I don’t like being in a “gatekeeping” position but often find myself there, as a journal editor, as a member of my university’s promotion and tenure committee, even as a teacher. I find the position troubling and try – especially when making decisions that may keep the proverbial gate closed – to consciously consider the ways in which my particular perspective or even subconscious biases affect those decisions. There are gatekeepers at every level of artistic production and distribution. From the play selection committee in a university theatre department to a grant panel at the National Endowment for the Arts, people are making “go/no go” decisions about what gets produced, where, and by whom.
This concept weighed heavily on mind as I was prepping for next week’s grad seminar topic, board governance, especially in light of Francie Ostrower’s recent report on board diversity in which she finds “Arts and cultural boards of all sizes were extremely homogenous with respect to race and ethnicity” and “boards were overwhelmingly composed of white members.” I am not at all suggesting that white people are more biased than non-white people, but rather that boards that are predominantly or all white do not have access to the perspectives of people of color in their decision making – including the ultimate gatekeeping function of hiring the executive and artistic leadership of an arts and culture organization. A 1992 study (McLoed and Lobel) found that groups that were heterogeneous with respect to the ethnic backgrounds of their members produced higher quality ideas in brainstorming than homogenous groups. I could list several others that draw similar conclusions about the positive impact of heterogeneity on group creativity (and there’s Keith Sawyer‘s prodigious research on group creativity as well). The nonprofit arts board, working in a generative mode, brainstorms ideas through strategic planning processes that create the very gates that include or exclude the organization’s leadership, staff, and even audience. How much richer in creative capital would our arts and culture organizations be if they had greater diversity on their boards? Ostrower suggests some simple ways in which organizations can open the gates of their boards. You can read her report, rich in descriptive statistics to back up her conclusions, here.
(photo by flickr user Luca Sartoni, under Creative Commons attribution license)