I've been working professionally in the arts for about ten years now. Over those ten years one consistent conversation has centered around how to prepare the arts for a more diverse world. It's a topic that has taken on a sense of increased urgency as society has become more vocal about the importance of having workplaces that reflect a broad cross section of America.
It's a conversation I welcome but I hope that someday we are able to expand the topic to include another form of diversity:
Diversity of Thought.
When I think about "the arts" in all of it's forms (profit, nonprofit, professional, volunteer, etc.) what worries me is that people who see the world a little differently don't feel like they have a place.
One of the lessons I've learned during my time in the field is that the status quo is a very powerful thing. This isn't because of evil intent. There isn't a secret conclave of folks making sure that key functions like artistic planning, marketing and fundraising happen in a very similar way. But I do think the industry feels very comfortable hiring people who approach these tasks in very conventional ways.
For example, I've done a little work in the field of human resources and one of the things I learned is that the standard interview process often has the net impact of bringing in the same sort of people, even if they look different.
That's why you see a lot of progressive companies asking the "how do you move Mt. Everest" sort of questions because it moves the interview process away from give me the answer I want and more toward how do you figure things out.
You also see that strong organizations are always scouting, meaning that are always trying to stay aware of potential new hires in the field. I can fondly remember a friend who worked at a small law firm who kept a constantly updated "just in case" file of people who he would love to hire if the opportunity presented itself.
Every once in a while he would check his list to make sure they weren't all the same in look, approach to the work, etc.
That was his "diversity hiring program". And it worked. Really well.
If we want to create a better, more diverse, more innovative arts world we need to start at the source. The source is how we recruit people and how we hire. All arts organizations, big or small, have some version of this process.
They may not call asking a few of their friends to join their band "recruitment" and "hiring" but that's what it is.
They may not call asking their friends for recommendations for a position "recruitment" but again, that's what it is.
The good news is that their is plenty of good solid research on how to recruit, hire and maintain a diverse workforce. It isn't rocket science or a secret.
It starts with the awareness that an HR process exists, is flawed and needs improving.
Once you are clear on that, amazing things can happen.