Narrator: This podcast is a project of the Mass Cultural Council. We believe in the power of culture – the arts, humanities, and sciences – to enrich communities, advance equity, and foster creativity.
Audrey Seraphin: This is not a pipeline issue. I know there are actually plenty of qualified people of color ready and working in arts administration. So, a lot of these people have been there. It’s just more us being able to connect with them now in a meaningful way.
Anita Walker: Hi, I’m Anita Walker at the Mass Cultural Council and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. Our guest today is Audrey Seraphin. She is Membership and Capacity Building Manager at ArtsBoston and welcome to our program.
Audrey Seraphin: Thank you so much, Anita. Thank you for having me.
Anita Walker: So, ArtsBoston I think most– well, I don’t know if most of our listeners know about ArtsBoston because our listeners extend well beyond Boston because of the ‘interwebs’ that take us around the planet. So, maybe just a sentence first about ArtsBoston because then we’re going to dive into what you’re really working on.
Audrey Seraphin: Absolutely. So, ArtsBoston is an arts service organization. A non-profit that works with greater Boston arts organizations and audiences to better connect them and provide greater access both to audiences through our discount ticketing program, BosTix, and give arts organizations what they need to succeed with professional development training, newsletters, resources, access to the network. Those kinds of things.
Anita Walker: Now, you said the word access several times and I’m going to just hone in on that word as we get into your work. Because I think one of the things that is so impressive about ArtsBoston that it’s just really stepped up and taken a leadership role in recognizing that lack of diversity that we see in the cultural field. Not just in Boston but really all over the place.
Audrey Seraphin: Yes. ArtsBoston has – it’s part of our new strategic plan but it’s also been something that they’ve been really passionate about for at least the last four or five years. I’ve been in ArtsBoston for about two years and the work that I do as the membership and capacity building manager, a large part of it, is creating ways that arts organizations can expand their capacity around being able to have conversations around equity, diversity, and inclusion, and opening up their doors to more of what America looks like. We do a lot of data research. We just had the new Arts Factor come out for ArtsBoston and it shows that arts audiences are overwhelmingly older, white, and affluent, which is not really a surprise to anybody. But as something to the tune of 89 to 90 percent on average for an arts audience, and that is across genres. So, theater, dance, music, museums. Any kind of arts venue you can think of there’s a real issue, and so ArtsBoston in its wanting to expand the capacity of both our programs and the programs of arts organizations in and around Boston we have developed a lot of programming to directly address that.
Anita Walker: One, in particular, that Mass Cultural Council is proud to be in partnership with you on is the Network for Arts Administrators of Color, and this is really thinking about how we get more people of color actually working in our cultural organizations.
Audrey Seraphin: Yes, absolutely. So, NAAC Boston is what we call it for short. Is the Network for Arts Administrators of Color, fondly known as NAAC Boston <laughs>, and it was created to support self-identifying art administrators of color. This includes Asian American, African American, Native American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander, Latin American, and multi-racial individuals, and so the network is open to not just– it was originally designed for staff members of ArtsBoston member organizations. But it’s open to anyone working in a full-time or part-time capacity at a non-profit or for-profit arts and culture organization in greater Boston as well as freelancers and consultants. With the greater economy, we see a lot more people who are multi-hyphenates. Have a bunch of different jobs. A lot of artists in and around Boston are arts administrators in their own right and the need to promote your own work, get your stuff out there, get paid, things like that, designing basically your own budget, your own brand. These are all things that we do at ArtsBoston and that many arts organizations do but so many individuals are doing that work for themselves now.
Anita Walker: So, talk more about exactly how this program works. It starts, probably, with just one person, and you have really grown in a short time.
Audrey Seraphin: Yes. So, we were founded in July of 2016 by Victoria George who was in this position before me. She’s since moved to LA but Victoria came from the world of college admissions, and so working in college admissions she was a part of several affinity groups for POC and black admissions officers, and so when she transitioned into the arts world, she asked Catherine – our ED – where is the affinity group that I go to? I noticed that I’m the only person of color working here. Where’s the affinity spaces? There wasn’t any, and so decided to create her own. It was an experience. The experience she had at ArtsBoston and that a lot of our members have is one of being valued and having a real spot at the table at an arts organization but often feeling isolated and not being able to really connect with your busy, non-profit often “full-time and more” job. It’s hard to connect with other people in the industry and so she created a space at a South End bar for 30 individuals in July 2016, and that was our first social gathering, and so that was just over three years ago now. We just had our third birthday party. We are now over 300. So, it’s grown quite a bit in the first three years of development.
Anita Walker: And are people finding you? How have you managed to grow 10 times, literally?
