NYC Cultural Affairs Seeks Data on Arts Diversity

On Wednesday at the Ford Foundation, New York Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl put forward the City’s forthcoming diversity survey to some 250 executive staffs of arts and culture nonprofits. Over 900 organizations from across the five boroughs will be asked to fill out the diversity questionnaires, which will examine the demographics of employees, board members, and audiences.

The surveys, which will be required for all arts and culture nonprofits who wish to receive city funding, will be privately funded and designed by an outside consultant, yet to be named. In other words, the disclosed information will not be accessible through Freedom of Information Law requests. Protecting this information, the Commissioner said, will prevent finger-pointing in the future.

“We can’t understand what the problem is without data,” Finkelpearl said. While it’s known that 65 percent of New Yorkers are people of color, the future surveys will reveal if that same level of diversity is reflected in the workforce in the arts and culture industries. The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) is guessing not.

The DCLA, however, will take no action until it has collected and understood the numbers. A press officer clarified that the information attained will be “non-punitive.”

“It’s not a quota system; it is a conversation,” said Maya Wiley, Counsel to the Mayor.

The DCLA hopes that this conversation will center around the strategies that secure broader audiences and encourage more people to consider careers in the arts or culture, the Commissioner said.

“We are looking at forward-facing efforts,” Tracey Knuckles, Deputy Commissioner added. “This means we do not want you to go back to your institutions and start firing people in the name of diversity.”

A number of art world denizens were also in attendance at Wednesday’s event, including Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum, and Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem.

“For so many institutions, diversity is often — and incorrectly — viewed in terms of sacrifice,” said Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, host of the event. He continued, imploring the present executive directors to move “beyond capital campaigns to consciousness campaigns.”

“In a city like New York, when a majority of the citizens look at the leading institutions and don’t see a board that looks like them, don’t see staffs who look them, and quite often don’t hear or see programs that resonates with them, it is easy to understand why they might be disaffected, or disenchanted, or at the very least disconnected,” Walker said.

The DCLA hopes to complete the surveys by the end of the year.

—Noelle Bodick (@nbodick)

(Photo: Kirsten Coale/Wordpress)