Susan Mihalik

Supervisor: Dr Emily Mark-Fitzgerald

School: Art History and Cultural Policy

Advancing equity: using a social justice framework to understand the agency of government cultural administrators

My research investigates the role and agency of local government administrators in Austin, Texas in advancing equity in the cultural sector. The attractive rhetoric of equity advocacy can mask the complexity, and hence, difficulty of negotiating and operationalising equity in the cultural sector.  Government arts agencies are expected to contribute to the achievement of wider government initiatives and objectives, but they are also accountable to the broader public to demonstrate the public value of their service. This study will yield insight into the process as it plays out on the ground, looking beyond policy discourse, to understand how the terms of equity are negotiated and operationalised in the cultural sector. My research combines Fraser’s (2005) three-dimensional theory of social justice with concepts from organisational learning, change management, and public administration theory to situate the study within the context of local cultural governance. Using semi-structured interviews, documentary analysis, and observation, I will answer the following questions: How do cultural administrators perceive their role in the process of advancing equity? What conflicts do they perceive and how do they interpret them? How can they contribute to advancing transformative and sustainable equity? The aim of this study is to build upon Fraser’s framework to determine the extent to which government administrators can contribute to transformative change and sustainable equity in the cultural sector.