Leveraging the Arts to Achieve Equity, Justice, and Inclusion Goals



With compounding crises of a global pandemic and a reckoning with systemic racism, companies need people and strategies that can respond to an ever-changing, complex world of work. Artists have long used creative outlets to drive movements of change through the celebration of diversity and cultivation of empathy. Americans for the Arts’ survey Americans Speak Out About the Arts 2018 showed that 73% of the population agree that arts “help them understand other cultures better.”

Likewise, companies have understood the power of the arts and integrated them into programs that focus on diversity and equity. In the 2018 Business Contributions to the Arts Survey, responses showed that 57% of companies with less than 100 employees believe that the arts support their corporate objective to create conversation about important issues and 50% of companies with more than 25,000 employees said that the arts support their corporate objective to address issues of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. By creating platforms for connectivity and conversation businesses can use the work of artists and organizations to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
Art as Activism
Courtney Celeste Spears, a dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Company recently shared her experience using dance as activism. Beyond the importance of representation of Black artists and dancers, she has used ballet to tell stories about Black history and injustice. In 2019, Spears starred in Jeremy McQueen’s A Mother’s Rite, “a cutting-edge ballet that explores one mother’s journey through stages of grief after being thrust into the spotlight by way of her son's murder. Inspired by countless Black mothers who have lost their children to police brutality and racially targeted violence.” This piece was partly borne out of a campaign that began in 2017 to write letters to mothers who lost children to police brutality. In performing and sharing this work, she has been able to address topics that may be uncomfortable and spark difficult conversations. “Art recognizes the soul,” she said—it can give a voice to the voiceless and create greater equity.
Universal Orlando Resorts Celebrates Diverse Team Members Through Art

As a global destination with world-class resorts, live entertainment venues and theme parks, Universal Orlando has developed through Diversity & Inclusion programming an internal program focused on its culture of inclusion. Guided by “the 5 C’s:” career, community, culture, commerce, and competence, Universal Orlando’s human-centered programming places individual experiences, education and empathy and its core. Through partnerships with regional and academic leaders, subject matter experts, speaker series and experiential learning sessions the Diverse Team Member Resource Groups programming intentionally weaves in positive lessons learned in diversity, equity and inclusion.
The Diversity & Inclusion team creates programming that educates, engages, and empowers Team Members to learn more about diversity of thought. Guiding sessions with the seven diverse Team Member Resource Groups collaboration across teams creates meaningful moments. Programming for example with the African American Network has actively honored and celebrated rich culture and history. With deliberate intent the operating calendar plans sessions throughout the year and highlights milestone anniversary events. As the Quadricentennial of 1619 approached, teams embraced the opportunity to mark a significant moment, and as a part of planning in 2018 folded in insights that would help illustrate the significance of this historical time. In partnership with Professor Don Harrell & Adetutu Harrell, local performers, historians, story tellers and University of Central Florida supporters the cultural lessons were planned as an encore to previous performances. Professor Harrell is an educator, artist and advocate for inclusion. As Professor of African American Studies courses, he focuses on teaching “about the development of hip hop and its culture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including its African roots and socioeconomic forces that resisted its growth.” The Harrells’ company Orisirisi performance art is moving, compelling and uplifting. The experiential learning helps “share stories, songs, and dance of African life…and educate about different cultures, to reinforce morals and promote values of inclusion.” As a part of the planned programming a special Lunch & Learn celebration included storytelling, a performance art piece, presentations, and connecting with Team Members on what the date and significance of 1619 meant to them.
With operations across the globe, Universal Parks and Resorts ensures that Team Members are included into the work of the various Team Member Resource Groups. The Asian Pacific American (APA) network has members from teams connecting with Japan, who share cultural insights like business experience abroad, understanding culture, tea ceremonies and origami workshops, all folded into the other career and community focused sessions. The APA network has also welcomed local organizations like Orlando Taiko Dojo Japanese Cultural Drummers to participate in cultural showcases that highlight the diversity of the world around them.
With Diversity and Inclusion efforts for over a decade Universal Orlando has focused on Cultural Competence with intentional and substantial programming. Through positive human experiences, speaker series, lessons learned and the arts, memorable moments open doors to appreciation, empowerment, empathy and understanding.

Universal Orlando Resorts is a current Arts and Business Partnership Award nominee.

Booz Allen Hamilton Screens Films to Spark Conversation Around Diversity
Booz Allen Hamilton, a technology consulting company serving the US government, has had a long history of using the art of film to strengthen cultural understanding, convene conversations, and engage employees and intersectional communities on issues of diversity, inclusion, belonging and equity. Michael Dumlao, Diversity Champion at Booz Allen Hamilton, shared more information, and insights about their use of storytelling to achieve these goals. The first firm-wide screening was of “The Imitation Game,” a 2014 historical drama about the persecution of gay scientist Alan Turing and his contributions to computer science and the Allied victory of World War II. For this event, Booz Allen’s LGBTQ resource group joined with the firm’s digital and software development departments as well as their defense and intelligence market teams to host four exclusive premieres across the country. They were joined by former heads of the National Security Agency, young queer scientists and Alan Turing documentarians. Two years later, the firm would host exclusive premieres of “Hidden Figures,” another historical drama about the untold story of three African-American women who pioneered roles and technology at NASA, to celebrate the contributions of women-of-color to STEM and highlight the need for greater diversity in engineering fields. These screenings featured live talent recruiting, a showcase of philanthropic efforts, and a panel of experts.

Booz Allen Hamilton poster for event titled "Problem Solvers" that mimics the style of the poster for the film "Hidden Figures"
Through COVID-related quarantine and telework, Booz Allen’s employee resource groups have convened Netflix watch parties and panels as recently as this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month when the firm showcased the documentary “Mucho Mucho Amor,” about the life of celebrated queer Puerto Rican entertainer Walter Mercado. And throughout the years, film has been used to compliment conversations about Transgender military service (“Lady Valor”), systemic prejudice in incarceration and law enforcement (“13th”), and Asian culture (“Crazy Rich Asians”).  Throughout these events, communities come together to experience the film, hear perspectives from speakers, and learn from each other through lively conversation. At Booz Allen, the stories never stay on the silver screen they continue in our reflections, practice, and perspectives.

Booz Allen Hamilton was a 2011 Arts and Business Partnership Awards honoree.

These examples were shared at our new digital series for business leaders, Partnering Your Way to Success: The Arts as a Solution to Corporate Objectives. If you are a business leader interested in our series, please reach out to Danielle Iwata at [email protected]  

Many thanks to Angela Lagos and Diane O’Dell of Universal Orlando Resorts, Michael Dumlao of Booz Allen Hamilton, and Courtney Celeste Spears of Alvin Ailey American Dance Company and ArtSea.



Title photo by Alexandra Manrique, Manager Diversity & Inclusion, Universal Orlando Resorts.

A person stands with a mic, surrounded by drums, while another person sits behind a drum