July 29, 2021 | Gretchen M. Miller, MA, ATR-BC, ACTP, Chair, DEI Committee of the Board

The purpose of this update is to provide a status report on the ways in which AATA has begun to address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) throughout the entire organization, and to communicate about the next steps in this ongoing process. Much like in national conversations, this process has included critically re-examining, dismantling, and transforming policies, structures, and identifying our biases throughout the AATA, and assessing impacts on the broader art therapy community. AATA’s DEI Vision is to demonstrate equity and belonging in all aspects of the Association and in the profession of art therapy.

In July 2020, AATA President Margaret Carlock-Russo began to engage the membership by hosting an All-Member Meeting to discuss the state of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the AATA. The initial conversation was followed by a webinar with an external DEI expert that was open to all interested parties. The discussions centered on determining ways in which we can begin to create sustainable, systemic change for the AATA and our profession. The invitation to everyone in our Association and art therapy community was extended because it is essential that the wider art therapy community is engaged in this essential shift and change.

The initial conversations were followed in the winter and spring of 2021 by a series of DEI Listening Sessions and an online survey. The goals of these were to listen to the experiences of our members, art therapists, and students to better understand barriers within the profession, and to help identify strategies and tactics to support DEI in all we do as the Association. We wholeheartedly thank everyone who participated in the Listening Sessions and online survey, and we hope that every AATA member, art therapist, and student will take the time to read the findings.

Through the Listening Session Series and online survey, barriers to entering the field and lack of diversity in the profession were identified as the two overarching issues that need to be prioritized. In response to these priorities, art therapists said they want AATA to cast a wider net to bring in more diverse people into the field, including men, BIPOC, and persons with disabilities. They also supported establishing a pipeline to diverse leadership in the association to attract new members and professionals into the field. A part of this includes developing a culture of mentoring and empowering the next generation of art therapists. The Listening Session participants also highlighted the need to change the culture of the profession and AATA, as well as educational and practice standards and training. These priorities have been incorporated into the Board’s newly approved 2021-2023 Strategic Plan.

Perhaps most immediately, art therapists said that they wanted more concrete steps from AATA: “a little less talk, and a lot more action.” The AATA leadership acknowledges that there is still much work to do and that we are committed to the work that will result in tangible and sustained DEI outcomes. In this update, I wanted to share some of the specific steps that AATA has been taking to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community and invite you to join us in this journey to build an Association that values everyone—and a field that better represents the communities we serve.

Creating More Inclusive and Accessible Programming

  • Hosting more virtual conferences. Even before pivoting our 2020 annual conference to all-virtual, AATA began offering single-day virtual conferences to provide accessible programming to art therapists all over the country. We will continue to offer virtual conferences to supplement our in-person offerings throughout the year.
  • Enhanced Online Continuing Education. Through the addition of both virtual conferences following in-person events starting in 2019, and the all-virtual events starting in 2020-2021, we have exponentially increased access and flexibility in continuing education.
  • International collaborations. Continued to developed and support international collaborations with international art therapy organizations that were highlighted in the 2019 international conference.
  • Expanded Featured Member Series and DEI Art Gallery to elevate the stories, experiences, voices, and art of BIPOC art therapists and students.
  • Growing DEI learning opportunities through conference programming, webinars, the AATA website, Art Therapy Today, and MyAATA discussion forum.
  • Hosting the first-ever Spanish language webinar, scheduled for late summer 2021.
  • Launched the student member forum in July 2020 to offer art therapy students a space to connect.
  • Sent out weekly member updates during 2020 in response to national crises, from COVID-19 to racial justice and racial trauma. Will continue to send out issue-specific emails to members as future crises emerge.

Better Understanding Our Members’ and the Profession’s Demographics, Culture, and Experiences

  • Simplified how member demographics are collected through member profiles rather than infrequent surveys. Information is more easily accessed and reported out. Membership demographic reports will be published annually.
  • Conducted two surveys on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on art therapists and clients. Results from the May 2020 survey were published in “Art Therapy During A Mental Health Crisis: Coronavirus Pandemic Impact Report”. Data from the April 2021 survey will be available soon.
  • Conducted a series of 12 listening sessions and completed a complementary DEI online survey. The analysis, conducted by the National Office staff, Board and DEI consultants, and findings were shared with membership.
  • Invited feedback from all members through annual satisfaction surveys.

Increasing Transparency through Better Communications with Members

  • Hosting virtual all-member meetings several times throughout the year to increase transparency and create more dialogue between leadership and members and additional opportunities for engagement. Published meeting presentations for members to review after the meeting.
  • Published the first AATA Annual Impact Report in December 2020 to offer members a comprehensive look at the work and progress within the association and the field of art therapy.

Standing Up for our Values

Incorporating DEI throughout our Work with Committees, Working Groups, Councils, and Chapters

  • As part of AATA’s efforts to incorporate DEI goals throughout the association, AATA councils, committees, and working groups have made changes to their own workplans, including:
  • Introduced an open call for AATA volunteers to serve on Committees, Conference Proposal Reviewers, and Leadership positions. Changed volunteer recruitment procedure to membership-wide outreach, replacing “word of mouth” historical process. Expanded policy to allow students to serve on committees.
  • Created two new scholarships in the last two years: the Laura Greenstone Memorial Scholarship and the Dr. Ellen G. Horovitz Spiritual Art Therapy Scholarship
  • Instituted quarterly meetings with Committee chairs beginning in 2021, and ongoing meetings with Chapter leaders, with meeting presentations available to members.

Expanding Access to the Field

  • Introduced first-ever collaboration with the Atlanta University Center Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective (AUC Art Collective), the largest Association of Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) to introduce art therapy to its students as a career path.
  • Advocating for professional recognition of art therapy. With the support of our chapter volunteers and ACATE:
    • 19 states now recognize art therapy (11 of which are distinct art therapy licenses). In recent years, we celebrated wins in Connecticut, Virginia, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia!
    • The Medicaid Program in New Mexico has expanded coverage of licensed professional art therapists from rehabilitative services to the broader State Plan, and the Mississippi Division of Medicaid has also expanded services covered by LPATs.
    • 17 art therapy master’s programs have now received initial accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Since transitioning toward third-party accreditation, we have heard from more institutions interested in starting programs. And we expect to attract more programs moving forward, especially from public institutions.

Incorporating DEI into AATA Governance & Leadership Development

  • Actively seeking diverse candidates to AATA’s National Office Staff and Board of Directors.
  • Offering regular DEI training and development opportunities to AATA’s Leadership, National Office Staff, Committees, and Chapters from association DEI consultants.
  • Collaborating with AATA Committees to support DEI efforts and work plans.

Prioritizing DEI in our Strategic Planning Processes

  • Identified and incorporated DEI as a core AATA Strategic Plan priority (2018).
  • Established new DEI Vision and Mission statements (2019).
  • Promoted AATA’s DEI Taskforce of the Board to a full Committee of the Board (2020).
  • Developed and implemented a DEI Committee 2020-2021 Action Plan
  • Establishing DEI as one of 5 key pillars in AATA’s updated strategic plan (2021-2023) and invited members to offer comments to the strategic plan during an open comment period in June 2021.