Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change
Research Article
2022, 7(1), Article No: 02

Tending the Garden: Possibilities and Limitations of Developing Inclusive Environments in the Arts and Culture Sector

Published in Volume 7 Issue 1: 31 Jul 2022
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Diversity, equity, and inclusion are increasingly part of public conversations about social change. With heightened awareness of the pervasive realities of societal systemic racism, organisations are called to reflect on their working practices and representation and engagement with diverse communities, both internally and externally. Our research study, based in two years of fieldwork at a not-for-profit arts and culture festival, investigated organisational structure and how the festival is run, with a particular focus on internal working practices. Our research investigates: what are the possibilities and limitations of shifting towards more inclusive working practices within an organisation with few full-time paid staff, relying on unpaid or honorarium-paid volunteer labour, as is common in the not-for-profit arts and culture sector? We draw on the concepts of organisational inclusion practices (OIP) from management studies and institutional entrepreneurship from institutional theory to assess the possibilities and limitations of shifting towards more inclusive working practices within this field of the cultural industries. Our findings identify three overarching themes that illuminate a series of tensions in fostering inclusion: 1) decision-making authority; 2) internal-facing concerns (IFC) and external-facing concerns (EFC); and 3) task-based organisation (TBO) and engagement-based organisation (EBO). In our study, EFC practiced with TBO by team members with decision-making authority constrained opportunities to develop more inclusive practices for the volunteer team. Realizing the goals and values of diversity and inclusion remains challenging because of the constraints of resources, labour, and output.


With heightened awareness of the pervasive realities of societal systemic racism, and the challenges of diversity, equity, and inclusion, organisations are increasingly reflecting on their working practices and representation and engagement with members of underrepresented communities. In the cultural industries context, the not-for-profit arts and culture sector may not face the same economically-driven pressures of larger-scale cultural organisations, but these challenges of meaningfully engaging with diversity and inclusion remain. These persistent challenges contradict a previous (false) notion that the cultural industries are more diverse, tolerant, or inclusive than other sectors of work; this notion has hindered the sober assessment of what kind of working practices are needed to foster inclusion (Hennekam and Bennett, 2017; McRobbie, 2011, 2016; Siebert and Wilson, 2013). Arts and culture organisations may focus on external offerings, such as programming or events as the focal point for increasing diversity, but internally, the working conditions in these organisations also require ongoing reflection and change to foster inclusion (Leslie et al., 2013; Ng et al., 2017). Here, we suggest a vocabulary for differentiation between external and internal focuses for diversity and inclusion, offering inroads to disentangle diversity discourse in the arts and culture sector.

Conor et al. (2015) foreground the portrayal of cultural industries as open, diverse, Bohemian, cool, and egalitarian, and contrast this portrayal with the reality of persistent and worsening inequalities along the lines of gender, race, ethnicity, disability, and so on in these industries. Brook et al. (2020) note an increasing public awareness of lack of diversity in the cultural industries, but a persistent reliance on individual narratives and individual navigation and negotiation of systemic inequality in these industries. Research also identifies structural roots of inequality in the cultural industries in funding and leadership structures. Balzer (2020) suggests that structural racism is embedded into arts institutions due to the reliance on donors and sponsors. Mason’s (2020) research study of diversity and inclusion practices in nonprofit associations highlights that “nonprofit associations tend to engage in D&I [Diversity and Inclusion] practices at modest levels” (p. 23). He similarly highlights that nonprofit organisations are dependent on donors, members, funders and/or other stakeholders to generate revenues (p. 26). As a result of these tensions, leadership in nonprofit associations may scale back diversity and inclusion efforts so as not to alienate existing membership. Research from the Helicon Collaborative (2017), focusing on the US context, found an increasing interest and focus on inequity in the arts, but declining equity in arts funding. In Canada, the context of our research study, arts grants are available from federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government, but a government granting system may not shift these dynamics of power, privilege, and racism within arts institutions. Ware (2020) highlights anti-Black racism in the internal working environment and structure of Canadian arts institutions, outlining that leadership positions and ‘positions of decision-making power’ in the arts remain overwhelmingly white, contrasting the continued experience of anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination in the art world with the rhetoric of celebratory diversity discourse. Similarly, Saha and van Lente (2022) note the increased interest in ‘diversity’ in the UK publishing industries, but continued inequality with marginalisation and devaluation of authors from racialized backgrounds. Here we suggest that this ‘open’ and ‘cool’ perception of cultural industries works to prevent the incorporation of more inclusive working practices. We situate our study in this context of the particularities of the cultural industries: a sector that often lacks the characteristics and protections of more standard forms of employment; that is often working in ‘crunch’ periods towards exhibitions, launches, programming, or events; and that faces persistent challenges of meaningful diversity and inclusion (Legault and Ouellet, 2012; McRobbie, 2011; Ross, 2008).

Through two years of participant observation coupled with semi-structured interviews with staff and volunteers in a not-for-profit arts and culture festival in Canada, our research investigates: what are the possibilities and limitations of shifting towards more inclusive working practices within an organisation with few full-time paid staff, relying on unpaid or honorarium-paid volunteer labour, as is common in the not-for-profit arts and culture sector? While this organisational structure can present opportunities for spearheading new initiatives, alternative ideas, or differing perspectives, it also presents large challenges for meaningfully engaging with and sustaining organisational shifts. Though diversity is increasingly celebrated as a positive value and a needed element of contemporary organisational cultures, here we reflect on persistent inequality and ongoing challenges to inclusion. Mobilising a critical diversity framework, which reflects on power and inequality, we separate external (events and programming) and internal (working practices) concerns in our analysis, suggesting that attempts to increase diverse representation in the programming or offerings of the organisation need to be accompanied by internal reflection on inclusive working practices. We forward the concepts of internal-facing concerns (IFC) and external‑facing concerns (EFC) to differentiate organisational efforts that focus on working practices (internal) from those that focus on events and programming (external). Similarly, we forward task-based organisation (TBO) and engagement-based organisation (EBO) as concepts to discuss how volunteer labour is organised, either according to project needs (task) or volunteer skills and interests (engagement).

