The Cultural Plan

Equity and Inclusion

On Earth Day 2015 the City of New York released One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City. That plan enshrines equity as one of its core values, and for the first time in a sustainability plan of its kind, includes access to culture as one of the essential components of an equitable city.

In this context, “equity” means broadly that assets are distributed fairly and justly for the benefit of the public.

Inclusion refers to the degree to which individuals with diverse perspectives and backgrounds are able to participate fully in all elements of an organization, agency, or system. You might have a diverse staff, but is a diverse group actually involved in your organization’s decision-making processes? An inclusive group is, by definition, diverse. But a diverse group is not necessarily inclusive.

“More programs for low-income residents across the five boroughs with additional work for all types of artists.”

Artist, Manhattan

In 2015, DCLA launched an initiative as part of larger efforts to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and access in the New York City cultural sector. The initiative began with a demographic study of DCLA’s more than 900 grantee organizations that examined race, ethnicity, gender, disability, age, and other factors.

The results, mirroring every other national study of its kind, were troubling. According to the study, New York City cultural staffs are 38% people of color and 62% white non-Hispanic. In contrast, U.S. Census data shows 67% of New York City’s population identifies as people of color and 33% white non-Hispanic. And the disparities were extreme: the whitest job in arts and culture? Curator. The jobs with fewest white workers: maintenance and security. And it gets worse. The report provided little or no data regarding people with disabilities or people of non-binary gender employed in our city’s cultural organizations—pointing to deeper structural issues we need to address collectively.

While issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access are often addressed using categories of identity and community, people and communities are not divided neatly along lines of race, gender, age, disability, immigration, or other characteristics, and that intersectionality is a critical part of the complex and nuanced ways we experience identity. Greater equity cannot be achieved through diversity and inclusion alone. Equity requires shifting policies and practices, not just numbers. It is a fundamental principle that benefits us all.

In direct response to these findings, an internal DCLA Diversity Committee formed to advise on the agency’s approach regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion, as departure points for the work the agency does in programming, partnerships, and service as catalysts for like-minded work in the field. In pivoting toward inclusion, the agency will continue to engage Future Works Institute for inclusion training programs for DCLA staff and the larger cultural field.


According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the largest percentage of the cultural community’s philanthropic support (42%) comes from individual donors. Studies have shown that these resources go primarily to large institutions, following self-reinforcing patterns of social connection. Meanwhile a 2015 DeVos Institute of Arts Management study, entitled Diversity in the Arts: The Past, Present, and Future of African American and Latino Museums, Dance Companies, and Theater Companies, revealed that arts organizations whose mission is to serve people of color and low-income communities report a median of only 5% of contributed revenue from individual donors. These networks of big donors have often been unavailable to low-income communities, which instead rely on government funding. This makes it an even greater imperative that public funding is allocated with an eye toward historic inequities.

“Many low-income community members don’t feel empowered to engage in the variety of arts and cultural opportunities in New York City; more needs to be done to bring the arts to low-income communities, and in bringing low-income community members to prestigious arts and cultural organizations.”

NYCHA Resident, Queens

Across the country, funders are making efforts to increase equity and inclusion when distributing resources. Examples of progress are heartening. The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture has made a formal Commitment to Racial Equity that includes capacity building, space, and grant programs in alignment with the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative. Los Angeles County has undertaken a Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative. And the San Francisco Arts Commission continues its decades-long commitment to cultural equity through its grant programs. Like OneNYC and DCLA’s sister agencies across the country, one of the main goals of CreateNYC is to promote a more inclusive and equitable cultural ecosystem in New York City.


This is not the first time that New York City has made changes to more equitably fund cultural organizations. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the City added a dozen new members to the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), the first such deliberate expansion in the history of the CIG. These new members were primarily located outside Manhattan and focused on traditionally underserved communities, including the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Studio Museum in Harlem, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and El Museo del Barrio. This commitment to long-term, substantial public investment in these groups has helped them become cornerstones of New York’s cultural life.

