The Ohio State University Urban Arts Space Diversity, Inclusion, Access, and Equity Action Plan

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Urban Arts Space overview

Established in 2008, Urban Arts Space (UAS) was designed as a dynamic, adaptive, and experimental arts center and extension of The Ohio State University (OSU) purposed with adapting to the dynamic needs of Ohio State's arts curriculum, as well as the university and local surrounding communities served. Urban Arts Space is in downtown Columbus, Ohio, neighboring the Ohio State campus and creative and cultural community sectors, such as the Short North Arts District, Franklinton Arts District, and the Bronzeville and King-Lincoln District.

Urban Arts Space’s vision and mission is to create a “vibrant arts experience between campus and community” that “challenges perceptions, deepens learning, and increases access to the arts.”  UAS coordinates its efforts through its programming model(s) across its three venues, the historic Lazarus building (downtown Columbus), Hopkins Hall Gallery (OSU campus), and UAS Online (digital platform) to challenge and push the boundaries of how “art is imagined, made, viewed, and understood.”  Recently, UAS partnered with Mollard Consulting to evaluate its value proposition and create an innovative and adaptive strategic plan with a goal to “challenge the past and chart a path for the future.” Through six months of research and collaboration UAS was identified as an art center that “facilitates an experimental gallery that adapts to the dynamic needs of the curriculum and communities served.” Operationalizing this strategic plan, UAS created the “Hybrid Arts Lab” programming model in 2020 to respond to the needs of OSU’s arts units during the pandemic, such as interdisciplinary work across arts units and media, creative and experiential space accessible to multidisciplinary groups, and “the encouragement and dissemination of arts-based research, negotiations, and discussions, actively supporting the learning and knowledge sharing the university and the arts foster.”  Since 2020, other programming efforts, such as “The Summer Series” has been reframed and expanded to serve the needs of the local communities as well. The Summer Series strategically “encourages collaborative, multidisciplinary approaches and seeks ideas that fosters conversations, relationships, or careers and represents diverse perspectives.

As the world continues to deal with a global pandemic, widening disparities, war, and political and social unrest Urban Arts Space has begun to reevaluate its position as an arts center, community organization, and extension of higher education in relation to these things.  Specifically, UAS has increased focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) programming and practices with the creation of its “UAS DEIA Action Plan” which reframes how it engages and collaborates with students, artists, and the community alike. UAS has begun approaching these efforts with more critical intentionality to address social issues impacting the communities it serves and utilization of its space as a pedagogical site for learning and community building.  Specifically, the action plan identifies the components of leadership; programming and accountability; community engagement; affordability and access; education; and institutional operations as critical parts of its diversity and inclusion efforts.  Moreover, by creating and implementing a comprehensive evaluation system, prioritizing strategic partnerships, ensuring low barrier entry and free access to the public, encouraging the application of arts-based research, and intentionally seeking out diversity (internally and externally) in make-up and perspective UAS establishes accountability metrics and strengthens the commitment to its mission and vision.

Urban Arts Space's commitment to diversity, equity, access, and inclusion

The Ohio State University Urban Arts Space’s diversity, equity, access, and inclusion (DEAI) Action Plan builds on the belief that (1) every professional within the organization must do personal work to face their unconscious bias, (2) debate on definitions must not hinder progress, (3) inclusion is central to the organization and that systemic change, through realignment in values, goals, structure, and execution, is vital to progress. 

We hold true that leadership that is inclusive and reflective of a diverse society is essential at all levels of an organization. Furthermore, UAS (Urban Arts Space) leadership is dedicated to focusing organizational efforts, through a critical analysis framework, to affect change within the wider actions of the university and the surrounding community. UAS leadership is committed to promoting diversity in all aspects of the organization including the practices and policies it implements. Inclusion is intentionally created, therefore, UAS understands its responsibility to develop strategies to increase diversity within the organization and takes accountability in how the organization values and utilizes diversity.

The Urban Arts Space acknowledges its position, as an extension of The Ohio State University, that the land the university occupies is the ancestral and contemporary territory of the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Delaware, Miami, Peoria, Seneca, Wyandotte, Ojibwe and Cherokee peoples. Specifically, the university exists on land ceded in the 1795 Treaty of Greeneville and the forced removal of tribes through the Indian Removal Act of 1830. We want to honor the resiliency of these tribal nations and recognize the historical contexts that have and continue to affect the Indigenous peoples of this land. Similarly, we acknowledge that historically American art institutions have been oppressive, discriminatory, and elitist in nature, and we strive to address the historical inequities that have shaped the field through our policies, systems, programs, services, and reporting.

Moreover, UAS commits to championing policies and practices of arts and cultural equity to ensure that all people—including but not limited to those who have been historically underrepresented based on race/ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, or religion—are represented in the development of arts policy; the support of artists; the nurturing of accessible, thriving venues for expression; and the fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources, as laid out in this action plan.

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UAS leadership strongly believes that there must be intentionality in practice and therefore all programs, policies, and projects are to be aligned with the vision, mission, and values of the organization. With this implementation there will be regular critical assessments to support accountability to those ideals and to improve operations to ensure desired outcomes are reached. UAS leadership assumes responsibility in serving the diverse community in which it exists and that of The Ohio State University, including students, faculty, and staff through our policies, procedures, programs and events, and board and staff composition.

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UAS operates with a “visitor-centered approach” to better engage the communities it serves. UAS community members bring with them to the space diverse lived experiences; therefore, UAS approaches this dynamic with a constructivist lens (which looks to the audience to construct their own meaning from the artwork) by seeking out entry points to add to introspective conversations and socialize with visitors. UAS’s objective is to support experiential learning beyond the classroom and develop capacities to proactively engage with ongoing social, economic, demographic, and cultural change.

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UAS is supported by the Ohio Arts Council, which receives support from the State of Ohio and the National Endowment for the Arts. That support alongside The Ohio State University’s provides UAS with a foundation to contribute to affordability and access initiatives to better serve communities.  These opportunities are recognized in terms of free access to spaces, events, and programs, physical adaptivity to spaces, and diversity in offerings including a multitude of mediums, perspectives, and resources.

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UAS employs an educational pedagogy that supports communication and cross-disciplinary work across multidisciplinary arts units and media to establish accessible and low-barrier entry. The educational focus of the organization is creating, evaluating, and strengthening arts curricula and research to foster learning and dialog that has direct reciprocity with those engaged.

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Among the strategic priorities for UAS is responding to emerging needs of the university’s art units, as well as those of the local community which have been amplified by pandemic conditions. An emphasis of this process has been democratic decision making with clear rules of use and expectations/guidelines for all organizational processes.