Fostering Racial and Economic Diversity in Performing Arts Organizations: Identifying Sociodemographic and Administrative Barriers to Inclusion

Cohen, Laura
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University of Delaware
Recent trends show a large decline in arts audiences in the United States, as well as significant underrepresentation of racial minority and low-income individuals in performing arts audiences. This study uses a two-pronged approach to examine the underrepresentation of racial minority and low SES populations in performing arts audiences and to understand organizational and administrative attitudes and responses to racial and economic diversity in arts participation. The first portion of the study analyzes three organizations through a review of their organizational literature and a series of twelve interviews with key staff and board members. These three case studies measure how audience expansion activities and attitudes towards audience diversification vary based on each organization’s level of accessibility to the community—determined by factors such as cost/location, relevance of programming, and reputation. Results indicate that while each type of organization identifies audience diversification as a priority, each responds to the issue differently and identifies different challenges for enhancing representation. The second portion of the study analyzes the mission statements and outreach activities of a sample of 20 Philadelphia performance institutions, finding that organizations with multidimensional presentation elements, such as theater, opera, and dance, are more community focused and more easily facilitate innovative outreach programming to nurture a diverse constituency. The information found in these studies can assist in understanding the breadth of diversity initiatives in place at performing arts organizations and determining solutions regarding how to successfully cultivate a racially and economically diversified audience base.