ACF Artist Equity Report Card

In September 2020, ACF published a comprehensive Statement of Commitment to Racial Equity that illustrated the organization’s intentions and outlined ACF’s actionable goals embedded within its five-year strategic framework. The statement and its accompanying glossary of terms are a result of an 18-month process of learning, focus groups, and public forums that build on critical race theory and other resources shared in the statement.  

Since releasing the statement The ACF Board, staff, and our Equity Committee, a working group comprised of both board and staff positions, have stewarded and monitored the progress towards our goals. We have achieved some successes, learned from failures, and are working to discuss policies and decisions that challenge our assumptions in as public a forum as possible to broaden industry visibility into this critical work.

The statement itself continues to be a resource throughout our sector and has been viewed over 2000 times since it was published.

This is our report card to you, our community, about our first year of this endeavor. We will continue to release these reports on an annual basis and invite you to question, comment on, and keep us accountable to our equity promises.

From the ACF Statement of Commitment to Racial Equity:

ACF’s commitment to being a racially equitable organization guides us and our work. We are committed to centering a diverse and  BIPOC* narrative and, as such, have outlined goals for achieving a majority BIPOC – or at 60% – representation throughout the organization by our 50th anniversary in 2025. These goals are reflective of the demographic shift, and trajectory, in our country (resource).

We start here…

ACF honors and acknowledges the Anishinaabe and Dakota people, the ancestral caretakers of this land; we take this time to consider the acts of violence, displacement, and unjust treatment toward them that have occurred over many generations; we offer our respect and gratitude to the elders of the past, to those living today, and to those who will come in the future, for their careful stewardship of this land and its resources and for the rich cultural legacy they will continue to create here.


ACF’s home is on unceded land that is extremely significant to the Dakota People.

According to oral tradition, [the confluence] is the place where Dakota people were created or where we came to live on the earth. It’s a confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. The Minnesota River is traditionally known as the ‘Mnisota Wakpa’ and the Mississippi River is the ‘Haha Wakpa.’ The first Dakota man and the first Dakota woman emerged out of the earth at that place.

Engaging the Good

Recognizing that in order to live up to the Commitment to Racial Equity, we recognize that ongoing learning around equity is an important part of the work of the organization. In FY 2021, ACF embarked on a year-long partnership with Innocent Technologies, an organization founded by Alexs Pate in 2012 as a simple theory: people learn better from people they believe truly care about them.

The Good, the Guilt, and Innocence

We begin with this challenge from Innocent Technologies: 

How can we come to “know” each other well enough to construct an environment that encourages the fullest engagement from the most wounded?

Engaging the Good introduces individuals to an anti-racist relationship-building process at the micro-level that allows for an authentic and actionable pathway towards racial equity for every individual. It is based on the idea that the pervasiveness of stereotypes impacts everything in our work – and that impact is individual, creating barriers to effective relationships and that undergirds disparity and inequity in our spaces.

The Board and staff to this point have completed the first half of this training which saw each group meeting separately to investigate the concepts of guilt and innocence by reframing and understanding the challenge in the context of the work of the American Composers Forum and building a practice of Engaging the Good that supports both our experience of and vision for racial equity. We look forward to continuing this work with the staff and board working together and collaborating for innocence in all of our relationships and roles, and committing to a practice of Engaging the Good of every individual while they are in relationship with ACF. 

The Language of Belonging

From ensuring more representation in our narrative and storytelling to improving our own nomenclature and the way we talk about our work to offering more ways to engage with ACF and one another, we have been committed to widening the circle by showing the example of who is a part of our ecosystem in the hopes that others will see themselves in that circle. 

We see ACF as a  space of inclusivity as we move from a membership organization to an artist services and advocacy organization. We seek to be a connector and convener for this vibrant and diverse ecosystem to which we belong. We hope to deepen our relationship with you and provide opportunities for you to deepen your relationship with one another.

The Application

The goals from the ACF’s Statement of Commitment to Racial Equity are interwoven into ACF’s Five Year Strategic Framework….

