Skip Content

Building an arts diversity pipeline

The arts can change the trajectory of a human life. Just ask Esai Morales.

Before he rose to fame on NYPD Blue, in La Bamba, or as the president of the United States on HBO’s satirical The Brink, he was a young boy growing up on some pretty tough streets in New York City. Then he encountered the world-expanding power of acting.

“For me, it was literally life-changing…I was the Walter Mitty of my neighborhood. I had a vivid imagination and very few places with which to express that imagination,” Morales said. “The arts, for me, opened windows to my heart, my mind, my soul…I could climb out of the situation I was in so that I was not just a product of my neighborhood, but a member of the larger community of the human race.”

Morales joined a parade of arts and cultural leaders, including Los Angeles County Museum of Art Director Michael Govan, who appeared before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Nov. 10, in support of an initiative to increase the diversity of artistic participation in Los Angeles County.

The motion, by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas, was approved unanimously. It directs the county Arts Commission to establish an advisory group to come up with recommendations to “enhance the participation and leadership of individuals from underrepresented communities in the arts.” The advisory panel will work with the Arts Commission to develop a set of best practices, in collaboration with the New York Cultural Affairs Department and others, to ensure improved access to arts jobs and greater cultural participation overall—from the audience to the boardroom. Arts Commission Executive Director Laura Zucker was directed to come back within 90 days with a status report, including recommendations on external funding sources for the initiative.

Solis cited a recent Mellon Foundation survey which found that whites continue to hold a significant majority of the top jobs in American museums.

“Minorities have no significant pipeline to become leaders and are not generally working in those jobs that can lead to those top positions. Thinking about an arts pipeline for diverse communities, one that begins at an early age, in my opinion, is critical,” Solis said.

At a news conference after the vote, Morales said there were many reasons to celebrate the diversity initiative—both profound and practical.

E pluribus unum. Think about that. This is what it’s all about,” Morales said. “And think about it on a business level, too…Because without people who understand and appreciate the arts, we’re out of a job.”