Photo credit: Steven Easley

Since 2015, the Cincinnati region’s arts have been aligned on the vision of a more vibrant and connected community. That vision was outlined in the Blueprint for Collective Action, a 10-year sector-wide strategic plan, including the idea that the arts can bridge cultural divides. This year, in the tragic wake of police shootings and the unrest that followed, steps that the arts are taking are more important now than ever.

“Lifting as We Learn” is a diversity, equity, inclusion and access (DEIA) commitment that ArtsWave adopted in June of 2020. In August, ArtsWave’s Board of Directors approved key performance indicators that align with the commitment for both the organization and the rest of Cincinnati’s nonprofit arts industry. “Lifting As We Learn” calls for increased investment in arts organizations and artists of color. Both have historically been undercapitalized, not just in Cincinnati but across the nation.

Increasing the representation of people of color among staff, artistic decision-makers, boards and in audiences is a crucial objective. The case for that objective is not just that it’s the right one ethically, but it makes good business sense. According to research by management consulting group McKinsey & Company, over the last five years, there has been a direct correlation between successful DEIA efforts and financial performance. The results of their latest research reveal a polarization in organizations — ones that have made an investment in diverse staffs versus those who have not — noting a 36% difference in profitability.

If the arts are to reflect and improve the world we live in, it is therefore important on every level to ensure that the sector accurately represents the community it serves.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has begun the work of integrating a DEIA initiative into their 10-year strategic plan. This summer, they crafted a 10-point action plan and created a new position Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer position to implement it. They are the first American orchestra to take such a step. “The creation of an executive-level Chief Diversity Officer places the Cincinnati Symphony at the leading edge of change in the orchestra field,” said Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras.

In Cincinnati’s Price Hill, the MYCincinnati youth orchestra and their parent organization, Price Hill Will, also drafted a DEIA plan. They receive support through other ArtsWave grant programs and while they are exempt from the new requirement, they are becoming a leader in local DEIA efforts.

Price Hill Will’s new policy was built over a year and a half. They convened staff, board members, community volunteers, students and parents to create a team that would create the plan. Roughly 15 committee members studied every aspect of modern race theory, from a dictionary of terms to essays to pieces of music, taking an interdisciplinary approach for a holistic plan. The resulting plan calls for action toward systemic change in the face of racism and white supremacy.

Already, MYCincinnati has seen major movement coming from their efforts. Several local leaders have now joined the organization's board after having previously been, according to Development Director Samantha Lane, “in orbit but not deeply engaged” with the youth orchestra. On the other hand, some board members resigned, which Lane regards as a regrettable necessity. “As an organization, it's very important that you draw a line in the sand and be very clear on where you stand,” she notes. “Overall, people are very proud.”

The arts have a unique ability to bridge cultural divides, creating a space where social progress can be made. To make real progress toward that goal, ArtsWave has asked 25 arts organizations that receive annual operating support to create their own board-approved DEIA plans by January 2021. In addition, as we continue to work toward rebuilding a better arts sector after pandemic-related restrictions are lifted, ArtsWave made "Ensuring Cultural Diversity" a key pillar of the Arts Vibrancy Recovery Fund. To support diversity, equity, inclusion and access efforts in the arts sector, donate to the Arts Vibrancy Recovery Fund at