November 2016

by Ann Talbott Brown Director of Arts Education, Tennessee Arts Commission

Mother helping daughter to paint a sculpture.

Working in arts education at a state arts agency provides an interesting perspective. On one hand, we have a sense of what arts education looks like from a vantage point of 30,000 feet. On the other, we speak with educators daily about the work they are doing in their districts, schools, and classrooms, hearing stories—both successes and challenges—about providing high-quality education for students. When it comes to arts education grants and programs at my agency, it is a balancing act to achieve both breadth and depth in funding to make the arts essential to learning for all Tennesseans.

Elementary school kids and teacher sit cross legged on floor

We are very fortunate to participate in professional development that is tailored to our needs as state arts education program managers. Recently, my colleague and I attended the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies’ Arts Education Professional Development Institute or NASAA AE PDI. The PDI has been held annually for over 20 years and provides meaningful leadership development and technical assistance for arts education managers. Each year, we walk away with new ideas, tools, and strategies that often address both breadth and depth in terms of supporting arts education in all 95 Tennessee counties. But this year, the AE PDI took the idea of access further.

Female student having a sculpting classes, discuss with professor about their work.

We explored the question of “How can our efforts to characterize inclusion, diversity, equity, and access (IDEA) in arts learning support our development as champions for these practices within our agencies, states, and the larger arts sector?” I believe this is a question that we as arts leaders (teachers, administrators, artists) should ask ourselves. Carmen Morgan, Founder and Director of artEquity, which is an organization that provides tools, resources, and training to support the intersection of art and activism, led an in-depth session titled “Beyond Diversity: Practicing Equity and Inclusion.”

A multi-ethnic group of elementary age students are learning the places of the world by looking at a globe in geography and history class.

The session examined ideologies of difference and explored personal identity and social location as influences to our work in arts learning. This session, partnered with training at the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology in using Design Thinking as a framework to advance IDEA, allowed us to gain tools for exploring underlying assumptions, assessing personal and organizational approaches to differences, and examining organizational culture and barriers to equity and inclusion. As we strive to be more inclusive whether that is in a classroom, organization, or daily life, here are four takeaways from Carmen Morgan’s session on inclusion, diversity, equity, and access.

  • Recognize that IDEA is an on going process with values that should be reflected in mission, policies, practices, and cultural norms.
  • Research terminology for anti-bias language and be willing to learn how people refer to themselves.
  • Become familiar with approaches to differences and understand where you fall on the continuum. These approaches include: Exclusionary, Colorblind, Multicultural, Cultural Competency, Diversity, and Social Justice.
  • Consider your potential position as an observer or participant and strive to work from the perspective as an influencer in IDEA.

For more information, contact artEquity at and West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology at

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