We highlight decision-making roles as a key site where dominant power structures are reproduced, and that can limit opportunities for inclusive initiatives and working practices. We bring the concepts of organisational inclusion practices (OIP) from management studies and institutional entrepreneurship from institutional theory to the field of cultural industries, to better understand and assess challenges of diversity and inclusion in this field. In the organisation in our case study, and in the cultural industries more broadly, there is often a tone of being ‘open’ to new creativity and talent, ostensibly welcoming initiatives and ideas. However, the work culture in our case study relies heavily on individual members to ideate, organise, and implement initiatives. As a result, initiatives shared with the broader team are often met with platitudes, and struggle to reach full fruition. For these reasons, we apply the concept of institutional entrepreneurship to examine internal challenges around inclusion practices and differentiate between overt gestures of welcome and deeper challenges to developing inclusive cultures. Therefore, based on our data, and the following literature review, we suggest an EBO approach to inclusion practices is beneficial because it is oriented to onboarding and supporting volunteer members.


From Diversity Discourse to Critical Diversity

Critical diversity research suggests disentangling the rhetoric of the outward celebration of diversity from continued challenges of racism, inequity, and lack of inclusion. For example, Ahmed’s (2012) framework for analysis of diversity discourse notes a rise in outward rhetoric of ‘diversity’ that is not accompanied by meaningful organisational or institutional change. She notes that institutions and organisations increasingly incorporate diversity into their mission statements and that diversity is seen as an inherently positive value, but the language of diversity can mask ongoing internal inequalities in organisations. Through interviews with diversity practitioners in higher education (individuals hired to carry out ‘diversity’ work), Ahmed (2012) traces challenges in organisational cultures to incorporate meaningful change, despite an overt rhetoric of ‘diversity.’ We mobilise Ahmed’s (2012) framework in a similar way here, to analyse how mechanisms of power can prevent the development of inclusive practices. Following Ahmed (2012), we focus our analysis on organisational cultures that individual practitioners are embedded in through qualitative analysis.

Similarly, Vertovec (2012) notes a ‘diversity turn’ in governance and management, profiling the increasing focus and conversation about diversity in organisations (p. 287). Herring and Henderson (2015) assert that ‘diversity’ has become a way to frame racial inclusion in language that is more politically palatable to white people and to broaden the politics and discourse of inclusion beyond concerns about race or inequality. Given the dilution of the operationalization of the term ‘diversity,’ Herring and Henderson (2015) argue that diversity must be transformed into a critical concept, suggesting the term ‘critical diversity,’ which asserts that diversity must be put into action with concepts such as inclusion, equity, parity, access, and opportunity. Acker (2006) suggests that the creation and reproduction of inequalities are reinforced in the workplace, outlining that a flat or non-hierarchical organisational structure may not minimise racial, gender, or class inequities. This observation is important to note for grassroots or informal arts and culture initiatives or collectives, which often have a self-image of being progressive. In this context, diversity programs or policies may not be effective if they do not challenge or alter the roots of organisational power (Acker, 2006, p. 457).

As such, a critical diversity framework suggests the importance of differentiating between and disentangling diversity and inclusion; in this article, we focus on inclusion through analysis of internal working practices. While diversity can refer to demographic diversity (including race, gender, social class, sexuality, disability, age, and so on), inclusion can characterise the nature of the working environment, including a feeling of belonging alongside difference being recognized and valued (Shore et al., 2011, 2018). This differentiation is particularly important for the cultural industries, in that diversity efforts can be focused externally–on what is being produced, exhibited, or commissioned. Here we add to the small but growing body of literature applying a critical diversity framework to the cultural industries, suggesting that a focus on ‘representation’ and ‘visibility’ is not enough–we must also focus on experience and treatment of workers (i.e. experience of inclusion). Shore et al.’s (2018) model of inclusive organisations highlights six themes: feeling safe; involvement in the work group; feeling respected and valued; influence on decision making; capacity for authenticity; and respecting, honouring, and advancing diversity. Discussing different paradigms of diversity, Thomas and Ely (1996) suggest that women and minorities bring different ideas and perspectives on how work can be performed, highlighting the importance of moving beyond mere representation with demographic diversity, to consider diversity of knowledge in terms of effective working practices, in order to develop inclusive working cultures.

Rennstam and Sullivan (2018) define inclusion to encompass who is involved in decision making and who has access to information and resources within an organisational culture. They characterise inclusion as a collective and fragile process that is shifting and open, recognizing that inclusion is formally advocated in many contemporary organisational contexts, but both inclusionary and exclusionary pressures co-exist. Similarly, Doerfel and Gibbs (2020) note strides in valuing diversity, in terms of demographic representation within organisations, but “policies and practices designed to promote inclusion are contested, imperfect, and ignored” (p. 4). They note that patterns of exclusion can follow from dominant hegemonic norms, as well as access to resources, control of information flows, and how expertise and knowledge is socially constructed, concluding that “norms must be open to not just visible difference, but intellectual and decision-making differences, too” in ways that go beyond being ‘nice’ or ‘agreeable (not upsetting the status quo),’ which ‘further impedes real inclusion’ (p. 16). Similarly, Bernstein et al. (2019) highlight the role of organisational practices that develop social bonds, connection, and understanding ‘to facilitate equity at the organisational level’ (p. 3) and develop inclusive practices. Here we assess inclusion as a practice and a process that can result in feelings of value and belonging, and can also result in experiences of marginalisation and exclusion if not effectively incorporated.

