In an effort to learn whether arts and cultural institutions in New York reflect the polyglot diversity of the city itself, the agency plans to collect and analyze data on local cultural organizations' staffs, boards, and visitors. The effort will entail a privately funded survey to be conducted later this year that, when completed, could lead to new policy directives designed to help organizations better connect with the city's residents. "People actually want to do this," said Cultural Affairs commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, who, as executive director of the Queens Museum, oversaw a multiyear effort to boost the diversity of the museum's staff. "It's not going to be forced down the throat of unwilling directors. The question is how to do it in a way that maintains intellectual rigor and artistic quality, and I think it can be done."
According to an analysis of 2009 census data by the American Alliance of Museums, nearly 80 percent of the workforce at U.S. museums is white. In New York City, non-Hispanic whites account for one-third of the total population, while 37 percent of city residents are immigrants, with no single dominant racial or ethnic group.
The Department of Cultural Affairs will launch the initiative later this month at a meeting of city officials and leaders of major foundations, museums, and arts groups that is expected to include Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, Brooklyn Museum director Arnold L. Lehman, and Julián Zugazagoitia, former director of El Museo del Barrio and currently director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.
"For the long-term vitality and relevancy of cultural institutions, it makes sense to have the staffs reflect that [diversity]," said Finkelpearl. "It's about finding ways going forward to talk about how it could be more inclusive."