Another major move toward equity came in 2008, when the City re-directed substantial amounts of capital support, funding provided to organizations for construction, renovations, and equipment. Before 2008, with few exceptions, capital funding from DCLA was available only to the CIG, whose members occupy City-owned property. Since that time, legal and policy changes have been made allowing City capital support to be available to many other groups not on City-owned property. In 2017, the City currently has over $800 million invested in cultural capital projects at around 200 organizations citywide. With little fanfare, this innovation opened a major new source of public funding to hundreds of nonprofit cultural organizations across New York City. City money now helps to provide better equipment, more accessible facilities, and indeed whole new buildings for the benefit of cultural audiences.

And over the last decade, the New York City Council has launched a series of initiatives directed at equity. These include the Coalition of Theatres of Color, the Immigrant Initiative, and SU-CASA, a creative aging program in senior centers citywide. Between these three initiatives, over $10 million will flow to organizations and artists in traditionally underrepresented groups in fiscal year 2018.


CreateNYC offers a new opportunity to increase the equitable funding of cultural organizations in New York City. Public input for the plan revealed a clear desire for more investment of resources in historically underserved communities, including people with disabilities. In addition to being a clear priority for New Yorkers, the recent Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) report provides compelling argument for greater equity in cultural funding.
The conclusions of the SIAP report highlighted in more detail on pages 41-43 were clear: while arts and culture are present in all neighborhoods, certain sectors of the city have more cultural assets and higher participation. This is particularly alarming because the study also shows that those cultural resources are correlated to better outcomes in health, safety, and education. Culture is an essential component of a thriving community. And New Yorkers feel it.

“Make art and culture available in other languages. There are a lot of Russian speakers in my neighborhood, but not much information.”

Resident, Rego Park, Queens

Equity and inclusion were the highest priorities expressed through CreateNYC community engagement. More than three quarters of residents participating in a phone survey conducted by Siena College Research Institute said they wished they were able to attend more arts and cultural activities. According to respondents, location and cost are what most often stand in their way.

Similarly, barriers to equitable, accessible, and inclusive artistry were also identified throughout the engagement process. New York City is alive with creativity, and New Yorkers overwhelmingly value arts and culture in their lives. However, for many artists and cultural workers, a need exists to expand access to creative opportunities. Underrepresented communities continue to be challenged by historic and persistent patterns of exclusion—both as independent artists and cultural workers at all levels within institutions. Ahead, the City is tasked with prioritizing expanded support for diverse art forms and cultural groups such as disability arts and people with disabilities.

“芸術と文化を5つの小町に持ち込みましょう。 これはアートと音楽を通して文化と受容を教えるでしょう。”

“Bring the arts and culture to the five boroughs. This will teach culture and acceptance through arts and music.”

resident, queens

CreateNYC provides an opportunity to support disability artistry and to ensure that it is widely acknowledged as an artistic discipline that uses disability as a tool and a source of creativity. Further, it presents an opportunity to acknowledge and highlight disability as an area of identity among artists, staff, leadership, and boards. Looking forward, New York City’s cultural ecosystem can grow in ways that allow a diversity of individuals and groups to thrive.

In New York City, arts and culture are for everyone. What follow are proposals for how we can seek cultural access for every New Yorker—no matter what neighborhood they call home—so people have access to the transformative benefits of culture as consumers and creators.


EQ.1 Create a more equitable distribution of funding for arts, culture, and science

Create new supports for arts and cultural organizations with a primary mission of serving historically underrepresented/underserved communities.

  • Encourage and facilitate the employment of people from diverse
  • Support individual artists who are from or work with diverse communities.


Continue to invest in City-owned cultural assets and the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), increasing support for those in low-income communities.


EQ.2 Increase diversity in staff and leadership of arts, culture, and science organizations

Begin new efforts to support the professional development and career advancement of cultural workers from underrepresented groups.


Begin new efforts to encourage and support increased language access, including ASL, for cultural programming and funding opportunities to reach broader, more inclusive audiences.