Following Bernstein and Bilimoria (2013), here we highlight and assess OIP in fostering inclusion and meaningfully engaging with diversity. The authors suggest that “OIP refer to organisational efforts to support diversity. OIP describe organisation-wide policies and practices related to diversity and inclusion such as perceptions of the extent to which the organisation is committed to diversity and inclusion, engages in recruitment efforts that reach diverse communities, and engages in organisational communications that reflect the needs of diverse communities” (p. 641). As we can see, OIP can be vast, including commitment, outreach, and communications. Here we mobilise OIP in a more limited context, and refocus OIP on the internal environment of an organisation. Rather than assess recruitment efforts or external liaising with diverse communities per se, we consider external liaising as reflection of internal culture. We position our focus on internal environment, strategies, and decision-making as an inroad to assess critical diversity within an organisation. We position our key contribution here–developing a vocabulary to parse through the rhetoric of diversity discourse in the cultural industries. An external emphasis on diversity in the cultural industries can override needed attention internally to workplace conditions, fair treatment, opportunities to contribute and advance, participate in decision making, and so on. Below, we discuss institutional entrepreneurship as a concept that allows inroads to assess attempts to develop more inclusive working practices.

Possibilities and Limitations of Institutional Entrepreneurship to Foster Inclusive Working Practices

Originating with DiMaggio’s (1988) use of the term, institutional entrepreneurship refers to how actors can initiate and influence divergent change within organisations. Mason (2020) identifies the concept of institutional entrepreneurship to offer ‘an alternative viewpoint to institutions as constraining behaviour.’ While institutional norms can impose and limit possibilities for change, Mason (2020) notes that “in certain circumstances [there are] individuals … who strive to influence and change institutions” (p. 25). Rooted in institutional theory, studies of institutional entrepreneurship forwarded the paradox of embedded agency, highlighting the “institutions and social relations that constrain and enable, but do not determine, the choices of actors” (Battilana et al., 2009, p. 73). Viewing agency as embedded within institutional constraints offers inroads to assess degrees of agency and examine what factors enable or constrain agency.

We suggest this concept is particularly relevant and allows important inroads to analyse diversity and inclusion within the cultural industries, given the challenges of underrepresentation of individuals from minority groups in the cultural industries workforce, alongside the burden and need for change within these institutions with regards to inclusion. Saha (2018) decouples representation from structural change in the cultural industries, balancing a political economy approach that recognizes concentrations of power, alongside individual contributions and capacities. Research on institutional entrepreneurship has focused on defining and assessing how institutional entrepreneurship is mobilised, including characteristics of actors and the field, stages in the process of institutional entrepreneurship, and enabling characteristics and challenges in the organisational environment (Henrekson and Sanandaji, 2012). Here we suggest bringing this research literature and the framework of institutional theory into the field of cultural industries, as a means to disentangle diversity discourse, allows for a focus on how the internal workplace environment can enable or constrain changemaking, rather than solely focusing on increasing diverse representations in cultural production externally.

Many critical diversity scholars identify the role of leadership in fostering inclusive cultures (Buse et al., 2016; Hammonds and Bhandal, 2011; Roberson, 2006). As a concept, institutional entrepreneurship can recognize the role and work of individuals outside of leadership contexts in fostering inclusion. Indeed, Hardy and Maguire (2017) suggests that ‘peripheral players’ within organisations may be less constrained by dominant practices, may be more innovative, and may have more ideas about what change could look like for the organisation. Garud et al. (2007) recognize that “peripheral players may have the incentive to create and champion new practices, but often lack the power to change institutions” (p. 961). Battilana et al. (2009) suggest that attempts at institutional change do not have to be successful, yet failures are rarely reported and analysed in the research literature, resulting in a ‘heroic’ and actor-centric vision of the capacities of human agency within institutions. Hardy and Maguire (2017) note a move from actor-centric to more process-centric accounts of institutional entrepreneurship in the research literature, which mitigates the emphasis on ‘heroes,’ yet still call for attention to power dynamics in these accounts of institutional entrepreneurship, including how institutional entrepreneurs occupy or fail to occupy subject positions that allow them to exercise power in or on a particular field (p. 264). Here, we aim to engage with some of the ‘messiness’ (p. 270) of institutional entrepreneurship, including failed attempts, to suggest the challenges of moving towards more inclusive working practices within the arts and culture sector when diversity initiatives are focused on the external environment.


Our research project took place over two years at an annual not-for-profit arts and culture festival in Canada. As discussed below, this festival has grown over its more than ten years of existence from small, grassroots origins to become an established and recognized presence in local and, increasingly, international arts communities. Like many annual festivals, the organisation operates year round, with an increasing intensity and ‘crunch period’ leading up to mounting the main event. The organisation also seeks to offer programming and events throughout the year, outside of its marquee event. We have anonymized our findings and discussion of the organisation and its staff and volunteers in order to develop a broader conceptual framework for diversity and inclusion in the not-for-profit arts sector, while being mindful of the particular circumstances and context of the organisation in our research study. As our interview participants have been anonymized, our broader focus is on analysis of organisational dynamics rather than individual identities. While our findings stem from the particularities of the organisation in our study, including how volunteer labour is used, the dynamics and challenges in developing inclusive practices correlate with the arts and culture sector more broadly. Below, we offer a vocabulary for disentangling diversity discourse in the arts and culture sector, to identify where to address efforts to improve inclusion.

As a research assistant, Erika Chung conducted participant observation fieldwork with the organisation in the research study, volunteering and completing tasks ranging from social media coordination, fundraiser promotion, and communication support with exhibitors alongside attending team meetings, which increased in frequency as the organisation approached the annual event. Additionally, we completed six semi-structured interviews with staff and volunteers, investigating individuals’ roles within the organisation, alongside their perceptions of the organisation’s structure. Over the course of our fieldwork, our main research questions expanded from organisational structure and how this festival is run to assessing its internal working practices, which impact its capacity to mount the festival. Fieldnotes and interviews have been analyzed thematically. Through latent coding with thematic analysis we have identified themes and patterns of meaning in our data set, capturing some of the complexity of our observation (SAGE Research Methods Datasets, 2019). Our aim with our qualitative study is to highlight nuances and tensions in internal working practices through analysis of staff and volunteer experiences, alongside our own observations through participant observation in mounting the festival.


