What role should diversity play when an arts organization makes program choices?

The Guthrie Theater’s announced season for 2012-2013 has generated criticism that it leaves out work by women and people of color. Guthrie officials have responded that a single season gives an incomplete picture of the theater’s commitment to diversity. Today’s Question: What role should diversity play when an arts organization makes program choices?

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  • Kurt

    Diversity should play no role at all. Merit alone should determine a program choice.

  • reggie

    Any organization that wants to survive over the long haul ought to produce work that is reflective of the population. Considering that white males make up only a little more than 1/3 of the US population and a much smaller proportion humanity, it really shouldn’t be that difficult to find and produce terrific art by women and people of color.

  • Emery

    While alluring, any organization (or government for that mater) should not fall into the trap of seeing itself as the advocate for the specific values of a majority (see Sarah Palin). As a practical matter, it should not promote or even predispose itself towards the values of any particular religion. And it should not subsidize anything indefinitely that is not of universal value.

    In short, any organization (or government) should actively level the social playing field for any constituency, no matter how small. And it should oppose the tilting of the playing field by any constituency, no matter how powerful. Keep the sandbox clean and level, and we will all be happier within it.

  • Kurt

    reggie, Many organizations have survived just fine without subsidizing mediocrity -the NBA comes to mind.

  • Steve the Cynic

    The free market does a perfectly adequate job of providing mere entertainment. Since the Guthrie gets public funding and charitable donations, it should be doing something valuable that the free market won’t. An important role of nonprofit theatre is to promote open-mindedness. Diversity is part of that, but only one factor.

  • reggie

    Kurt, I don’t see how you conclude that I was encouraging subsidizing mediocrity. On the contrary, I suggest that there is plenty of excellent work by the women and people of color… if the artistic leadership of an organization has the imagination to look for it. To follow your example, this is much like the NBA’s efforts to recruit talented players from China, Europe and South America. Over time, those markets are just as much a source of audience as of players.

    I think a look at the Guthrie’s historic body of work suggests a pattern of subsidizing old chestnuts. I like Shakespeare as much as the next person (although I can’t say I enjoy the way Mr. Dowling “updates” the bard and sets the plays in odd times and locations), but I can’t say Shakespeare should continue to receive the disproportionate amount of stage time it receives. I’d just as soon see great, new productions of August Wilson’s terrific plays, but I guess I’d have to go to Penumbra to see them again.

  • Ann

    It is a difficult question. The tax proceeds that are supposed to be allocated to arts and lakes are a good example. I have seen the money used on programs that are attended by about six people. I’m sure that some people would say that these programs are serving their purpose anyway.

  • JasonB

    I think its up to the theater company and how they define it in their mission statement. A commitment to diversity is stated as much by smaller organizations like Mixed Blood.

    But being the largest theater (and I don’t know how that compares with what they receive in subsidies) they should assume a leadership role in providing the best artistic quality for the broadest audience. And if the quality is proven as such that should include an appropriate amount of diverse works.

  • Larry M

    I think that the current strain on the nonprofit sector makes it difficult for many nonprofits to truly do their missions without worrying about their bottom line. The missions of many nonprofits often include statements of expanding exposure to less known artists, different cultures and includes community involvement, it is part of what gives them an educational component and puts them apart from commercial theater. While I find the Guthrie’s choices unfortunate, I would be more worried about republican attempts to steal monies from the Legacy Amendment for brick and mortar when they were clearly designed to be for programing.

  • Gary F

    They have to weigh the pros and cons of making that choice.

    They have to have enough attendance to create the revenue to pay the bills.

    They have to appeal to their donor base to keep the donations coming in to pay the bills.

    They have to make decisions to satisfy both of these factions.

    The marketplace will figure it out. Is there the thought of the big hand of government forcing them too?

  • Wally

    Oh, the Guthrie is just making up for homophobobobia (in society, not the arts) by featuring every GLBT playwright in the universe. Women and people of color will just have to deal with it.

    Diversity, Diversity

    We’re Okay!

    Diversity, Diversity

    Let’s all be gay!

    Diversity, Diversity

    Straights stay away!

  • Jim G

    The choice should be framed as a positive goal: unity instead of diversity. I have few words of my own to offer, so may I refer you to these from someone I admire.

    Build for your team a feeling of oneness, of depending on one another and of strength to be derived by unity. Vince Lombardi

  • GregX

    Diversity embedded in the process is good, because that is where the minds and thoughts and discussions affect the outcome in a reasoned and throughtful manner. Litmus test diversity never results in progress – just window dressing.

  • DandyRandy


  • DandyRandy


  • Martin

    I agree that merit should always lead decisions of artistic excellence, but to overlook the merit and excellent work that women and people of color bring to the table, is insulting in an institution of this size. This is our Guthrie, subsidized in part by our tax dollars, attended mostly by women. As a leading institution, celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Guthrie’s management had a duty to look for representation for and by all people in its community and beyond. Their recent actions represent a high degree of carelessness, cluelessness or down right discrimination.