Audrey Seraphin: Yes, well, it was something that she really wanted to pull together to show because one of the excuses we hear from a lot of white-led organizations as to why they aren’t more people of color at their arts organization, is that the POC talent, the people of color in the industry just aren’t out there and so NAAC Boston serves as a reminder to our historically-white industry that this is not a pipeline issue and that there are actually plenty of qualified people of color ready and working in arts administration. So, a lot of these people have been there. It’s just more us being able to connect with them now in a meaningful way. So, we do have pretty good word-of-mouth at this point, thankfully, as each of our ArtsBoston member organizations has been experiencing growth, turnovers in leadership, new opportunities for people of color to lead at these arts organizations. So, we have seen those flows start to change in some of those places and the universities in Boston also provide a great resource, and starting to partner with arts management and arts administration programs at area universities to show that arts administration is a viable career for people of color. In communities of color, there is an emphasis on the importance of culture. But it’s hard for some, young people especially, and the new generation that’s coming up, Generation Z is predominantly people of color, multi-racial individuals, people who aren’t white, and it’s important to show to them that this is a viable way to work — in the arts. You don’t just have to be a performer. You don’t just have to be a painter. If you love math, you can be an accountant in an arts organization. If you are really invested in becoming a lawyer, you could be a lawyer that volunteers for the arts. It’s just showing people that there are different ways to engage with art and make a living is really important to us.
Anita Walker: So, you talked first about a cohort, a network, an affinity group, an opportunity for people to get together and share with each other. Celebrations, parties, social events, what else? What else do you do?
Audrey Seraphin: We do a lot of different things. So, one way that we’re really visible and I think that’s helped us gain new membership was we actually have a directory directly on the ArtsBoston page of all 300-plus NAAC Boston members, and that is organized alphabetically, and people can search through there to see not only names of each member but their current position, email address, LinkedIn profile, photograph, any other contact information they’ve provided, and this is something that’s been really wonderful to hear that our friends at NAAC as well as other funding organizations, other organizations that are looking for new staff members, can directly approach people they find interesting on the directory, and so this has helped directly diversify both grant review panels as well as staffs — several of our member organizations, and beyond. So, that’s been wonderful. We started first with that social but what followed up with that was we have a Google group email address. So, anyone who’s on there can post and send out to all 300-plus folks. Job opportunities, funding opportunities, grant deadlines, performances, housing opportunities. We see all kinds of different posts on there now to moderate but it does give an opportunity for people to say, “Hey, I’m working on this thing. I want to collaborate with you. Hey, you should see this job posting. I think it’d be a really good fit for someone from the network,” and it’s really helping us to lead the charge for equity because something that’s important to us is that we require there be some amount of salary information on every job posting that we send out. Both through that Google group and through a monthly newsletter that I curate, which is another program we have. But also, I feel like we do a whole bunch of different things. <laughs>
Anita Walker: Well, one of the things that is new or newer is the mentorship program. You just really recognize that the networking is working and a lot of these other things are shining a light people who have been hidden in plain sight all along. But networking is also a one-to-one mentorship and who you know is how you work your way up into careers.
Audrey Seraphin: Yes, exactly, and I think that’s why the network has meant so much to so many of our members because there are people– even for me personally, I’ll speak for myself. I was at that very first event and some of the people that I met that night are if you think about really big and upcoming folks. For example, WBUR the ARTery had the ARTery 25 earlier this year. Met several of those people for the very first time, including Ashleigh Gordon of Castle of our Skins. She’s an incredible artistic and executive director. We’re now collaborating with her on an upcoming event. Dawn Meredith Simmons, who was in the process of founding the Front Porch Arts Collective, is my boss at my other job <laughs> at Front Porch Arts Collective now. So, these are people that I wouldn’t have necessarily known or engaged with and that is just from meeting one. So, there’s so many wonderful people we’ve engaged with. But one of the biggest desires people had was to have a role model who looked like them, and this was something that I felt as well. That especially when you see that an industry is predominately white, lots of folks spoke to having mentors, and leaders, but not people who shared the same lived experience as them. So, that was something that was important for us to establish and so we’ve developed, along with the help of MCC, which has been incredible, to develop a two-tiered program that both addresses mentorship, which many people know. People ask the difference between mentorship and sponsorship. Basically, the difference between mentorship and sponsorship, as I have been explaining it to folks, are the development of this two-pronged process comes from directly from market research. Particularly in the corporate field, that women, and particularly women of color which in the arts there are more female workers or female-identifying workers, and so a lot of our membership is women of color. Women of color are statistically over-mentored and under-sponsored. Meaning they have a lot of people who will give them advice, be a shoulder to cry on, someone that will stay in contact, maybe email occasionally, but they’re not sponsored. They don’t have people who are directly opening doors for them, directly inviting them to the table. Mentorship is being, “Oh, have you applied for a speaking gig? You should do that,” and sponsorship being, “Oh, I’ve recommended you for a speaking gig. I’ve booked you on a speaking gig. Why don’t you come and do that and be a part of my conference? Be a part of my organization.” It’s more of a two-way street. There’s two people helping each other and really working to help lift each other up, and that’s something a lot of our– particular folks that have become sponsors and mentors through the pilot iteration of this program have talked about working so hard to be one of very few in the arts industry. One of very few people of color. Working so hard to be one of very few people of color in the arts industry, they forgot to turn around and open the door behind them, and so to give that opportunity to allow them to give back to the communicate and assist the next generation of arts administrators has been really beautiful. So, we’re in the middle of that pilot phase right now. Hoping to expand it into a permanent program of NAAC Boston. But, yes, it’s been a really lovely experience thus far.
