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City Cultural Institutions Struggle with Diversity


HOST INTRO: From the tech industry to college campuses, the issue of diversity in hiring is on a lot of people’s minds. New York City recently announced $3 million in new initiatives to push some of the city’s best known arts organizations to diversify their staffs. But as Katie Ferguson reports, how exactly to fix this isn’t so clear. (0:16)

FERGUSON 1: The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs helps fund arts and cultural non-profits—from the Brooklyn Museum to the Bronx Zoo to the Greenwich Village Halloween parade. So when the department announced almost a year ago it was going to measure the diversity of the staffs of these organizations, it was no small task.

SCHONFELD: It’s probably one of the most comprehensive data sets that’s ever been developed about staff diversity. (0:06)

FERGUSON 2: Roger Schonfeld is one of the researchers who collected the data. Imagine hundreds of spreadsheets, each one filled out by a different group. For every employee, a row. (Over 48,000 rows, by the way.) In each row, a series of fields—age, race, ethnicity, gender, date of hire, and more. The results? The city’s cultural employees are more than 60 percent white. New York City itself? Only 30 percent white. So these cultural institutions are not nearly as diverse as the city they’re serving.

LOUIE 1: I think one thing that’s really terrific about arts and culture is that it’s always just a reflection of who we are at any given time. It really is looking in a kind of mirror. (0:11)

FERGUSON 3: Andrea Louie is the executive director of the Asian American Arts Alliance. She was part of the advisory committee that consulted with the researchers. She says that collecting this information matters as a first step, because diversity is especially essential in the arts .

LOUIE 2: Every story deserves to be told and heard and honored. (0:05)

FERGUSON 4: And these groups do want to fix this. When the survey asked what type of diversity would most improve quality of work, almost 90 percent said having people of varying races and ethnicities in the workplace. And there are some signs that this is improving, according to Schonfeld.

SCHONFELD: When you look at people who were hired in the last five or six years, it tends to look like a more diverse group of people than folks who were hired in previous decades. (0:10)

FERGUSON 5: But when you look at new hires, many are starting out in junior or entry level jobs. The study found that diversity decreases at higher level positions. Also complicating this is another type of diversity—the vast array of differences between the organizations themselves.  One organization’s staff might be four people and another four hundred. Louie says there’s no silver bullet, no quick answer that will fit just right for all of these different groups, from the Sri Lankan dance troupe of Staten Island to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

LOUIE: There’s never one size that fits all. (0:03)

FERGUSON 6: But as a first step, the Department of Cultural Affairs is devoting $3 million to new diversity initiatives, and is in the process of developing the city’s first cultural plan, which will likely include benchmarks. But it’s going to be a while, and perhaps several more spreadsheets, before New York City’s cultural institutions reflect the diversity of the city itself. Katie Ferguson, Columbia Radio News.


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