Author: Tamara Holmes Brothers, Ph.D.
Greetings to the North Carolina arts community.
Since my appointment as the Arts Council’s deputy director, I have been charged with designing, developing, and implementing agency programs; recommending policies that realize the agency's mission of "arts for all people"; and working with our staff and board to create and implement strategic plans.
Centering institutional equity, diversity goals, and outreach is integral to this work. Diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) have been and continue to be more than progressive ideas. They have become essential for organizations globally, including the Arts Council. True systemic change comes about only when it is a way of life, not a trend.
In 2022, the Arts Council staff worked to foster a culture of creativity, intentional perspectives, and understanding by acknowledging the need for our own adjustments. The adoption of a new strategic plan provided an opportunity to reconcile our mission and organizational practices with DEAI goals. We did this in three distinct areas:
Organizational hiring and training practices
- Ongoing all-staff DEAI meetings to discuss and learn how DEAI intersects with the arts—externally with our constituents and internally with our staff.
- Continued hiring of staff who are people of color.
- DEAI-focused professional development opportunities that included the Lenoir-Rhyne Equity and Diversity Institute (LREDI) course program. The institute supports, inspires, and equips executives, nonprofit leaders, educators, students, social activists, and others who intend to spark change and cultivate better communities through their professional careers.
- Continued Arts Council board-member diversity appointments, which have increased by 150 percent in the past five years.
- Ongoing analysis and adjustment of Arts Council funding criteria to ensure balanced grantmaking practices and to define ways to implement equitable methods.
- Creation of the Spark the Arts grant category to support arts providers as the arts community reopened during the pandemic, through a combination of programming, marketing, rebuilding staff capacity, and facilitating safety protocols. Applications in this category track audience re-engagement and audience inclusion.
Community education and outreach
- Continued support of our Statewide Initiative Grant partnership with North Carolina Central University’s Teaching Artist Certificate Program to highlight the significance of teaching artists and promote recruitment for a more diverse cadre of teaching artists statewide.
- Scholarships for the national Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) Conference and facilitation of a co-learning peer group among scholarship attendees.
- Support for our state poet laureate, Jaki Shelton Green, as she continued her focus on poetry and other literary arts programs for youth as a way to encourage literacy and civic engagement.
- Collaboration with the N.C. Arts Foundation through Keys for Kids, a statewide network of arts organizations that provides free or affordable access to piano and keyboard education for school-age youth in North Carolina. Partner sites receive funding, keyboard donations, and branding materials designed to raise the program’s visibility.
- Participation in the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ Historically Black Colleges/Universities (HBCU) & Minority Institutions of Higher Education (MIHE) Internship Program—a paid, 10-week internship program that places HBCU students in the department’s divisions for professional development, leadership training, and networking opportunities. Our most recent two interns were students from Elizabeth City State University and Fayetteville State University.
- Participation in the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County’s Diversity in Arts Leadership program. For the past 30 years, Diversity in Arts Leadership (DIAL) has given college students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in arts leadership the opportunity to see a future in the arts. For the first time, Wake County joined five other communities across the country to host the DIAL internship program, created by Americans for the Arts and administered locally by United Arts. This summer, five interns were chosen from more than 40 applicants to build their arts administration skills under the guidance of supervisors at Diamante Arts and Cultural Center, North Carolina Theatre, Artspace, Burning Coal Theatre Company, and Community Music School. These organizations are Arts Council grantees.
Reconfiguring priorities and establishing ongoing programs that center DEAI in our workplace and in constituent work constitute the first step. But awareness is not enough: DEAI must be in our DNA. Transforming the mindset AND behaviors of our organizational infrastructure with all people in mind lets us build and move forward together.
We know infrastructural changes don’t happen overnight. Our work is ongoing. Thank you for your patience as we continue with this important work.
Tamara Holmes Brothers, Ph.D.