Literature Review

Executive Summary

This literature review is intended to investigate and provide background information on how others have addressed the question of improving “diversity in cultural organizations, in the areas of their leadership, staffing, programming and audience composition," both through academic research and practitioner experience. The literature lends these concepts into a division by slightly different categories, as follows:

  • Boards of Directors in Arts and Culture Organizations
  • The Arts and Culture Workforce
  • Audiences and Programming

Audiences and programming are closely intertwined in the literature, and thus are combined in this report.

Culturally specific arts organizations and their potential contribution to diversity, cultural equity and inclusion in the arts ecology emerged as a potentially powerful but not yet fully understood set of actors, so this topic was added as a fourth section in this report:

  • Culturally Specific Arts Organizations

The report begins with a background discussion on diversity, cultural equity and inclusion in arts and culture, and it concludes with a series of broad lessons that emerged from the literature that apply to all four of the areas identified by the Board of Supervisors in their motion. Read the complete literature review here.


In the US, discussions about diversity and cultural equity in the arts related to public policy date at least as far back as the founding of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965. While these terms and concepts have changed over time, discussions of diversity, cultural equity and inclusion in the field of arts and culture have not moved in a linear fashion.


Board of Directors in Arts and Culture Organizations

Non-white nonprofit board members in the U.S. only increased by two percent from 1993 to 2010. Arts and culture nonprofits are similarly homogenous with respect to race and ethnicity. The literature shows that simply inviting individuals from underrepresented communities onto boards is not sufficient to create lasting and effective diversity and inclusion in nonprofit leadership.


The Arts and Culture Workforce

The workforce of arts nonprofits includes paid staff, volunteers, employees working on contract, and interns and apprentices. Increasing cultural equity, inclusion and diversity in the arts workforce must include all aspects of the workforce, including artists. Research on initiatives, programs and strategies to achieve that is limited and somewhat exploratory in nature.


Audiences and Programming

Evolving ideas about the relationship between art and audiences have changed the way artists and arts administrators think about diversity, cultural equity and inclusion for audiences and programming. The literature on cultural equity and inclusion in arts audiences and programming is dominated by practitioners in the museum and theatre worlds, as well as by regional arts commissions, councils, and consortia.


Culturally Specific Arts Organizations

While the arts and culture ecology in the US is dominated economically by large institutions primarily working in benchmark arts in the European tradition, the landscape is replete with organizations both formal and informal that draw upon ethnic, folk and religious traditions in their work. Their role in increasing cultural equity and inclusion in the arts has not been fully explored.



The current status of the literature on how to increase diversity, cultural equity and inclusion in the arts and culture ecology is emerging. There are eight key lessons that appear to be universal across all four areas explored in this literature review.



The full list of all articles read for this literature review is available, organized by report section.

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