A curious proposal by Michael Kaiser regarding the ever-struggling efforts of big arts institutions (that is, big white arts institutions) to diversify programming and audiences. What's surprising is he suggests throwing in the towel.
What's even more surprising is the fact that Michael Kaiser is the chief of a little nonprofit arts org known as the Kennedy Center. And that's he's posting this very visibly on Huffington Post.
Over the past 30 years, we were encouraged, primarily by foundation and government agencies, to become more diverse in every respect: we were asked to do works by minority artists, to bring diverse audiences to our theaters, and to diversify our staffs and boards. To justify funding, the argument went, we had to demonstrate our commitment to our entire community.
Having spent a great deal of my career working with arts organizations of color, I am as committed as anyone to the diversity of our arts ecology. I do not believe that we can have a truly great artistic community if all segments of our society are not represented well.
But I do not think I believe anymore in forcing Eurocentric arts organizations to do diverse works or to put one minority on a board.
When large, white organizations produce minority works they typically select the "low hanging fruit," the most popular works by diverse artists featuring the most famous minority performers and directors. This almost invariably hurts the minority arts organizations in the neighborhood, most of which are small and underfunded, and cannot afford to match the marketing clout or the casting glamor of their larger white counterparts. How else to explain the reduced strength of American black theater companies over the past twenty years?
So is Kaiser really saying something as fatalistic as, look: we're white, ok and white stuff is all we know how to do?
What is he saying? And what's prompting this?