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by Tina Edan
“We don’t need to worry about applying a diversity lens; it is easy to maintain standards of excellence when the people making decisions reflect the cultural producers and audience.” Claire Hopkinson
Art has an obligation to truth. By extension, arts organizations have an obligation to reality. The Toronto Arts Council (TAC) understands this well. When it began its diversity journey, the organization had not kept pace with the city’s reality as an increasingly diverse creative metropolis.
Today, however, when it comes to demonstrating the value and impact of diversity in leadership, TAC is recognized across Canada as a frontrunner.
Its diversity strategy?
Mirror the community you are serving throughout your organization, starting with the board of directors.
TAC’s definition of diversity is broad.
It is unique among granting bodies in that its 29-member board is mandated by Toronto City Council to be comprised primarily of artists. It also engages board members with a lens on diversity of geographical representation, gender, sexual orientation, discipline, levels of skill and expertise. Its definition of diversity further includes visible minorities. According to TAC executive director Claire Hopkinson (a cultural producer in her own right), this was the result of not being afraid to ask the difficult questions like, “how can we invest resources to the full benefit of our community unless the voices at the table represent that community?”
The conversation about TAC reflecting the cultural, ethnic and racial composition of Toronto began before, but was codified in a 1992 cultural equity report commissioned by TAC. Currently, half of TAC’s Board of Directors, its Arts Discipline Committees and juries are visible minorities. This creates a broad lens through which applications are assessed and funds are allocated.
This has been critical to a major cultural shift within the organization and, ultimately, its place within the community. According to Hopkinson, “TAC’s model of representation has shaped how we award funds. We’ve developed relationships with groups who have matured from receiving project funding to operating funding to multi-year funding. When artists see success from others in their community it encourages them to apply.”