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As the Head of the MA Arts Management graduate program in Los Angeles, I am always on the hunt for new ideas, learning opportunities, and cutting-edge resources for our students and faculty. Access to scientific information is critical to any quality education. At the most basic level, quality data refers to the condition of information people use to inform decision making. In action, quality data also has to do with making meaning—or how we are able to structure, categorize, and analyze information so we can learn from it and use our understanding to better care for and shape our world.

That's where the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) has stepped in. The organization's Creative Vitality™ Suite (CVSuite™) is a breakthrough for learning, as it allows the user to access large data sets and personalize information via a dashboard. For Californians, the CVSuite lifts a heavy veil that has been shrouding diversity data for over twenty years since the passage of Proposition 209. While Prop 209 was confusingly titled the California Civil Rights Initiative, it had the opposite effect by making it more difficult to collect and analyze data on ethnicity and race in the workforce. This, in turn, has made it more difficult to target initiatives for greater inclusion and equity. In this case, colorblindness has become the new racism. While we can all rally around the idea of equity, it’s unlikely we will ever achieve that goal without understanding the different conditions that people face in their lives as they study and work. Good data help us see what is, so we can do better.

Interactive Dashboard

The dashboard in the CVSuite tool allows you to personalize and refine the data sets you care about most. For example, if I want to analyze the particular occupation codes for a better understanding of strides in that specific creative industry, I can select and analyze specific career codes.

I am committed to preparing my students for futures in the real world—the one that is, and the ones we can imagine. To do so, I need to be able to understand how age, identity, and place will impact my students’ futures. The work we do in education is an important part of the larger arts ecosystem and is best informed by real quantities and information. The CVSuite tool helps me personalize data and identify emergent trends and historical precedents to better prepare my students, design relevant curriculum, inform participatory research, and serve artists and arts organizations in our region.

Using the dashboard, I can view participation levels in different sectors of the creative industries and occupations by ethnicity and age. Importantly, the CVSuite tool uses the same categories for ethnicity and race that are commonplace in U.S. Census data. This allows me to see the disparities that currently exist in our field so I can guide our own inclusionary strategy through new coursework, participatory research, and community partnerships.

Demographics and Careers

In Los Angeles, our County Board of Supervisors recently approved the Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative (CEII) put forth by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. The CEII aims to guide public policy and investment to achieve cultural inclusion in the arts. I ask myself, As a professor, what steps can I take to increase opportunity and inclusion in the arts? This requires wedding my values to accurate disaggregated information about where I live, teach, and work.

The CVSuite tool helps me answer questions like: How are different communities faring in the creative industries in my region in relation to the larger population? I learned through using the tool that, in Los Angeles, while whites are 27% of our regional population, they represent 61% of those who are employed in the creative sector. That means that 34% more whites are finding work in the creative industries than are represented in the population at large. This data point demonstrates how important it is to interrogate how white supremacy is effecting decision-making regarding hiring and participation in the creative industries in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is the Spanish word for angels. Our cultural and physical geography, as well as our economy, are inherently linked to Central and South America, and Latinos constitute our majority ethnic population. While 48.5% of the LA County population identifies as Latinx, only 17% of people employed in local creative industries are Latinx. That means that there are 31% fewer Latinos in our L.A. creative sector than in our general population. I see this disparity as a problem that merits further attention and investment.

African Americans were present among the first pobladores of Los Angeles, and are currently 8.1% of our general population. However, participation rates for black cultural workers in the creative industries are not equivalent to the population size—instead, we see a 2.3% decrease. While these percentages might seem small, they represent thousands of lives and a wellspring of creativity that deserves further expression.

The creative sector employment rates among Asian Pacific Islanders (API) echo the same rates as in the general population, but CVSuite can help excavate the details of this figure by indicating which aspects of the creative industries are more or less welcoming to API creatives and which specific industries could benefit from greater inclusion.

The CVSuite tool let’s us study the particularities of different creative industries to understand which aspects of our field are doing better or worse at involving a diversity of artists, creatives, and arts administrators. Not all social groups are being welcomed into the same creative careers. For example, in my city, Latinx artists and crafts people are faring better in the building trades, architecture, fashion, and the performing arts than they are in publishing, writing, or the visual arts. African Americans are faring better in the performing arts, including music composition and direction, choreography, acting, and advertising. Whites are very well represented among producers and directors, writers, photographers, and postsecondary teachers. The CVSuite also lets us see employment data by age—another key component to inform my work in career development.

What can I do with the diversity data I found in the CVSuite tool? Well, I must start by being aware — or what my students call woke. I need to be a woke professor to shape a relevant academic program, help my students transform the world when they graduate, and serve the public good. I use data to inform and target my program’s coursework, special intensives, and community partnerships. Tangible examples of this have included expanding our course offerings in the performing arts, facilitating community-engaged arts-research projects within communities of color, and welcoming more outstanding faculty of color onto our team.

Strategies and Places

As the economy shifts, there has been growing discourse about the pillars of non-profit sector work versus cultural entrepreneurship. What professional practices will artists and arts administrators need to know and invest in to remain relevant?

The CVSuite tool provides information on income generation so we can track the balance of contributed and earned income in the creative industries. I advocate for a hybridity of business models in our program as long as they advance our core values of creativity and social relevancy in the arts. As a result, our students study management strategies for both non-profits and social enterprises. The CVSuite data on revenue generation confirms for me that we are on the right track.

I live and work in Los Angeles and consider the city as our school. The CVSuite tool provides information that corroborates my own perceptions about Los Angeles. As an LA native, the Creative Vitality Index (CVI) also helps me compare my local region to others nationwide. Los Angeles ranks higher than the State of California and the nation as a whole, according to the WESTAF combined CVI. While Los Angeles is a global city that is often referred to as a cultural capital, the CVSuite’s nuanced data helps us see what kind of a cultural capital we are becoming. What will this mean for different people, communities, and industries on the ground? Will this cultural capital be one of vibrant inclusion, where the flame of creativity and inclusion ignites all of our diverse communities and artistic genres, or will it echo the larger economic and social inequalities that plague the nation as a whole?

At its core, higher education is committed to teaching, research, and public service. As an educator and program director, I am charged with facilitating a transformative higher education in arts management for the next generation. Having access to high-quality, disaggregated data at my fingertips will help me do my part to achieve this aim.

Written by Amy Shimshon-Santo

Dr. Amy Shimshon-Santo is a writer, educator, and catalyst who believes the arts and culture are powerful tools for personal and social transformation. Her interdisciplinary work bridges the arts, education, and urban planning. She is the Head of Arts Management for Sotheby’s Institute of Art-LA at the Claremont Graduate University.

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