Supporting Artists

  • Discontinued ACF’s longstanding Membership Program, making all resources available to all creators regardless of genre interest or creative pursuit 
  • Board/staff/artist focus group reviewed and changed all of ACF’s funding program requirements and processes
  • Added interview process for all panel “curators” to ensure biases were considered within the makeup of the awards selection panel
  • Launched “Help Desk” to encourage inquiries from artists and their collaborators for resources, guidance, and connections
  • Piloted new model for the innova Recordings record label: curatorial process selecting recording projects in various stages; no administrative fees; free guidance for all artists working on recordings


  • Acquired and now fund I CARE IF YOU LISTEN media hub and 29+ diverse contributors
  • Presented thematic series to raise awareness of inequities: 
  • Out of Context (cultural appropriation)
  • Uneven Measures (women’s suffrage/voting rights)
  • Casting Light (less visible issues like mental health and wealth disparity)
  • Hosted roundtables (Asian American Experience) and Artist Equity Summits
  • Supported/partnered with organizations such as Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) & Music of the Unsung America
  • Engaged in numerous conversations with artists, presenters, leaders, and donors about achieving greater equity for artists, e.g. Performing Arts Alliance

Internal Changes

  • Initiated a standing board and staff Equity Committee to create and publish ACF’s Commitment to Equity and ensure progress towards our equity goals
  • Started year-long partnership with Innocent Technologies (includes board and staff training and ongoing guidance)
  • Hired Nonprofit HR support (BIPOC led)
  • Revised employee policies to offer more equitable guidelines around issues such as  vacation; parental leave; work preferences while also implementing  explicit conduct and anti-harassment policies
  • Required all employees to take anti-harassment training
  • Revamped hiring process and practices, integrating more transparency in description and diverse selection group
  • Transferred investments to a firm that prioritizes DEIA 
  • Hosted free, public monthly study groups on different themes related to equity Launched migration to Salesforce to better track our progress

The Numbers

  • ACF Staff: 25% identify as BIPOC from 9% last year; 50% identify as women and 10% as gender non-conforming; 16% identify as BIPOC women
  • ACF Board: 44% identify as BIPOC (43% in previous year)
  • 2129 views of ACF’s Commitment to Equity webpage


  • BIPOC-identified applicants: 53% average for all 4 programs (does not include individuals who opted out)
  • Revamped demographic form and explanation encouraged 12% more applicants than last year to share their information


Until recently, the Minnesota Music Creator Awards were named the Minnesota Emerging Composer Awards. In a continuing effort to expand the circle of belonging we replaced the terms “emerging” and “composer” from the award’s name and saw the following promising results. 

  • Nominations (30 non self-nominations and 31 self-nominations)
  • total = 61 (100% increase)
  • Number of Unique Nominations = 46 (130% increase)
  • Number Submitted to Curators = 38 (217% increase) 
  • All provided demographic information

(In 2019, 8.3% of applicants did not provide demographic information) 

ACF | create

  • 63 applicants (28.57% increase from our last application period)​

McKnight Composition Fellows

  • 66 applicants (22% increase from our last application period)

McKnight Visiting

  • 53 applicants (130% increase from our last application period)​


Contributor Team

Following ACF’s acquisition of ICIYL in September 2020, an open call for new contributors attracted nearly 200 applications from across the United States and abroad. The 14 exceptional writers chosen from this call have now joined members of ICIYL’s existing team to form a diverse roster of 29 journalists, music creators, performers, multimedia/ interdisciplinary artists, musicologists, historians, podcasters, and arts administrators who contribute to the publication building significantly upon the work of the previous number of staffers.


Bay Area Pilot

innova Recordings, the longtime in-house record label of American Composers Forum (ACF), announced a pilot program that seeks to serve Bay Area artists in both the creation and release of new recordings. This new program is part of a shift for the label to be more inclusive and accessible to artists. Applicants were invited to submit music representing a variety of musical approaches and at different stages in their recording plans. A diverse group of curators made selections; all artists were invited to seek recording advice and assistance from innova staff. Those selected will receive support for both the production and promotion of their music for no or subsidized fees. 

  • 35 Bay Area Pilot Applications
  • BIPOC 16, White 17; Female 18, Male 15
  • 8 projects selected, 4 BIPOC, 4 White Women

What We Learned

  • Organizational culture changes slowly
  • Being vulnerable with people you work with (or on a board with) is… complicated
  • Guilt is a tremendous barrier
  • Self-awareness is essential

Areas for Improvement

  • Land Acknowledgements
  • Accessibility
  • Gender Identities
  • Data Consistency
  • Deeper connections with artists in rural communities, Native nations, and U.S. territories