Thematic analysis of fieldnotes and interviews identified three factors of organisational structure that illuminate a series of tensions with regards to developing OIP, including:

  1. decision-making authority;

  2. internal-facing concerns (IFC) and external-facing concerns (EFC); and

  3. task-based organisation (TBO) and engagement-based organisation (EBO).

The tensions in these factors highlight the critical role of volunteers and volunteer labour in the arts organisation in the research study. Volunteer members are vital for the organisation’s success with its projects and community initiatives because the organisation primarily relies on volunteer labour to staff its community projects, annual exhibitor events, and international outreach. While volunteer members may receive an honorarium (Interview, 2019-07-11) for their efforts, it is not guaranteed and/or consistent year to year. Mook et al.’s (2007) study highlights that many nonprofit organisations in Canada do not quantify volunteer or unpaid labour because it is unnecessary to do so, and because there is no market transaction with regards to labour. However, the authors also emphasise how this lack of quantification of volunteer or unpaid labour lessens the full understanding of organisational activities, as these organisations would not be able to provide the same level of service without this labour. Our three identified factors in organisational structure illuminate challenges in realising the goals and values of diversity and inclusion because of the constraints of resources and labour in these three areas.

Our findings illustrate that this arts organisation leans towards EFC based in TBO influenced by core members who have positions of power, namely decision-making authority. The combination of EFC and TBO by core members prioritised logistical and artistic operations to run a successful event over consistent support and development of the volunteer team. Organisational activities did not consistently address diversity and inclusion in the volunteer team itself. This inconsistency resulted in new and/or younger volunteer members, some of whom came from marginalised communities, having to learn on the job and develop roles for themselves. The amount of labour needed to organise and host the annual exhibitor festival was very extensive, and the inconsistent engagement and incorporation of volunteers stifled efforts by some volunteer members who strove to be inclusive and supportive of new and/or younger volunteers. In short, EFC and TBO by core members did not increase opportunities for diversity and inclusion for the volunteer team.

Decision-Making Authority

To contrast the perception that the cultural industries can be an ‘open’ and welcoming environment for new talent and ideas, an analysis of decision-making authority offers insight into how power and inclusion are managed within an organisation. Warren (2014) highlights how organisational hierarchical structure sets the foundation for volunteers’ experiences. Within the arts organisation in this research study, there were three distinct levels of decision-makers with varying levels of authority that made up the executive team. Core members consisted of three of the longest serving members who held much of the institutional knowledge and authority. They often made the final decisions regarding the organisation’s direction, development, and creative curation of programming and events. They also oversaw much of the organisation’s networks and connections with other community organisations and partnerships. Core members also juried the organisation’s annual exhibitor event to select who would be invited to exhibit their work.

The second level of decision makers were coordinators. Coordinators oversaw curated streams of programming designed with specific audiences in mind. They often worked in coordination with core members, and referred to core members to provide resources and guidance. More specifically, coordinators had creative autonomy with regards to their specific streams of programming and projects, but lacked full authority and financial autonomy. Coordinators also worked closely with volunteers, not just in terms of teaching them tasks, but also integrating and retaining them as part of the team. As a result of their coordinator positions, they had institutional knowledge and could speak to the weight of decision making.

The last level of decision makers in the executive team were volunteers. These volunteer positions did not necessarily equate to having the lowest level of seniority. Some long-term members of the team purposefully decided to remain volunteers. However, volunteers also consisted of newer and/or younger members of the team who came from different racial, gender, and class communities. They were often part of general team meetings, and were consulted whenever core members needed wider input on a decision-making process. However, it should be noted that volunteers had the lowest decision-making authority, and would often need more senior members’ support to bring ideas into fruition. New volunteer members in the executive team would often join in the fall/winter season leading up to the annual exhibitor event. The organisation recruits general volunteers in the early spring season to train and staff the actual weekend-long annual exhibitor event, and ‘have about 200 volunteers who sign up’ (Interview, 2019-01-29). Unlike volunteers in the executive team, general volunteers only participate for the weekend event.

The two senior levels of the executive volunteer team had the most decision-making authority, reflected by the scope of their responsibilities. Core members made up the organisation’s year-round presence, and managed the day-to-day operations of the annual exhibit’s programming, curation, production, marketing, communications, human resources, grant writing, and fundraising/sponsorships (Interview, 2019-01-29). Coordinators were able to exercise more creative autonomy and decision-making authority as it related to their specific programs and events, but still needed core members’ involvement and support to finalise logistics and financial commitments. For example, as one coordinator noted in their interview, “I just usually ask [a core member] what’s my budget, where are we at? … When I get to [town], I go and get those cheques from [a core member] for all that stuff. And [core member] books the venues, [core member] books the [location], books the coffee and stuff in the morning” (Interview, 2019-02-20). This reflects the coordination between the two senior levels of the team, as well as division in responsibilities, with the core member identified to retain power and control, in particular of the budget. But another coordinator also noted, “I know that baseline resources [are] accessible to me. But there is still sort of like a hierarchy, even though we, sort of, sit at that table in the round, and bat around ideas and assign stuff – and whatever–there [are] still folks, who are like, the main vote” (Interview, 2019-02-08). This highlights the tensions of decision-making hierarchy within the executive team, contrasting a collective experience discussing around a table with a final ‘main vote.’ However, coordinators and core members both needed volunteers to assist and operate their programs and events as related to the annual exhibitor event.

