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Navigating EDI for Arts Organisations

This interview was featured in the RAISE Programme Newsletter, following a recent workshop on promoting EDI. More information on the RAISE Programme, funded by the Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon, can be found here.

Olwen, could you share some advice for arts organisations that are unsure where to start when it comes to EDI?

Absolutely! Whether an organisation is just beginning or is already advanced in their EDI journey, it's crucial to start with internal reflection. Apply an ‘EDI Audit’ lens to your organisation as you analyse strengths and weaknesses, and understand where you currently stand regarding EDI matters.

Once you have a clearer picture of your organisation's position, the next step is engaging in meaningful conversations with key stakeholders. This would include representatives from advocacy organisations, community groups, individual artists and potentially other arts organisations who are working with communities with whom you wish to collaborate.

Be open to constructive feedback and ensure these insights are factored into your policy’s development. It’s crucial that any engagement of this nature is meaningful and committed. This isn’t a compliance exercise or a “tick box” approach - it’s about being thoughtful and open to receiving the kind of feedback you might not want to hear - because that will be key to your own growth and development as an organisation.

Are there any potential challenges or pitfalls that arts organisations should be aware of when developing an effective EDI policy?

Firstly, organisations must be cautious to avoid tokenistic initiatives, as even well-intentioned actions can be harmful if they haven’t been thought through fully.

Another common pitfall is short-term thinking. Through this work, we are ultimately trying to put proactive measures in place to tackle engrained structural and systemic inequalities. For example, while setting goals over a short-term period (three years is a good place to start), there’s also a necessity to consider a longer horizon. I would also suggest tying an EDI policy to an existing strategic plan - so that you know where you want to get to by a certain point - but you also understand that that’s only the beginning of the process, and that there’s a need for longer-term thinking.

Where do you see the opportunities for arts organisations in forging corporate partnerships in the new world of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance)?

The landscape has shifted from the traditional realm of CSR, and corporates are now taking ESG metrics very seriously as it demonstrates their commitment to being a good corporate citizen. Corporates are increasingly looking at how they, through partnerships, can enable social impact, and there are great opportunities for impact-driven partnerships for arts organisations. As always, it does come down to values - any potential partner’s value system needs to line up with that of your organisation.

If an arts organisation were to pitch an EDI-focused programme to a potential philanthropic partner, what are the key steps they should take?

Successful initiatives start with well-thought-out plans and a strong connection to the organisation's goals. Thoroughly researching the potential partner's goals and values is crucial in developing a pitch that clearly outlines what exactly you are offering them and how a partnership would achieve both your goals and theirs in a complementary fashion. Ensure that the project itself is considered / thoroughly scoped out with long-term thinking, and can demonstrate meaningful impact. For programmes that are designed for specific communities, their input must be central to development and implementation.

How would you suggest arts organisations better showcase the impact of their EDI programs to their philanthropic partners?

While numbers provide valuable insights, arts organisations should strike the right balance between quantitative and qualitative impact. Highlighting the meaningful societal impact on people's lives and experiences will resonate more strongly with philanthropic partners. Ask yourself - what change has it made? What is the meaningful impact? Why has it potentially altered people’s lives for the better?

Creating a culture of continuous learning and improvement is essential for lasting change. How can arts organisations achieve this and ensure EDI principles are embedded throughout the entire organisation?

In writing these kinds of policies, I’m always of the view that they are not rigid documents, but are designed to evolve and are written in a way that allows for flexibility. That comes down to organisational culture, which very much comes from ‘the tone at the top’. Leadership plays a significant role in encouraging a learning environment that values feedback, growth, and long-term commitment to EDI. It’s hard to pin organisational culture down to one thing, but it comes down to: ‘It’s the way we do things around here.’ At the end of the day, EDI should be a part of the DNA of the organisation.

Are there any resources or training opportunities you would recommend for arts organisations looking to strengthen their understanding of EDI?

Absolutely. Arts organisations can benefit from the Arts Council EDI Toolkit, which sets out a range of tools and supports, as well as providing examples of good practice in order to support arts organisations on the journey to promoting EDI. Safe to Create offers free resources and support to develop the capacity of the arts and creative sectors to promote a dignified workplace culture.

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