  • Provide funding opportunity information in multiple languages/formats.
  • Increase languages represented on DCLA and re-grant panels, in informational and resource materials, and during the application process.
  • Support translation-related expenses, including ASL, for DCLA grantees’ programming and communications.

TIMEFRAME: Immediate PARTNER(S): DCLA, MOPD, Cultural Community

Begin new strategies to encourage and support affirmative and inclusive employment policies.

  • Encourage all DCLA grantees to establish policies and goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Measure and evaluate progress regularly.


Expand diversity, equity, inclusion, and unconscious bias training for DCLA staff and grantees.


EQ.3 Support people with disabilities at all levels of NYC’s cultural life

Provide support to access-related services such as ASL interpretation, CART transcription, and audio description for audience members and for artists.

TIMEFRAME: Immediate PARTNER(S): DCLA, MOPD, Cultural Community

Begin to specify in all DCLA communications including requests for proposals and surveys that terms like “diversity” and “underrepresented groups” include disability.


Support disability arts, artistry, and artists with disabilities as part of supporting culture.


Encourage organizations to include information on accessibility accommodations and point of contact for public events.


Increase inclusion of cultural stakeholders with disabilities on DCLA and re-grant panels.


Participate in regular discussions with the disability and disability arts communities.

TIMEFRAME: Immediate PARTNER(S): DCLA, MOPD, Cultural Community

Support organizations that promote disability arts and employ, support, and serve New Yorkers with disabilities.

  •  Partner with DCLA grantee organizations on professional development and capacity building to increase employment of artists and cultural workers with disabilities at all levels.


Create opportunities for increased access and inclusion in DCLA-funded cultural capital projects for artists, cultural workers, and audiences with disabilities.


EQ.4 Support arts, culture, and science organizations as inclusive spaces for New Yorkers of all immigration status

Inform cultural organizations of opportunities to learn about immigration issues as they relate to their staff, participants, artists, performers, and audiences.


Encourage cultural organizations to participate in citywide opportunities to engage New Yorkers of all immigration status, such as IDNYC or similar programs.

TIMEFRAME: Immediate PARTNER(S): MOIA, Cultural Community

Support individual artists who are from and/or work with immigrant communities, cultures, and artists.

TIMEFRAME: Short PARTNER(S): Arts Councils, Cultural Community

EQ.5 Ensure that all New Yorkers have access to affordable arts, cultural, and science programming

Continue to support free admission, membership, or discounted programming with cultural organizations through the IDNYC program.


Partner with City agencies and the cultural sector to better communicate cultural offerings across socio-economic, accessibility, and language barriers.

  • Potential partnerships include City Council, the library systems, NYC Department of Education (DOE), and Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME).

Timeline: Short PARTNER(S): DCLA, City Council, Library Systems, DOE, MOME, MOPD

EQ.6 Ensure that older New Yorkers are given support and equitable access as cultural participants, artists, and cultural workers

Continue to support creative aging programs citywide for
New York City seniors.

TIMEFRAME: Immediate PARTNER(S): DCLA, DFTA, City Council, Arts Councils

Continue to support programs in age-neutral spaces such as cultural organizations and libraries.

TIMEFRAME: Immediate PARTNER(S): DCLA, DFTA, City Council, Arts Councils, Library Systems

Encourage and provide guidance to organizations on providing accessible accommodations to create inclusive experiences for older adults.

TIMEFRAME: Immediate PARTNER(S): DCLA, DFTA, City Council, Arts Councils

Support programs in senior-focused spaces such as senior centers and healthcare settings.

TIMEFRAME: Short PARTNER(S): DCLA, DFTA, City Council, Cultural Community

Provide training in techniques to support those with physical challenges or hearing, vision, or memory loss.


Support organizations providing programs, services, and career or volunteer support to older artists and cultural workers.