In an effort to reduce barriers to participation and minimise stress and anxiety, core members communicated and emphasised a welcoming attitude (Fieldnotes, 2019-11-07). They encouraged volunteers to join any activity or programming team they felt comfortable participating in, and reiterated that they welcomed volunteer ideas and suggestions (Fieldnotes, 2020-04-30). In practice, however, volunteer ideas and suggestions usually needed core members to support the ideas to reach fruition (Fieldnotes, 2020-04-09) because volunteers did not have decision-making authority. However, core members were aware of frequent volunteer turnover as a result of intense labour required. One core member acknowledged this challenge in an interview:

But as a volunteer organisation, primarily, that’s how it has to be unless the format of [the annual exhibitor event] radically changes. Unless we have more full-timers that we can payout ... Getting [volunteer] staff for more than a year, for two [event] cycles or three [event] cycles is getting a lot harder because you become aware of, just like, how much work it is, and how much, and it’s so much work …. So, it’s never going to be a one-to-one, like what you give into it is what you get back out, because we can’t afford it financially, and because at the end of the day, it’s volunteering (Interview, 2019-07-11).

This core member highlights that volunteer labour cannot be compensated as a result of financial constraints of the organisation, and they did not expect all volunteers to stay long-term because of the intense labour needed. More importantly, however, this recognition of structural limitations highlights how volunteer labour is mediated through unequal working and spatial relations (Warren, 2014). Volunteer labour is a delicate and challenging organisational component to balance. The implementation of honorariums (Interview, 2019-07-11) reflects how core members recognized the intense labour asked of volunteers. However, given the regular volunteer turnover, honorariums, when they were provided, likely did not reflect how much labour the organisation truly asked. More funding could improve honorariums to better reflect the intense volunteer labour needed by the organisation.

Internal-Facing Concerns and External-Facing Concerns

IFC and EFC refer to types of initiatives pursued by individual volunteer members for the benefit of the organisation, either for the wellbeing and working practices of the team itself, or for the public events of the organisation, respectively. Similarly, other research differentiates between internal and external focuses in cultural industries activities. For example, introversion and extroversion orientations of cultural intermediaries describe how some cultural organisations focus on their established community, while others look outwards embracing more mainstream interests (Woo, 2018). The types of initiatives team members chose to pursue in our research study reflected how they interpreted and practised the organisation’s goals and priorities. Our findings demonstrate tensions between IFC and EFC.

Most notably, IFC, such as volunteer training, retention, inclusion, and community, were often sidelined to prioritise EFC, like the annual exhibitor event and external partnerships. The research project identified differences among team members who believed in maintaining and nurturing the existing organisation and team, and those who focused on daily operations and development of the organisation. In an interview, one coordinator remarked,

There’s two different schools of thought in [the organisation] currently: the school of we must be bigger, and the school of we should just stay the size we are or even be smaller than we are. I’m in the school of - we should stay in the size that we are and tend to the garden that we already have (Interview, 2019-02-20).

These two schools of thought reflect the tension that exists within the team itself, and provides context to understanding how certain projects and tasks were organised, prioritised, and managed. More importantly, as a result of the decision-making structure of the organisation, diversity and inclusion initiatives were often directed to EFC rather than IFC, and diversity initiatives were often mobilised around expanding the organisation’s activities, rather than ‘tending the garden.’ For example, in an interview, one coordinator remarked how, “we’ve continually failed to do any substantial Indigenous programming for that day. And so, we really, like, we really, we tried last year, it didn’t come together. It’s coming together this year. We’re super happy about that” (Interview, 2019-02-11). This reflects a conscious effort and understanding of how the organisation can engage with diversity practices in terms of representation of Indigenous communities through programming, but these efforts were primarily directed towards expansion through EFC programming rather than towards the executive team itself. By positioning the executive team to focus on the external and public contributions of the organisation, team members had a central purpose or ‘mandate’ to uphold (Interview, 2019-07-11). Group conversations and team meetings often focused on the question of how the arts organisation would contribute to the local and international arts community (Fieldnotes, 2019-01-17).

Despite the organisation’s overall position being focused on EFC, some members were conscious of how the team itself lacked racial diversity, and how efforts towards internal representation were also needed. As individuals, some members tried to address IFC. Of the six interviews we conducted, one team member was racialized. This member shared in their interview wanting the internal team to do better in regards to racial diversity:

Oh, a challenge, I think I really want … to be better … more [on] race, racial-based sort of stuff at [the organisation]. I don’t know how that’s going to happen and in what form, I just really wish the staff were less white. And not because I don’t love all of those guys, I really do, and I think they’re all trying their best. But at the same time, it could be better (Interview, 2019-02-20).

This awareness and reflection on race in the organisation and composition of the team highlights how individual members were conscious of internal challenges. In an interview, one core member spoke about how the team tried to incorporate professionalisation, such as creating job titles, as a way to (formally) include members into the team. The core member remarked, “We’re just sort of coming into having titles and roles in the past few years …. Because, people need to know what they’re doing, need to know what they’re working on” (Interview, 2019-02-05). In other words, having titles was a new professionalisation practice to assist with internal clarity around roles and responsibilities. It also served an organisational purpose of distributing tasks to volunteers; having an assigned title helped formally confirm volunteers’ roles within the team and organisation.

Task-Based Organisation and Engagement-Based Organisation of Volunteers

Lastly, TBO describes how volunteer members were organised into smaller teams based on specific project needs, whereas EBO refers to volunteers organised according to their skills and/ or interests, which requires an understanding of members’ capacities and inclinations. This component of organisational structure influenced how volunteer labour was managed and coordinated, and influenced the frequency of volunteer turnover. TBO meant that the organisation prioritised staffing projects related to the annual exhibitor event so that associated partnerships, programming, and work were accomplished. EBO, however, meant prioritising the team’s training, wellbeing, and morale as forms of support to sustain participation. Tensions between these two forms of volunteer coordination resulted in inconsistent inclusion of new and/or younger volunteer members.

