How is the arts sector organized?

by Jini Stolk

I was recently at a meeting called by the Maytree Foundation to discuss diversity (or the lack therof) on arts boards, where we were asked:  How is your sector organized? What a surprising and difficult question!

Slowly, people started speaking:  the community includes professional and community arts; there are the creative, presenting and exhibiting arts; the nonprofit arts and the commercial arts. We are organized within the various disciplines (visual arts, writing, film, music, theatre, dance and so many more) and styles (painting, printmaking, sculpture, poetry, fiction, playwriting, jazz, classical, chamber, contemporary, modern, ballet, and on and on.) Heritage is a cultural sector separate from artistic practice. Individual artists are organized separately from large, mid-sized and small arts organizations.  What about experimental and traditional arts; established arts and arts reflective of diverse backgrounds and traditions; studio trained and street arts…

Do we really think about ourselves in this fractured way?

At Creative Trust we found that we were shaking things up a bit, just by bringing together disciplines (music, theatre and dance) that didn’t normally meet. We were organizing sessions for mid-sized and small, mainstream and culturally diverse, established and new organizations. And even that amount of mixing things up made a difference. People talked and shared, learned from each other, and began to understand how other disciplines functioned.

Of course there were many similarities, around the need for organizational sustainability and the desire to learn about boards and governance, managing human and financial resources, building new support, and engaging more fully with audiences and communities. Partnerships were formed to work on some of these things together.

It’s pretty clear that most of our arts boards are not truly reflective of our city.

As we found with Creative Trust, it’s exciting to bring a variety of people together around a table. Viewpoints will be different. If it’s a board table, the outreach to new sources of financial and other support will be wider, and the connection to communities will be deeper and more knowledgable. But most importantly perhaps, whichever sector or subsector of the arts you’re in, we live in a Diverse City. We should be working harder to diversify our boards because if we don’t, we’ll be left behind, operating on old rules from past times.

A number of participants from that meeting (including the Ontario Arts Council and Business for the Arts, both of which already had this on their radar) are going to continue this work, together with Maytree. Stay tuned: there’ll be more to come.

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