TIMEFRAME: Short PARTNER(S): DCLA, DFTA, Cultural Community



The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) illustrates how equity can be advanced through cross agency coordination. CETA was created by the Nixon and Ford administrations during times of high unemployment in the mid-1970s. It was the largest federal public service employment program since the 1930s to create opportunities for artists. The program ran from 1973-1981, providing many hundreds of millions of dollars to low-income artists. It invested $300 million in CETA arts jobs, jobs that provided steady income and benefits.

CETA provided training in artmaking, and also arts administration and technical support. It nurtured a generation of arts leaders and strengthened the community arts and alternative arts space movements in the 1970s. Many of these organizations hired their first paid staff with CETA money. Cultural critic Arlene Goldbard wrote:

There is scarcely a U.S. community artist who was around in the mid-1970s who did not either hold a CETA job or work directly with someone who did. Most community-based groups in the United States dating from that time were launched on their labor-intensive path with CETA support.

CETA shifted responsibility for design and management of its programs to the state and local level to engage local knowledge and decision-making. This was a significant break from the centralized authority of previous New Deal programs.

By using his knowledge of the government gained by working for the Department of Labor and Office of Management and Budget, savvy administrator John Kreidler helped adapt CETA from a program that did not initially include the arts to one that employed thousands of artists.

In New York City, CETA supported jobs for more than 600 artists to provide cultural services throughout the City, as well as 300 employees in maintenance, guard, and other positions at cultural organizations. DCLA under Commissioner Henry Geldzahler and the nonprofit Cultural Council Foundation played key roles in administering the largest program. Subcontractors included the Black Theatre Alliance, the Association of Hispanic Arts, and the Foundation for Independent Video and Film. Hospital Audiences, La Mama ETC, the American Jewish Congress, and the Theater for the Forgotten administered additional programs.

Artists played key leadership roles. In dance, for example, director of artist residencies, Liz Thompson, and coordinators including Blondell Cummings, Anthony LaGiglia, and William Dunas, were all dancers. The program was funded through the New York City Department of Employment. Artists received $10,000 plus fringe benefits.

Ted Berger, former Executive Director of the New York Foundation for the Arts, who helped develop CETA in New York City, describes how many of the lessons learned from CETA were applied after 9/11 in the creation of the New York Arts Recovery Fund. For Berger it is of key importance to “not have to reinvent the wheel every time there is a disaster, natural or economic. We have to think long-term and in more systemic ways.”


Programs like CETA can promote equity and result in significant long-term relationships and ongoing artist alliances.

Like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression, CETA responded to a strained economy and growing unemployment. It helped low-income cultural workers survive, build their skills, and use their creativity in support of communities.

By supporting artists to work in schools, hospitals, libraries, prisons, community centers, and subway stations, CETA increased access to and participation in arts and culture.

An evaluation of the CETA program carried out for the US Department of Labor, The CETA Arts and Humanities Experience, demonstrates that additional positive impacts can include economic and skill development for individuals, economic development for local jurisdictions, cultural development for communities, and an increased understanding of culture as an industry.


Angel Vera, Environmental Justice and Housing Organizer


Environmental Justice and Housing Organizer
Make the Road New York

At Make the Road, I do tenant rights education, outreach in the community, and city- and state-wide campaigns to protect low-income tenants where displacement is happening.

In Bushwick, 65% of people are Latino. Landlords are happy to arrange for newcomers but the same is not offered for a Latino family with kids.

In the wave of gentrification, a lot of art centers have come to our neighborhood. This art comes from outside. New galleries are opening in Bushwick, but they do not represent the existing community.

I was talking to members about the cultural plan, and they shared their ideas with me.

The City should value the cultures of immigrants and their countries. We should have culture but not more gentrification.

Bushwick parks are nice spaces for music festivals. They could have bands with music from different countries. Not just in English. Not just in Spanish. Bilingual.

Another idea is to promote street artists, food contests or craft festivals, art, things from different countries.

We have two libraries here in Bushwick. The City should have some ways for people to use more libraries, like cultural events for families.

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