Measuring Diversity in City Arts Organizations

Jennifer Smith, Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2015

A mecca for the arts, New York City has also become one of the most multicultural cities in the country, with no single dominant racial or ethnic group and residents who speak more than 200 languages, according to the Department of City Planning.

Whether its cultural institutions reflect those demographics is another issue.

To find out, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs is embarking on its first effort to measure diversity at the city’s many museums and performing arts groups. The aim is to help cultural organizations connect with New York’s increasingly polyglot population.

“For the long-term vitality and relevancy of cultural institutions, it makes sense to have the staffs reflect that,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl.

Museums and arts groups provide a range of value to the city, he said, from generating tourism revenue to building up social capital among residents. The impetus for the study, he said, is that all the people who live in New York should feel “comfortable that these are our places.”

The effort will collect data on diversity among cultural organizations’ staffs, boards and visitors. If national trends in the arts hold true here, New York City may come up short.

Whites make up nearly 80% of the workforce at U.S. museums, according to an analysis of 2009 census data by the American Alliance of Museums.


The intent is not to point fingers or have administrators replace their current workforce.

“It’s about finding ways going forward to talk about how it could be more inclusive,” said Mr. Finkelpearl, who as executive director of the Queens Museum oversaw a multiyear effort to boost diversity among the museum’s staff.

For example, at one point the museum had no staff other than security guards who spoke Spanish as a first language, he said. Over time that changed; the museum also added a second Mandarin speaker and staffers who were fluent in Hindi and Farsi.


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