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30th October 2018 Bea Udeh

Defining Diversity #ADA

Sara Devine is a mentor on ADA 3.0 and is asking you to disrupt your perceived notions of how you appreciate the differences in people and groups.

One of the things I love about the Audience Diversity Academy is the flexible opportunity found in the idea of “diversity.” As explained on the website, the Academy is all about “building new and diverse audiences from the whole of society. We use the word diversity in its broadest sense.” I appreciate this clarification since in the U.S., “diversity” is most often used as a euphemism for people of color, or BAME in UK terms. People of color are a vital and underserved (another popular euphemism in the U.S.) audience in the arts and cultural sector and while race is an important defining characteristic of diversity, it’s not the only one.

At the Brooklyn Museum we’ve been working with a racial justice organization called Race Forward whose mission is “to build awareness, solutions, and leadership for racial justice by generating transformative ideas, information, and experiences.” Race Forward’s approach puts race at the center of the discussion, so every conversation begins with “race and.” It does not dismiss other needs or lenses for equity, but puts race first. For example, race and feminism, race and disability rights, race and economics, race and…you get the picture. To me this approach is the right one given the history of humanity generally, let alone the imperial and colonial history of museums and arts and cultural organizations specifically. Their approach also focuses on equity, not equality. The advantage of this concept was new to me, but the illustration here really explains the difference beautifully.

Race Forward’s approach is also the most appropriate one for the Brooklyn Museum. The Museum has a long history of building audiences and serving a diverse community, granted with some bumps along the way. As an organization, at least in my opinion, we are ready to tackle this dynamic one-two combo of “race and.” I don’t think any other approach would be enough; we have to go all-in. We began this past spring with a series of workshops led by various team members from Race Forward, and have formed an internal racial equity task force spearheaded by our very own Keonna Hendrick, who has done amazing work in the sector on racial equity. We’ve also spent some time benchmarking our colleagues, and Seattle Art Museum and Delaware Art Museum are making great strides. It’s going to be a long process, but we have dedicated staff who believe in the work.

However, not every organization is ready to tackle this combination head on. Some organizations are in the nascent stages of building diverse audiences, which is why the broad definition of diversity proffered by the Academy is so important. For some, diversity may mean race, or even race-and, but for others that may mean targeting certain zip codes, income sectors, ability/disability, age, language, or something else all together. The key for a successful strategy for building audiences is to define the diversity in specific terms, which is one of the first things I like to discuss with my fellows. What does diversity mean for your organization? How does this work fit into the mission? If there are multiple target audiences (and their often are), which do you focus on now? What are the unique needs of this audience, should you successfully invite them in? Can you meet those needs? Answers to questions such as these help shape the focus of the experimentation completed as part of the Academy, and helps the fellows think critically about how their work helps further their organization’s diversity journey. What the Academy offers is flexibility so each fellow, each organization, can define diversity for themselves based on where they are as an institution. While every organization may not be ready for a “race and” approach, any work furthering diversity is a step in the right direction.

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