Anita Walker: How many sponsors and mentors do you have?
Audrey Seraphin: So, it’s a small program right now. We have five mentors who are mentoring early-career mentees. We have five sponsors who are executive-level, leadership-level folks mentoring mid-career sponsees. As well as we have a learning cohort of about 20 individuals. These are folks who applied to the program but weren’t necessarily matched. So, regardless of match outcome, we still are convening about once a month to have discussions around their careers, advice, things they’re going through, and have mentors and sponsors each take a turn each month for the 10 months of the program to present a master class or a workshop or a fireside chat that says, “Hey, I want to get to know you as well.” So, even if folks weren’t matched in this initial admittedly-small pilot, they are still able to meet 10 people and make 10 connections for people who will be pushing for them in the future. So, it’s been a wonderful opportunity to do that. Some of the things that have come up — We have different folks who were helping their mentee with salary negotiation and upcoming year review. We had a mentee who was finishing up her fellowship and her mentors at the same arts organization and was proofing her cover letter and her resume, and she landed a brand-new job at a different arts organization through the course of the program. We’ve had sponsees who are starting programs have their brand-new non-profit’s financials reviewed by somebody who runs another very successful non-profit. People attending art shows together. So, it’s been wonderful to hear at least from the administrative perspective all the different things that these relationships have brought forth already.
Anita Walker: It’s amazing how this program has grown and developed in literally a nanosecond in the course of time, and especially the entrenched system of the way things work. It’s made enormous progress. So, in your dreams, say five years from now, what is success going to look like to you?
Audrey Seraphin: So, success for me, in particular, is an increase in broadening and deepening the work we do with a network. Thankfully this work is not happening in a vacuum. There are actually NAAC Boston or organizations like NAAC Boston popping up all over the country. Some we’re affiliated with; some we’re not. For example, there is a Cultural Council in Pittsburg that was really interested in our model and the kind of work that we did, and they actually got permission from us to ship them all down there. They run completely on their own but we consider them a sister chapter. So, there’s a NAAC Pittsburg. It’ll be great to have other NAACs around the country. I think selfishly it’s great to get your brand out there. But we also work really closely with arts administrators of color, which is a similar independent non-profit. I think NAAC Boston is really uniquely positioned inside ArtsBoston to have this incredible amount of support and assistance in getting funding from a white institution. So, being a POC-led program inside a white institution definitely has its challenges and tensions. But overall, it’s been incredibly wonderful because I don’t have to worry about things like how I’m going to pay stipends for the people we’re working with, and I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to put a roof over my head every night. So, those kinds of things are really nice. This particular program in Delmarva is an independent non-profit and they are organizing a convening this year, which we’ll be attending as a member of their Cousins Regime, and so they’re part of this big effort. We’re really happy to partner with them on connecting folks, and so we are now going to be part of a hopefully annual national conference of arts administrators of color. As of yet, such a conference does not exist. So, it’s been really exciting to build this with them. So, more of that would be wonderful. More POC leadership at arts institutions in Boston and around the country. I think we’ve started to see that shift already, which is really exciting, and it’s a really powerful time to be doing this work, and so to continue to see the expansion of equity, diversity, and inclusion. To see more people that look like our members both in arts organizations but particularly in leadership positions would be really nice. Yes, I think those are the things that I’m really hoping for, for the future.
Anita Walker: I have full confidence in you. Audrey Seraphin. Membership and Capacity Building Manager at ArtsBoston. Another one of our Creative Minds Out Loud.
Audrey Seraphin: Thank you.
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