Our Diversity is Our Strength: Explaining Variation in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Emphasis in Municipal Arts and Cultural Plans

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Problem, Research Strategy and Findings

Municipal arts and cultural plans direct significant amounts of public investment and set far-reaching policies, as arts and culture investment becomes an increasingly widespread economic development strategy. Though these plans frequently advertise the city’s diversity, they often lack specific strategies for supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). In addition, the creation of these plans often does not involve urban planners, nor do the plans often connect to the city’s comprehensive plan or contain the types of fact bases and commitments to equity that comprehensive plans do. In this study of 64 U.S. municipal arts and cultural plans, we investigated what kinds of cities are producing arts and cultural plans that do a better job of integrating concepts of DEI and what factors can explain these differences. We also investigated which specific policies were present that addressed DEI in arts and cultural plans. We found that newer plans more strongly emphasized equity, and plans with more robust public processes and those in more diverse cities more strongly emphasized equity and DEI overall, whereas plans in cities with lower median household incomes more strongly emphasized equity and inclusion. Overall, plans were much more likely to talk about diversity and inclusion than the specifics of equitable distribution of arts and cultural resources.

Takeaway for Practice

Planners need to get involved in arts and cultural planning to ensure that planning processes for arts and cultural plans work to achieve the same standards we expect for comprehensive plans. They must be based on inclusive processes, understand the range of diversity of people in the city, and commit to specific, targeted place-based and people-based public investment to improve equity. Planners can also expand their typical approaches through alignments with topical arts and cultural plans.