Often times, when you look at the staffing of an arts organization, or most companies while I’m at it, senior and executive staff tends to be White while junior and maintenance staff tends to be people of color. Companies and organizations say they have a diverse staff, but I ask you to take a closer look at the staffing make up and see who are making the decisions and who has a say in them. There is a need for diverse arts leaders, and breaking down those barriers to allow people of color to have the chance to rise to the top along with their White counterparts.
As an emerging arts female leader of color, in my mind, there is nothing stopping me from achieving my dreams. However, society has put different barriers based on historical constructs saying that I am not capable because of who I am, what I look like, or where I come from. But, now is the time to break these preconceived ideas and work to create diverse leaders of all people.
A few weeks ago, I attended the 2016 National Urban League Conference in Baltimore, MD. The themes consisted on having conversations about how to confront and tackle issues of Education, Jobs, and Justice that consistently hinder communities of color.
Although this was not my first time attending this convening, I personally found it to be very empowering. There was one session that really inspired me. As part of the Young Professionals (YP) track, there was a panel discussion called Leadership on the Line: What it Takes to Advance and Thrive in Any Organization. The panelists included a number of leaders who are successful in their own right to share their perspectives on best practices for career advancement.
Go beyond what is expected of you to create a value of your work for others
If you are just doing the bare minimum of your job duties, people will not notice you or think you can take on more responsibilities. When you go above and beyond, upper management will have no choice but to take notice. Give them no excuse to show why you are not qualified for the job.
Some things I took away from that session include:
Know your purpose, the “why” you do what you do, and use it to fuel your desire to work
There are things that we are passionate about which can often lead us to choose different career paths. No matter what happens, always remember why you are doing the work you are doing. Don’t get discouraged if the answer is a no. You know what you are about and the value you can bring. It is their loss if they can’t look past the surface of your race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. And even if you get tired, keep going. The only true failure is giving up.
Surround yourself with others who have done what you are doing
I am a strong believer in mentor relationships. If you know where you want to go, look at those who have done it before and get connected with them. It can seem scary to approach someone, but most are happy to give advice and help you get to the next level. They can connect you with their network and also give you tips based on their seasoned experience.
Get involved! Be engaged! Be seen! Be heard!
Get involved in different platforms. If you have any professional memberships, take advantages of their services. Be engaged in what they have to offer. Join a committee, start a conversation among the other members. Be seen! Are you going to the conferences, the networking groups, or the meet ups? If not, start going. People respond better when they have a face to go with the name. And finally be heard. Make your opinion matter at the table. Let people know what you are working on and how they can get involved.
Being a person of color, it is easy to be overlooked. But don’t give them a reason to go past you.
For me, my passion is in dance. I truly believe in the power dance has to transform lives and communities. Dance saved my life and I know it can do the same for others. I work hard to let the world know that. I believe and hope that my colleagues see that passion in me as I am always looking for ways to further my work and advance the field of dance in new ways. I try to speak with others who have done what I am doing and ask their advice and opinions on my ideas. I am a member of the Americans for the Arts, National Dance Education Organization (NDEO), and New York State Dance Education Association. In some cases, I have been just a number and a name on the list. But now, I want to step up and get more involved and have already started to put that plan into motion.
In addition, I am also a member of Women of Color in the Arts (WOCA). WOCA is a collective of women who are dedicated to promoting diversity in the performing arts field. This network came about as the co-founders saw and recognized the lack of diversity within the field and at various arts related conferences. It started as a conversation among several women of color about how to make the arts administrative field more diverse. There was great interest in the discussion, further affirming the need for an inclusive network of diverse arts leaders. Today, it is an honor and privilege to be part of such an important movement to further advance and make the field stronger.
Earlier this year, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), released its a study: Diversity in the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Community. This study shows that the artistic leadership in New York City does not fully reflect the diversity of New Yorkers. It showed that the current cultural workforce is 61.8% White, 35.4% minority groups, and 53.1% female. This is pretty alarming and tends to be the case in most major cities across the country. From this study, DCLA will use the data as a way to tackle this issue through the development of new funding and job training initiatives. Please click here for an overview of the survey results.
There is a need for diverse arts leaders and I am one of them. I know I have a lot to offer the field and have many ideas to do it. I hope you will join me and support me in my efforts. Look out world, here I come!