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Strategic Plan Series: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging: A Journey, Not A Destination 

Welcome to the third of four posts in our blog series about Sitar’s bold strategic vision and five-year plan!

Sitar Arts Center’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging is embedded in our organizational DNA. 

Sitar was founded with the conviction that every child should have access to high-quality arts education, regardless of cultural, systemic, or financial barriers. Inclusion and equity sit at the core of our purpose. Since opening our doors in 2000, we have remained committed to ensuring that 80% of our student body comes from households that are well below the area median income. Our community is rooted in diversity, and 84% of our students identify as Black, Latinx, Hispanic, or multiracial. Creating an artistic home of belonging and acceptance for youth in DC is Sitar’s greatest achievement. 

So why is it imperative to deepen our commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) as a key focus area for our strategic vision over the next five years? Because we are acutely aware that the pursuit of DEIB is a perpetual journey, not a destination.

Defined by the dual impact of the pandemic and the nation’s racial reckoning, the last three years have challenged me, and our entire Sitar community, in ways that make it clear that we still have a lot of work to do in both our inward and outward journey towards antiracism.  

At Sitar, we believe this work must be upheld by our core values. Therefore, a critical first step in instilling DEIB into our strategic planning process was to examine and redefine these organizational values. 

As part of our inward journey, the staff and board of Sitar engaged in racism dismantling training and ongoing consultation with our DEIB consultant, Equity Quotient. We are now naming and addressing the necessary steps identified within this process.  

Students in 3D Art Class, 2023

Our six-part values statement leads with “Embed Equity in our systems, programs, and spaces to advance social justice.” Our 2022-2027 strategic plan ensures we lean into this value by setting measurable objectives and key strategies to examine our programming, systems, policies, and practices through a DEIB lens. By creating space for this examination, I am challenged to address my leadership practices shaped by a white dominant culture, especially as a white leader within a diverse community.

“Creating an artistic home of belonging and acceptance for youth in DC is Sitar’s greatest achievement”

Maureen Dwyer, Executive Director, Sitar Arts Center

As a middle-aged woman, I came up at a time when nonprofit leaders tackling issues of poverty committed to the cause by putting their noses to the grindstone and working nonstop. Today, I understand that such an approach can create an oppressive culture with blurred boundaries. As a result, I need to pause and learn from emerging leaders and their more holistic approaches. Sitar has claimed the value of “Prioritize Balance between the mental, emotional, physical, and creative well-being within ourselves and our fellow community members.” We aspire to support each other as staff members in this process so that we can support our youth in doing the same. 

We are examining what it means to live out a primary Sitar value: “Foster Belonging by engaging, supporting, and celebrating our diverse community members through genuine and meaningful relationships.” As a cis-gender, straight woman, I wholeheartedly believed for much of my career that fostering a sense of belonging simply required loving and honoring each person who walks through the doors at Sitar. Today, I am learning from my wise colleagues that we have work to do to ensure that LGBTQIA youth feel immediately welcomed and valued within our organization, even before they enter our doors, and that we need training to become authentic allies. 

Fall 2022 Showcase Student w/ Private Lesson Drum Teacher Parker, 2022

Another critical element of this journey is to enthusiastically embrace our value of “Inspire Transformation by listening to, learning from, and growing with our community and the world around us.” Sitar programs are focused on learning and growth, and the board and staff are committed to finding ways to strengthen and improve our approach to community collaboration. One way we uphold this value is by prioritizing our students’ voices. For example, as Sitar designs our new arts-based workforce development programming for young adults, we are involving our youth advisory design team in every step of the process to ensure we learn from them. 

We are also on an outward journey toward becoming antiracist. 

A looming challenge facing Sitar’s community is the high cost of living in DC and the insufficient amount of affordable housing. Because of the economic and generational wealth impacts of systemic racism, this challenge disproportionately impacts Black, Hispanic, and Latinx families. While Sitar cannot solve for this alone, we lean into our value of Encourage Collaboration with thoughtful and clear communication, a curious mind, and a creative spirit.”  

Sitar is part of a comprehensive solution to support the socio-economic and cultural diversity of our city. We are expanding our programs and growing in place in partnership with Jubilee Housing, a nonprofit developer that creates deeply affordable housing in Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. Additionally, Sitar co-founded and currently partners with The Platform of Hope, a collective of families with financial barriers who are self-defining and pursuing family success with the support of coordinated resources in a close-knit community experience. And we are enlisting multiple partners, such as Opportunity Network, McKinsey & Company, and the DC Design Thinking Challenge, to develop our workforce programming, which supports our youth with viable pathways to well-paid creative careers.

Camp Sitar 2019 Youth w/ Summer Interns, 2019

Our final Sitar value is to “Build Trust by assuming positive intentions and taking ownership of our words, actions, responsibilities, and comments.” We own that we have much to do and much to learn. So, we are asking you, our community members, to help Sitar Arts Center ensure that our commitment to DEIB evolves with the changing needs of our young artists, city, and nation.  

We recognize the journey is complex and non-linear, and that there is much we can continue to improve upon and learn from our community. We would appreciate your feedback: How can we better amplify the voices of our young artists? Where are our inactions undermining our actions? What are we missing on our path to becoming an antiracist organization? 

Read more about our five-year plan to accomplish this bold vision for the future.

Sitar Arts Center recently announced its 5 year strategic plan to grow and expand our services, arts programs, and community spaces. In this limited blog series, written by Sitar’s Executive Director, Maureen Dwyer, you’ll gain deeper understanding and insight on how and why we’re growing our impact in four primary areas: 

  1. Grow in Place as a Community Anchor for DC 
  1. Expand Our Continuum to Young Adulthood 
  1. Deepen Commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging 
  1. Evolve our Business Model and Brand Identity 

As we look ahead to the next five years and beyond, we invite you to follow along, get involved, and join the Sitar community as we work toward our bold vision for the future of arts education in DC.