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Minorities in Boston Arts


By Adam E. Pachter

Does pressure for increased minority representation in the arts interfere with artistic freedom? In a recent editorial written for The New Republic, Robert Brustein, artistic director for the American Repertory Theatre (ART), alleges that The Boston Globe has unfairly slighted such cultural institutions as the Museum of Fine Arts and the ART by claiming that they do not hire enough minority members.

Brustein writes that The Globe's recent "investigation" into minority hiring practices was essentially "a statistical breakdown of the companies, staffs, audiences, and boards of all the major cultural institutions, tallying their records for employing 'people of color.'" The Globe promptly condemned any organization which had not hired the requisite number of minorities (only the Children's Museum had).

Brustein touches on a number of issues whose importance transcend his feud with one particular newspaper. According to Brustein, the insistence on playing a "numbers game" with minority representation obstructs the central purpose of a cultural organization, to provide quality artistic works. However, others insist that past prejudice has infused cultural establishments with an instinctive bias against non-Western works. This deficiency needs to be erased through an increased infusion of minorities, and number counting is an appropriate way of measuring the success of this program.

Both Brustein and his critics agree that cultural institutions have an obligation to furnish equality of opportunity to minorities. However, The Globe maintains that "blacks have to be better than the competition," while Brustein insists that "skilled black artists are now at a premium."

In Brustein's mind, one's aim should not be "equality of representation"; the number of Blacks within an artistic organization need not parallel the percentage of Blacks in society. Nor does the desire to recruit necessarily result in hirings. Sought-after minority artists may be unwilling to receive substantially reduced salaries in repertory companies and move to a racially tense city.

Furthermore, the insistence on proportional hiring restricts a cultural organization's freedom to dictate its own artistic agenda and substitutes "social engineering" for standards of quality. Brustein fears that artists who currently seek excellence "unmindful of color" may soon be forced to subordinate questions of merit to those of race. However, others maintain that given past racism, society must give heightened attention to works that emphasize multi-culturalism and must take corrective action to increase the number of minorities in the arts.

Uniformity of opinion on such a sensitive question is unlikely, and the Arts page would like to hear your opinions. Does lingering racism necessitate artistic affirmative action? Is proportional minority representation an acceptable method of judging a particular cultural institution? Please send submissions to: Arts Editor, The Harvard Crimson, 14 Plympton St., Cambridge, Mass. 02138

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