi-episode podcast series on diversity.  Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) leaders are asked their thoughts on the most important changes needed in the arts industry to make it more equitable. Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) experts would then provide concrete action items using case studies, tools, leadership initiatives, etc. to help arts organizations achieve more diversity and based on the changes needed cited by the BIPOC leaders.

The Artistic Director of Adventure Theatre Chil Kong is certainly doing everything he can to display and instill best diversity practices, as detailed in this interview. Find out how he is improving himself, as well as core advice he offers his Artistic Director peers as first steps in improving cultural equity in their organizations. Also learn what he believes are the core problems in the theater industry, including foundational issues, as well as how DC Artistic Directors of Color work together on picking apart the issues that are impacting them and his demands for a more fair and respectful community. A very honest portrayal of an Artistic Director doing the right things. One important piece of advice for Artistic Directors: “Figure out how to be humble.”

The Artistic Director of Theater Alliance Raymond Caldwell, a leading voice in the BIPOC Community, discussed the foundational problems obstructing better diversity in the DC performing arts world. Citing a severe lack of BIPOC representation on theater Boards, extremely low number of BIPOC personnel in arts leadership roles, and organization mission statements and charters that make no references to anti-racism, Raymond outlines institutional problems that need to be fixed immediately. He also offers demands and marks of success that must happen to keep theater healthy, fair and equitable for the BIPOC community. Raymond’s important piece of advice for listeners: “We have to make diversity happen. It will not happen on its own.”

Scenic and costume designer Deb Sivigny, a leading voice in the BIPOC Community, detailed her views on the diversity problems in the DC performing arts industry. From economic implications of low-paying internships to consistently presenting shows about black trauma to lack of BIPOC in theater management positions to holding theater accountable to their Black Lives Matter statements, Deb provides listeners with much into these problems. She also offers some demands and marks of success that must happen to keep theater healthy, fair and equitable for the BIPOC community. One important piece of advice for listeners: “Acknowledge your position and what you are going to do personally about the problem. Lots to consider and think about in this interview.”

EDI Consultant Dr. Monica Almond, Founder and CEO of The Almond Group, offers valuable and critical advice to non-profit arts organizations on achieving more diversity. From her insight on the pros and cons of training to her guarded views on the term BIPOC to first steps on developing diversity plans, Monica’s responses can easily help steer organizations in an effective direction on the equity front. Also learn more about measurable parameters, requirement for White American Theater leaders to go outside your circle and how progress should be evaluated on the diversity front. Every non-profit organization who acknowledges they need to change should listen to this interview.

Lisa Richards Toney, President of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals provides such insightful and unique responses to the issue of cultural equity in the theater industry, as well as responds to certain demands made by our BIPOC leaders in this series. Lisa offers several “first steps” for White American Theater leaders to take to start making progress, the importance of BIPOC voices at the decision making table, advice on getting more (and not just one) BIPOC Board members, and how critical it is to offer paid internships to theater students. There is a lot to unpack in this interview. One major point Lisa makes: “We need to make sure out arts organizations are a safe space for BIPOC people and leaders to exist equitably.”

Natalie Graves Tucker, CEO of the multicultural marketing firm NGT Consulting and Founder of Blackstage DC offers another BIPOC voice in our Diversity series. Citing major marketing disconnects and primarily white audiences, Natalie points to several changes that need to be made, with transparency in hiring and season planning topping the list. She also talks about the work of the Black Artists Coalition that aims to work with theaters in DC to think outside the box with respect to casting decisions, assisting with season planning, offering education and cultural sensitivity programs and workshops and many other initiatives to make the industry more equitable. Her uplifting thoughts: “I’m hopeful that theaters will take this time with no productions to actually learn from what they are saying (with their statements of support) and move forward in a positive direction.”

Ouida Maedel, Theater Specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts packs so much useful and specific advice in this interview. On the topics of creating more diverse Boards to making concrete changes to complement written statements of support, Ouida offers specific and easy actions White American Theaters can take now to start effecting results on the diversity issue. She also offers advice on training and special insight into the role of non-profit organizations in our nation. Reminding listeners that during this pandemic is the perfect time to start strategically planning for more equity, her specific best practices examples provide theater leaders excellent first steps. She states: “There is no better time for strategic planning, radical collaboration and bold visioning for the future of the industry.”

The Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Convergence Theatre Elena Velasco has been a leading BIPOC voice in the theater industry for years. She cites three major problems that need to be addressed before there is equity in the theater industry: tokenism, appropriation and representation. Elena stresses that relationships with professionals of color need to built, measurable goals need to be instituted and specific actions need to be taken, not just statements. One easy change – mentorships and making sure the next generation is the voice to demand diversity changes. Bottom line Elena states: “How do you feel welcome in a space where you don’t see yourself or hear yourself.”

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