Team members were primarily organised according to tasks or projects associated with the annual exhibitor event. Part of TBO meant formalising and professionalising roles and titles to ensure each part of the annual event was staffed with at least one team/ department lead (Interview, 2019-02-05). This became more apparent during the second year of fieldwork, when two team meetings were used to restructure the team into formal departments according to projects and tasks.

Conducted as a workshop, during the first restructuring meeting the team spent two hours brainstorming projects and tasks associated with the upcoming annual exhibitor event. 11 departments were brainstormed, and the team was very conscious of the multiple overlapping roles everyone would have to fulfil to staff these 11 departments (Fieldnotes, 2020-01-09). An additional checklist of tasks was made for the days of the scheduled event. Volunteers were encouraged and welcomed to join a department they felt they could contribute to, and core members provided general descriptions of each department. By using TBO of volunteers, core members ensured the annual exhibitor event was sufficiently staffed. During a second restructuring meeting, team members confirmed which departments and roles they would take on. The meeting was again two hours long with one team member moderating the meeting. As noted by Chung in her field notes for that meeting,

With the new departments, the team is also trying to conduct the meetings more formally. This seems critical, especially for this year, because there are newer team members joining now. New team members are all familiar with [the organisation], and have friendships with other team members, so the emphasis is to welcome them into the working cycle (Fieldnotes, 2020-02-06).

In light of new volunteers joining the executive team, efforts were made to help orient them into the workflow of the organisation. This restructuring also required the least amount of sharing of institutional knowledge, but still enabled projects and tasks to be accomplished. Volunteers only needed to understand their specific role rather than understand the social and practical logistics of how their work was situated in the larger organisation and artist community. A TBO of volunteers relies on retaining enough volunteer members for institutional knowledge to be passed on passively. Volunteer staff in a specific department could experience different leadership styles and working practices depending on which coordinator they worked with.

Some coordinators practised EBO within their departments. EBO meant regardless of a volunteer’s level of experience and/or seniority, they were directly included in decision making of that department and its associated programming. For example, the consensus model used by one coordinator in their program development reduced the emphasis on their authority, and instead sought volunteer input. The coordinator shared their perspective in their interview, “I’m a person who likes to move forward on decisions with consensus, not just like one person making a decision in a vacuum, not taking a vote–I want everyone to feel good about how we’re going to move forward on any given question” (Interview, 2019-02-08). This perspective on decision making accounted for and encouraged group members to collaborate and discuss with one another, forming solutions in which everyone had input and confidence. As this coordinator further elaborated about their department, “But in terms of structure, we are intentionally non-hierarchical, and … [are] trying to share power in ways” (Interview, 2019-02-08).

Even though EBO was used in select departments within the organisation, this practice helped retain volunteers to return the following years. Sharing decision-making authority, even within smaller departments, helped foster community. As another coordinator who used EBO in their department shared, “I always have a good time with my volunteers because there’s not too many of them and I get to know them pretty well. And they’re usually the more motivated ones” (Interview, 2019-02-20). EBO not only helped integrate volunteers, but it also formed positive bonds between team members, which supported volunteer retention and engagement. EBO of volunteers sustained a more consistent transfer and sharing of institutional knowledge in the longer term. However, this required the contributions of senior members of the team. More importantly, EBO empowered volunteers to participate in other activities and projects beyond the annual exhibitor event, such as travelling abroad with the organisation on their international collaboration projects (Interview, 2019-02-20), fostering belonging within the overall team and organisation (Interview, 2019-02-08). This transfer and application of knowledge helped volunteers become invested in their contribution to the arts organisation and wider arts community.


Opportunities for Institutional Entrepreneurship to Foster Inclusion

Throughout our two years of fieldwork, the arts organisation made efforts to engage with diversity and inclusion initiatives. As a concept, institutional entrepreneurship recognizes the labour and effort of individuals who initiate and influence divergent changes within their institutions. Within the arts organisation studied, the executive team made gradual efforts to engage more deeply with diversity initiatives. This was most often expressed and mobilised through their EFC projects and collaborations. Individual members spearheaded new efforts that ranged from forming new collaborations to reevaluating how programming and curation of the annual exhibitor event could be improved. For example, one coordinator reflected on diverse representation at the event in their interview,

I look at our list, and I’m like, we could definitely do something more to promote Indigenous [creators]…Are we promoting enough trans creators, or … So I think there’s lots of opportunities. Certainly with accessibility and disability, not only in terms of promoting creators, but also in terms of the festival experience for the public (Interview, 2019-02-11).

By reflecting on past annual exhibitor events and identifying opportunities for improvement, this coordinator highlights how the organisation could engage more deeply with diversity initiatives, focusing on exhibiting artists and on members of the public who attend the event. The use of the personal pronoun, ‘I’, also indicates how members of the executive team reflect on how they as individuals could do more in this regard. Similarly, another coordinator discussed in their interview their reasoning behind establishing a partnership with another arts organisation from Colombia:

I’m also very proud of developing the relationship with [arts festival] in Colombia. It was something that, I feel for sure wouldn’t have happened without me. I took an interest in Colombian [art], reached out, went there, programmed this, applied for the grants … We can’t keep being Eurocentric; we have stop this, you know (Interview, 2019-02-08).

This coordinator was critical of how many of the organisation’s regular international partnerships were based in Europe, and spearheaded a new external partnership in order to address the problem of Eurocentrism. Establishing this new partnership involved applying for further grants and additional labour that contributed to the organisation’s EFC projects. Both coordinators in these examples highlight how the regular process of reflection motivated individual members of the executive team to engage in institutional entrepreneurship.

