Tag Archives: Access

Diversity, Equity, and Access in Arts & Culture: Why It Matters

I was 21 years old the first time I visited a museum outside of a school trip – I remember visiting the ROM’s planetarium in the second grade. I was intimidated and did not feel it was for people like me, I thought, once I step in they would know that I was an outsider and didn’t belong. What if I didn’t have the right clothes or conduct myself the right way? They would know. Up until this point, all I would have known about museums was what I learned from television and films.

It was 2008, the opening week of the “Transformed” Art Gallery of Ontario, more than 68,000 people crowded through the newly renovated AGO during that opening week — admission was free that weekend (thank you BMO for sponsoring) and I was one of the 68,000 people who visited. It was packed and full of people from all walks of life, different from what I expected; it was welcoming. I could not believe this gem existed and that I had never visited.

The arts always felt a bit out of reach for me, and again, that it was not for me, so the more I wanted to challenge my feelings of exclusion and personal biases of the arts as exclusionary (especially given the fact that the arts sector is publicly funded!). I began to immerse myself, reading, and watching documentaries on the topic and attending more art shows. I also slowly started to expand my interest into classical music, ballets, and operas *when discounted tickets and free nights allowed me to* (thanks to government funding and programs supported generously by donors).

Experiencing all that arts and culture has to offer and knowing all the barriers there are to access, was one of the reasons I chose to build a career in fundraising – I wanted to be part of the change and scale social impact through inclusion and access.

Over the years, my affinity for arts and culture organizations in Toronto (or at least to those I could access) has grown, and I support them in whatever way I can, whether inviting others to join me at a show, donating or volunteering my time.

There are many great outreach programs designed to help access arts and culture in the city of Toronto. For example, The Toronto Public Library Map program is one of the many exceptional programs in the city affording access to arts and culture – offering free admission to Toronto museums and cultural attractions to anyone with a library card (but there is a limited number of cards in circulation). Many organizations have their own programs designed to increase access – whether it be through discount tickets, rush tickets the day of events, free days/evenings, etc. Nevertheless, arts and culture organizations need to take further action to attract diverse audiences, and that extends to programming, donors, employees, volunteers, and other key stakeholder groups if they want to bring value and truly enrich the lives of Canadians – equity is vital to achieving this. Everyone deserves to benefit, and there is room for everyone.

Not sure why diversity, equity, and access matters to the Arts and Culture Sector?

Here are five facts that will affect the future of the sector:

  1. Shift in Demographics – According to Stats Canada by 2031, the percentage of individuals belonging to a visible minority could exceed 40% in Ontario.
  2. Shift in Workforce Culture – In 2016, individuals aged 55 and over accounted for 36% of the working-age population, the highest proportion on record (Stats Canada, 2016). Without diversity as a part of organizational culture, replacement of this workforce will not occur (Stats Canada, 2016). By 2020, it is estimated there will be a talent shortage of 85 million skilled workers (Fortune, 2015) (KPMG, 2017).
  3. Shift in Business Norms Led by Millennials – Thanks to technology and social media, millennials are exercising their influence as employees and customers on organizations to create inclusive and diverse workplaces. By 2020, millennials will account for 50% of Canada’s workforce (Globe & Mail, 2017) – if organizations do not adapt, they could risk high and costly turnover (KPMG, 2017).
  4. Shifts in Wealth Accumulation – According to a survey conducted by BMO Harris Private Banking, 48% of people with liquid assets of $1M or more are immigrants or described themselves as first-generation Canadians with at least one parent born outside of Canada (Globe & Mail, 2018).
  5. Shift in Grant Making Strategies – In 2016, Canadian Council for the Arts released its five-year strategic plan which affirms their commitment to equity and inclusion, stating that, “Canada’s major arts organizations will be models of diversity and innovation” (we can check back in 2022) – the bar has been set (Canada Council for the Arts, 2016).

When looking at the shifts in trends, it is important to note where we currently stand. Older donors (55+) account for 47% of all donations made, and the population around us is aging fast. For the first time, seniors outnumber children in Toronto and are the most common household type (Toronto Foundation, Vital Signs Report, 2018). As of now, Arts and Culture receive 1.3% of the donor dollars in Canada, to put things into perspective, religious organizations represent 41% of total donations, and among non-religious organizations, the health sector receives 13% (Statistics Canada, 2013). So, who will replace arts and culture donors in the future? Time to focus on diversity, equity, and access.

Teresa Catalano was born and raised in northwest Toronto to immigrant parents and is a fundraiser in higher education.

Respectful Curiosity

One of the most beautiful approaches to conflict resolution that I have heard recently came from a podcast that I listened to, where the host, Whitney Johnson, interviewed Dr. Donna Hicks on the topic of disruption. (https://whitneyjohnson.com/donna-hicks/).

In this exchange, Dr. Hicks shared stories of her experience exploring the concept of how at the core of major conflicts lay a deep sense of lost dignity. Dr. Hicks is a Harvard professor and has studied and led mediation initiatives for some of the most relevant modern strife and wars around the world in the past decades and uses these experiences particularly around recognition and protection of all parties’ dignity to build cultures of trust in organizations today.

This expert talked about the acknowledgment of lost dignity as a first step to build trust towards peace and reconciliation and how ‘we are all guardians of dignity, and we owe it to ourselves, others, and the greater good to educate ourselves in the inherent value and worth of everyone around us in order to flourish.’

During my reflection on the idea of lost dignity, I was also reading and exploring the concept of ‘respectful curiosity’, a phrase that I coined in a conversation with a colleague around the topic of how diverse communities bear a high burden when speaking out to discrimination and injustice. How they seem to be penalized and how important it was that people sitting on the fence of understanding these issues – including me on many occasions – should exercise the practice of ‘respectful curiosity.’

I am still developing this concept but as I listened to that podcast, the idea of honouring my own dignity and that of others, the fullness of what I feel ‘respectful’ meant finally came into place.

In the social profit sector, we all seek to redress injustices, undo systemic wrongs and ultimately honour the dignity of those who we serve.

My journey to understanding the deep-rooted displays of racial, gender and socioeconomic injustices in the Canadian context has just started, and the only way I felt I could begin to learn has been through curiosity.

Yes, reading, listening to podcasts and lectures can help but, how can you feel moved to act and speak up and stand up to injustice when you witness it if you have not connected with people with those lived experiences?

And how can we connect with others when our structures seem so homogenous that the systems we are immersed in, are not conducive to connect with others with diverse lived experiences. There is so much that individuals can, and would do, for example setting up collaborative teams that reflect the diversity of participants to tackle organizational challenges, if this is an individual driving change in one department without structural support and acknowledgement in the ample sphere of the organization this practice will not be permanent. Therefore it is paramount that structures shift to build spaces for diverse connections.

Diversity, inclusion and access to power in our sector will require individual actions and systemic transformation. So as an individual I call you to move to a space of no fear through respectful curiosity and to step up your actions for inclusion because you have the power to change the system.

So be curious and ask the tough questions. What can we do to make our team diverse?. How can we bring in our beneficiaries into our decision-making process and truly represent them?. Do managers/leaders have the skills to manage talent that is unlike them? Why is this person not at this table? How can we all learn about addressing and including other’s life experiences without judgement? What did we learn from a diversity and inclusion initiative that died out?

Through this questioning, you will be bearing the burden with your colleagues from small minorities and as you do this, you will not only be guarding their dignity but yours too.