NASAA Notes: July 2021

July 7, 2021

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: A DNA Change

I was recently asked what it looks like when an organization commits to a diversity, equity and inclusion agenda. Unlike many programmatic commitments, which may be short-term or long-term, a commitment to advance diversity, equity and inclusion is definitely long-term, with intentions toward permanent change. In this work, ongoing reflection meets policy, planning, management and practice, alongside accountability. In some ways this continuum looks like other kinds of organizational efforts we have all seen over the years. The key difference is that advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) requires a DNA change to authentically embody and advance the ideals and the work of DEI. This work cuts across all aspects of an organization and it requires personal and organizational commitments.

At NASAA, we began our DEI journey with a commitment to ongoing reflection, dialogue and learning. That commitment led to the development of our policy statement, which acknowledges our ongoing reflection and learning, as well as our commitment to ongoing action. The statement confirms what we stand for and what we’re doing about it.

I often refer to committing to a DNA change in our work at NASAA. We seek a DNA change so that our entire organization embodies and advances the DEI agenda. A NASAA colleague recently remarked that it is a lifestyle change—not unlike a healthy-living lifestyle change that incorporates diet and exercise alongside attention to mental and physical health.

Our policy statement fuels ongoing attention to all our practices at NASAA. For example, we commit to the ongoing learning needed to advance our work in the equity space. That shows up in our daily lives at work through reading, formal and informal training, research, and a commitment to staying in conversations with colleagues to learn and reflect and engage. It’s a lifestyle change for us that manifests at our weekly staff meetings, at regular anti-racism lunch conversations and especially in how we occupy our ongoing to-do lists in service to state arts agency members. With purpose, we employ a DEI lens across all our work.

We also keep NASAA accountable for our DEI work in a number of ways:

  • Each summer, we ask state arts agency leaders to comment about NASAA’s DEI work, as well as their own agencies’ specific DEI needs.
  • All NASAA peer groups apply a DEI lens within their discussions; this helps them advance their own practices, and it helps NASAA maintain a current understanding of member needs.
  • This work also cuts across NASAA’s strategic plan and annual action plans, and our Planning & Budget Committee ensures it is happening.
  • Annually, we reflect on the work and chronicle it at the staff level, and then it is reviewed by our Governance Committee and the NASAA board.
  • Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Activities log is always available to members online and is updated at the end of each fiscal year.
  • Our accountability measures continue to evolve as our work evolves.

Our accountability practices help us stay the course in our commitment to advance diversity, equity and inclusion as a part of who we are, how we work, the work that we do and how that work continues to evolve in service to state arts agencies.

With respect to NASAA’s DNA change as a critical part of this work, here’s a tangible example of how that manifests itself programmatically. As you know, we plan various conferences in service to members. NASAA hosts Assemblies, Leadership Institutes, Professional Development Institutes for arts education managers and, more recently, a Creative Placemaking Convocation, as well as the upcoming Creative Aging Institute. Six years ago, our conferences likely contained one, two or three sessions related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Because of the evolution of our practice—and because of our DNA change—all components of our conference work now contain this priority focus. We activate a DEI lens across all conference management decisions and all content. For every component, we can ask ourselves: what is the equity lens? or the diversity lens? or the inclusion lens? That’s us embodying our policy and our values, ensuring they show up at our conferences—and in all our work.

State arts agencies (SAAs) embody these practices as well. By nature, SAAs have always worked to benefit all the people of their states. Over the course of time, practices have deepened, outreach strategies have deepened, and SAA work in and with communities has deepened. Diversity, equity and inclusion practices across our field now signal that SAAs are evolving their practices and doubling down on their efforts to equitably benefit all communities, all arts organizations and all artists. As NASAA and SAAs continue to reflect, learn and advance DEI practices, I’m certain we will embody the goals of the policy statement we coauthored in 2016-2017, to ensure that all Americans benefit from the work of state and jurisdictional arts agencies.

In this Issue

From the President and CEO

State to State

Legislative Update

The Research Digest

Announcements and Resources

More Notes from NASAA




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