Institutional entrepreneurship also enabled individual members to focus on fostering inclusion, for example creating informal mentorships between senior members and new or younger volunteers of the team. As previously discussed, one coordinator regularly worked with the same group of volunteers for their programming, and regular and positive working relationships developed over time. The coordinator further elaborated on this during their interview,

I usually get given the volunteers that come back year after year after year and are very reliable … usually ones who have been around longer, some of those kids are like [names of three volunteers], who are taken on as staff a little later. So [volunteer], for example, I met her when she was in high school … So there’s a kind of linear history there (Interview, 2019-02-20).

Becoming staff, in this case, is in reference to joining the executive team of the organisation, which signals deeper understanding and commitment of volunteers to their roles. As this coordinator notes, they have worked with these volunteers for a number of years since when they were students, and in that time and process, these volunteers became skilled and familiar with one another. As Berstien and Bilimoria (2013) note in their study, inclusion relies on the “value of diverse members of a team as contributing different perspectives and approaches that everyone can learn from … individuals feel most included when they perceive they are valued for their talents, contributions, and abilities to assist” (p. 639, 648). One of the volunteers who was mentored by this coordinator eventually became a program coordinator/ lead (Fieldnotes, 2020-03-19). While there was no formal internal infrastructure for mentorship programs in the arts organisation, individuals within the team took it upon themselves to provide this kind of support to volunteers, especially with volunteers who were contributing and participating regularly and frequently.

Limitations of Institutional Entrepreneurship to Foster Inclusion

In our study, there were several limitations to institutional entrepreneurship to fostering inclusion with regards to volunteer labour, volunteer recruitment, and heavy workloads. These limitations signal the need for collective institutional efforts regarding internal diversity and inclusion initiatives, as the accountability and burden of change cannot depend on individual members to be sustainable and effective. Despite core members’ position and emphasis on welcoming volunteers and their participation, recognition of their labour and contributions to the organisation was limited, which can undermine internal inclusion efforts. For example, shortly after the 2020 annual exhibitor event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new volunteer member joined while the executive team worked under a very tight timeline to redesign the event as an online exhibit (Fieldnotes, 2020-04-02). The new volunteer enthusiastically recommended possible online platforms the organisation could use for its exhibit, and used their personal time to attend an online event hosted on one of these platforms so that they could share at the following meeting (Fieldnotes, 2020-04-09). However, as noted in our fieldnotes, a core member did not share this volunteer’s enthusiasm, “the new volunteer … appeared to be discouraged when the [core member] said [they] did not enjoy the online conference platform … [The volunteer] had done a lot of research into this platform and was in communication with the hosts/ operators of this platform” (Fieldnotes, 2020-04-09). While this new volunteer was not aware of the limited decision-making power their position held, they took the initiative and used their personal time to investigate a possible solution in light of unprecedented circumstances and pressure on the organisation to salvage their marquee event. As previously discussed, volunteers often need the support of a senior member in order to bring their ideas or contributions into fruition because of decision-making authority and access to resources. This organisational structure of roles and decision-making limits volunteers trying to instigate change within the organisation. This reduces the possibility of forms of institutional entrepreneurship to foster inclusion within the team, as volunteers feel less empowered, engaged, and able to make change.

Another factor that constrained efforts to foster inclusion within the organisation was volunteer recruitment. New volunteers were often recruited through personal networks of existing team members and they were often familiar with the organisation. This form of volunteer recruitment was not new or recent to the organisation. It stemmed as far back as when one of the core members began the organisation, as they shared in their interview,

So, the first two [annual exhibits], I was doing … let’s say, 75% of the work… I had a friend ... who’s awesome, who helped me with stuff like writing staff bios, and things like that. [They were] a writer, a journalist of [the arts]. And I was like, “Hey, do you want to write bios for these thirty people, so … when we put up our website, it has bios of all the [artists] who are exhibiting?” … And that was the first two, and then after that, there was a local [arts] aficionado, reader, art fan etc, … who wanted to volunteer and help out. And I’m like, “Why don’t you be the [events] director, like I have to do a lot of stuff” (Interview, 2019-07-11).

Through personal networks and connections, the pool of volunteers in the executive team remained fairly consistent and stable for a number of years. This helped build the organisation and its annual exhibitor event in its early years. The problems of lack of representation stemming from informal networks in cultural industries workforce recruitment have been well researched, but here it also meant there was little need for formal orientation and training of new volunteers, as it was assumed that volunteers were already familiar with the organisation. However, as the organisation grew over years, the lack of internal infrastructure and programs for new volunteers, who may not come from existing personal networks, constrained inclusion and community. Moreover, volunteer recruitment within familiar networks may also reproduce the dominant perspectives of the organisation and how it curates and engages with external partners. The coordinator who spearheaded informal mentorships reflected on limitations of personal networks in their interview,

Also, I’m going to pass this [role of coordinator] on, I’m hoping to someone else next year. And kind of ease them in and train them on it. But I feel like I’ve done my time. I’ve done five years of it already, and done what I could with it. And I just think fresh blood is a good thing for any organisation … It’s like, it can freshen up, and then someone might have a different take on the same topics I’ve done before, for example. But there’s always new people coming into these things. And they might know different people in different networks. So, I think it’s just a good thing in general to put fresh blood into it (Interview, 2019-02-20).

This coordinator suggests that familiar topics could receive new insight from a different volunteer’s perspective. They highlight the importance of passing on their position, one that holds greater decision-making authority and access to resources, and providing training and support to a volunteer transitioning into that role. They suggest that rather than assuming a volunteer is already familiar with the role or organisation, guidance and support can be offered in advance of a new person taking on new and/ or additional responsibilities. This proactive pedagogy is critical in sharing institutional knowledge and fostering inclusion.

