A photo of a group of people of different genders, races, and ethnicities sitting at tables in a conference room. Some have their hands raised
A cohort of Enrich Chicago partners at a meeting at Center on Halsted in February 2019 Credit: Courtesy Enrich Chicago

On Tuesday, September 12, Enrich Chicago released the results for its first racial equity report for the arts sector in the city: “Work Remains To Be Done: A Baseline Survey of Chicago’s BIPOC Arts & Culture Workers.”

Enrich Chicago, founded in 2014, is a collaborative composed of arts and culture organizations and funders (nearly 40 collaborating partners, per their current website) committed to “irrevocably changing the racist systems in the arts, so that Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) arts, arts organizations, and communities thrive.” The organization formed in the wake of a 2013 report from Americans for the Arts that revealed over 90 percent of executives at arts organizations nationally are white. A 2017 report by Heartland Alliance, commissioned by Enrich Chicago, found locally, “71% of board and decision-making staff at foundations and 74% at arts and culture organizations identify as white.”

Enrich aims to change those numbers through three elements: “Providing antiracism learning and capacity-building to advance institutional change and significantly improve racial equity in Chicago’s arts sector”; “increasing leadership opportunities for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) arts administrators”; and “Increasing equitable access to resources and funding opportunities for BIPOC arts organizations.”

“Work Remains to Be Done” was conducted through the Bay Area firm Creative Equity Research Partners under the leadership of Dr. Anh Thang Dao-Shah, who joined Enrich Chicago director Nina D. Sánchez on Tuesday’s Zoom presentation where the key findings of the report were discussed. 

After the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 sparked a national wave of protests against systemic racism and violence, many arts organizations made a point of posting statements of support for #BlackLivesMatter and pledging to do better at addressing racism and white supremacist practices in their fields. Enrich Chicago’s research survey was created to see how well local arts organizations were following through in a meaningful way on those pledges, and to gather ideas from workers in the field on how to bridge the gap between words and actions. 

Or, as a quote from one respondent put it: “Don’t just say it—do it.”

The study involved two focus groups with “key stakeholders” in the Enrich Chicago network, as well as a 17-question survey sent to BIPOC employees of Enrich member organizations. “Dr. Anh,” as Sánchez calls her, noted they received 170 survey responses, of which 130 were from organizations affiliated with Enrich Chicago.

What were the key findings?

As noted in the report, “First, a high percentage of respondents left questions blank or

declined to respond to them, sometimes at a rate of 50% or more per question.” As Dr. Anh discussed in the Zoom conference, this could be indicative of staff doing a “risk assessment” and deciding that, even though the surveys were anonymous, they were still promoted through the respondents’ workplaces, and thus they might not feel entirely safe answering some questions candidly.

Secondly, there is still a lack of “baseline demographic data” from the Enrich Chicago member organizations; different organizations collect that data differently, making comparisons difficult.

But taking all that into account, the report makes interesting (if at times depressing) observations about the state of racial justice and antiracist work in the local arts scene. The public statements of support for #BlackLivesMatter did not translate into intentional antiracist actions on the part of the organizations. “Only 39% of respondents indicated that their organization had a racial equity action plan. Of those, only 20% knew that the action plan was publicly shared, with a full 59% not responding to this question. This demonstrates a significant gap between how arts/culture organizations say they are responding to racial equity concerns and what they are actually doing about it.”

Respondents also said they thought racial equity trainings were more effective for staff than for leadership. (In a Reader article I wrote in 2021 on board training and diversity, equity, and inclusion, nonprofit consultant and Reader contributor Sheri Flanders noted nonprofit boards aren’t often involved in such trainings. “Boards tend to be way more conservative than the staff, and they won’t always allow their trainings to be more in-depth. They sometimes aren’t ready to be challenged.”)

The report also showed respondents’ personal experiences in the workplace (including compensation and comfort level with “bringing my whole self to work”) varied along intersections of race/ethnicity with sexuality and gender. “Respondents who identified as Asian American and Hispanic/Latina cisgender females had the lowest rate of agreement—30%—with the statement that they feel safe bringing themselves to work. Overall, LGBTQ+ B/AA respondents had the highest rate of disagreement with the statement, at 40%.”

Finally, it appears the impact of racial equity efforts on BIPOC communities isn’t always visible to the staff from those communities, with 65 percent of respondents leaving blank questions about how their organization had increased funding or programming for their communities.

So now that Enrich Chicago has a snapshot of the issues experienced by BIPOC workers in Chicago’s arts and funding communities, what are some suggestions moving forward? On the Zoom call, Sánchez asked, “How do we get people at different levels [within the organizations] to implement changes? How do we get CEOs to share power?”

Dr. Anh made a few recommendations, including building a more transparent culture by doing internal audits of racial equity work and sharing the results with other Enrich Chicago organizations. Or as the report puts it, “Rather than developing silos in which individual organizations struggle to identify their own flaws or address them, the sharing of audit results allows for a building of solidarities, creating a knowledge network where organizations can learn from each other, share resources, and provide feedback on one another’s change journeys.”

Another crucial point emphasized in the Zoom conference and the report: BIPOC community members in these organizations have to be fairly compensated for sharing their lived experience as part of their work. And organizations have to do a better job of publicizing the demographics of their staff, as well as being transparent in job listings about salary ranges.

It’s not enough to slap a pledge of support for antiracist movements on your website. But the fact that the work of creating racial equity is difficult (and falls inequitably on BIPOC workers) doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. As Sánchez said near the end of the Zoom discussion, in acknowledging the ongoing shortfalls between goals and results and the sometimes-Sisyphean nature of the struggle, “It falls to us to find the joy that enables us to do this day after day.”

Jackalope finds a new Chicago Park District home

Last month, I reported on Jackalope Theatre’s move away from their longtime home at the Broadway Armory to make way for newly arrived migrants in the city. At that time, artistic director Kaiser Ahmed said the Chicago Park District was working with them to find a new home, preferably one still close to their Edgewater neighborhood.

Last week, the company announced they’d found that home. “For the foreseeable future,” the company will be housed on the second floor at the Loyola Park fieldhouse. This new venue will host Jackalope’s rehearsal space, offices, and room for “community events.” On their website, Jackalope said, “We’ll be announcing our education and performance programming for our 2023-2024 16th season soon.”

Meantime, on Saturday, September 30, Jackalope will be hosting the “Jackalope Block Party” as part of the Andersonville Arts Weekend. From 3-8 PM on Catalpa between Clark and Ashland, the company will host games and all-ages activities, beer and wine vendors, and performers. The lineup so far includes DJ Simon Hedger, Grelley Duvall (aka Alex Grelle), a special edition of Good Evening With Pat Whalen (Whalen is a Jackalope company member), and performances from students at School of Rock. There is a $5 suggested donation for entrance, and you can make an advance reservation at jackalopetheatre.org/block-party.