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Palm Beach Arts And Tourism Summit Focused On Dialogue Around Equity, Inclusion

 Pedro Vilanova and Groupo de Bomba y Plena perform at Palm Beach Arts and Tourism summit
Wilkine Brutus
Pedro Vilanova and Groupo de Bomba y Plena perform at the Palm Beach Arts and Tourism summit

Industry leaders discussed the importance of building a workforce where differences are valued and leaders establish long-term efforts to engage and retain diverse communities and artists in a more authentic way.

A group performing Afro-Puerto Rican traditional music and dance, opened up the first-ever Arts & Tourism Summit in Palm Beach County. Industry leaders from various cultural institutions came together to deepen the dialogue around human interconnectedness after the racial unrest from the summer of 2020.

The Cultural Council for Palm Beach County and Discover The Palm Beaches hosted the two-day summit with the goal of encouraging leaders to build a workforce where differences are valued and more authentic engagement happens with diverse communities and artists across the county.

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The summit featured workshops on cognitive bias and professional development, presentations on how to establish long-term opportunities and benchmarks for underrepresented people, and perspectives on why it’s important to produce authentic programming for young, multi-ethnic audiences.

Many of the speakers and attendees urged organizations to avoid “performative outreach,” where organizations seem to only reach out to diverse communities during cultural heritage months — like AAPI Heritage Month — or during holidays, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Juneteenth.

From art galleries to performing arts, an overarching them was the value of attract and enticing younger audiences and thinking of them as the life blood of the industry's future.

And beyond more youthful voices there was also a focus on expanding accessibility, being more inclusive in outreach and prioritizing equity. Without those efforts, experts said, cultural literacy and institutional knowledge embedded in the arts industry may remain concentrated to a select few groups with access.

Tania Castroverde Moskalenko is the executive director of Miami City Ballet and — after a panel discussion with Fatima NeJame, President & CEO of the Palm Beach Photographic Centre, and Dave Lawrence, president & CEO of the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County — she told WLRN the shortcomings of the arts industry comes down to finances, too, not just systemic bias.

She said board members from various cultural institutions place a lot of emphasis on their bottom line — to them, commissioning new work, funding new projects, artists and show producers is risky. And organizations, big and small, are far more willing to invest in proven projects or top-billed shows and acts.

Moskalenko said art organizations need to take a leap of faith in underrepresented artists and the unique ideas that stem from their diverse communities and lived experiences.

“Leap and the net will appear. I truly believe in taking those kinds of risks. As arts organizations we have to. If not, we lose our relevance,” said Moskalenko. “We have to stay on the cutting edge of new works. We have to do work that is relevant to people's lives today.”

arts tourism mayor keith james .jpg
Wilkine Brutus
West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James gives speech at The Arts & Tourism Summit On Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. He spoke about the "Golden Age" of West Palm Beach, where business activity is increasing despite the pandemic.

She noticed an increased effort across the tri-county area from organizations that are trying to expand programming from underrepresented groups — but more can be done.

"I was speaking to a colleague of mine who runs a symphony. And bringing back composers that don’t get played in symphony halls and now all of a sudden they’re being discovered,” said Moskalenko. “They’ve been there all along but nobody has been programming those compositions. Now I’m seeing a true effort made to expand their programs.”

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu."

Organizers of the summit will follow up with leaders to see how they’ve implemented diversity, equity, and inclusion into their organizations.

Natalie Holder, an employment lawyer and the equity and inclusion officer at the Stanford National Accelerator Lab, facilitated a session focused on equity and inclusion in the workplace. She says equity, inclusion, and accessibility in several industries, including the arts, is a far more pressing issue than simply meeting diversity goals.

“What is the culture like? Because if the culture doesn’t sustain people of all backgrounds, you’re not going to keep them. You’re going to basically be creating a revolving door, “ Holder said.

Holder said art organizations need to spend more time on employee and community retention and creating opportunities for advancement so diverse staffers don't feel stuck.

"You might even be creating a 'sticky floor syndrome,' in which people who come from various backgrounds that aren’t necessarily valued by senior leadership, will never ascend beyond certain levels of leadership,” Holder said. “They may plateau. Which is one of the worst elements to have in your work organization.”