Institutional entrepreneurship was ineffective in addressing the heavy workload borne by the entire executive team. As previously discussed, even when the team restructured itself into formal departments, 11 departments were brainstormed with members’ conscious of being responsible for multiple roles. Even for coordinators and core members who had more creative autonomy, responsibilities remained unchanged despite restructuring. How work was divided and distributed across the organisation was a challenge rooted in the organisation’s structure and hierarchy of power, which is difficult for one person to take initiative to tackle or change. One volunteer developed a workflow to complement the restructuring of the team and offered a more centralised tracking of tasks (Fieldnotes, 2020-03-05). However, much of the team restructuring and workflow model had to be reorganised for a third time when the team transitioned to working from home during the pandemic. New subcommittees were formed to adapt projects and tasks for online mobile work, which created additional responsibilities, such as finding partners to produce digital content (Fieldnotes, 2020-04-09, 2020-04-23). Institutional entrepreneurship, in this case, indicates the limitations of how much one person can contribute to addressing systemic challenges. Relying on a small number of middle-tiered members to address inclusion of unpaid volunteer members from underrepresented communities, while conscious of the value volunteer labour has to execute external projects, results in limited effectiveness of institutional entrepreneurship. Institutional entrepreneurship is a start, but it also requires broader-based support, either from other members or from the organisation itself, in order to generate more substantial and enduring changes.


A critical diversity framework allows for an assessment of continued inequalities and power imbalances, even when values of diversity and inclusion are ostensibly championed. We suggest this framework is vital for the ongoing development and assessment of diversity and inclusion initiatives in the cultural and creative industries, given that these industries produce content, programming, and events that can become focal points for accounting for diversity, or lack thereof. A critical diversity framework provides inroads to disentangle diversity discourse in the arts and culture sector by examining continued power imbalances that limit inclusion, including with regards to decision-making authority in organisational cultures. This framework moves beyond a focus on representation and visibility to also assess experiences in organisational environments. Through participant observation and semi-structured interviews of a local not-for-profit arts organisation, we identified how the arts organisation was focused on EFC and used a TBO structure that was influenced by the decisions of core members. Though the particularities and history of the organisation in our case study produced a particular organisational structure, we propose that these concepts can allow for an assessment of possibilities and limitations for developing inclusive environments in an array of organisations. In our case study, diversity and inclusion were discussed and there were attempts to improve diversity and inclusion, but organisational inclusion practices were limited. This is common in the cultural industries where efforts to improve diversity and inclusion can remain externally-focused.

Our study also highlights the critical role volunteer labour plays in not-for-profit organisations (Mook et al., 2007; Warren, 2014; van Schie, 2014). The informality of not-for-profit arts and culture organisations results in struggles to form organisational infrastructure that can support and operationalize meaningful changes and practices regarding diversity and inclusion. In our case study, existing organisational infrastructure was often taken for granted, and the inconsistent transfer of institutional knowledge resulted in new volunteers feeling unsure of how to address issues that arise. While the not-for-profit arts and culture sector in Canada is often reliant on government arts funding, these challenges also suggest the need for broader funding and support, including for ‘volunteer’ positions, such that individuals serving in these roles can be better integrated into organisational cultures. Core members’ large scope of responsibilities, ranging from day-to-day operations and the annual exhibitor event, likely undermined time available to devote to inclusion work. And while these core members were reluctant to have volunteers take on additional work, the work they did ask of volunteers was intense. The heavy workload and its distribution was not sustainable. As one core member recognized in their interview, the organisation likely required more full-time staff in order to alleviate team members to develop inclusive practices. Meaningful diversity and inclusion work might also necessitate scaling back externally-focused efforts and programming to focus on internal operations and organisational culture.

In this research study, institutional entrepreneurship developed through individual work that coordinators performed to address biases in how the organisation chose external exhibitors and expand collaborations, alongside developing informal mentorships. This concept recognizes efforts that individuals outside of formal leadership positions make to spearhead divergent changes, and can offer a lens for qualitative assessment of structure/agency within organisations. In our research study, institutional entrepreneurship demonstrated the role middle-tier members like coordinators had within the organisation, and how they mediated between leadership and general volunteer members. We conclude that institutional entrepreneurship has limitations in fostering an inclusive culture, because it relies on individuals to spearhead change. This is not a sustainable form of fostering inclusion within organisational culture because long-term meaningful change requires a collective commitment, including leadership support, which has been well documented to impact the successful development of inclusive environments (Bilimoria et al., 2008; Wasserman et al., 2008). Beyond funding and material resources, a collective approach to inclusion for small not-for-profit arts organisations can also be developed through consistent communication and recognition of volunteer members by key decision makers. When volunteer members contribute to the organisation, communication, recognition, follow up and/or feedback can function to acknowledge this labour. Substantial change within organisational cultures, especially in addressing diversity and inclusion, requires organisational support, including leadership participation, reflexivity and learning, and showing appreciation for others’ contributions (Campbell et al., 2022; Shore et al., 2011). We echo Shore et al.’s (2018) findings, which point to the importance of experiences and perceptions of involvement, respect, and influence on decision making. Focusing on developing an inclusive culture may require scaling back an external or growth-oriented mindset in the organisational culture, but shifting priorities to focus on validation and follow-through does not inherently require financial resources. While the cultural industries have in the past been celebrated for being open, meritocratic, and diverse, meaningful diversity work requires transparent and equitable internal operations, rather than assuming a level playing field or that diversity can be realised because it is professed to be a value of an organisation. As such, rather than assume that the cultural industries are improving with regards to diversity because of an increased focus on diverse programming, this sector might turn to examples of governance from more standard forms of employment to learn best practices in inclusion. Indeed, existing research literature on inclusive cultures is based in a variety of sectors, from healthcare to information technology to food manufacturing and so on (Edmondson, 2019; Mor Barak et al., 2001; Pelled et al., 1999). While a small body of research on inclusion or lack thereof in the cultural industries has primarily been conducted through semi-structured interviews focusing on experiences, we welcome broader studies on organisational cultures through participant observation and other longitudinal methods of data collection.

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