On Creating Inclusion Riders: An Interview with Cultural Producer Sarah Rucker

What does it look like to make creative work inclusively?

Today on the blog, A’nysha Fortenberry interviews Austin-based cultural producer Sarah Rucker about her development of an inclusion rider clause.

What’s an inclusion rider clause? Essentially, it’s a piece of language for artists and creatives to add to their contracts with producers, bookers and clients that holds them culturally accountable. Rucker argues that artists and creatives have the right to demand diverse and inclusive workspaces—just like anyone else.

Keep reading to learn more about Rucker’s work and how to create an inclusion rider for yourself.

Sarah Rucker (pictured)

Sarah Rucker (pictured)


Sarah is a lifelong arts lover and advocate with 13 years of experience in arts research, programming and presenting. She is the founder of Full Gallop, which offers creative event production and community outreach and engagement services. Full Gallop strives to bridge cultures and connect communities through creative collaborations and programs. She has a personal mission to help increase equity in the arts, especially in Austin, where she recently started the Inclusion Riders Initiative ATX. She was also a founding board member of Austin Emerging Arts Leaders from 2012-2019.

Can you tell us a bit more about your work and what you currently do?

Rucker: My work is predominantly in the field of event production with a specialty in arts programming and community engagement. For over 12 years my career has been in both the music business and the nonprofit arts sector while also building skills in corporate and private event production. I love helping with events and programs from concept to completion.

How would you define an inclusion rider? What is it and how can people use it?

Rucker: An inclusion rider is an addendum or clause added to a contract with a content creator that stipulates the contractor’s need to work in a well-represented team. It first came about in the film industry to try and achieve a storyline and cast that more closely resembles the audience and population it was serving and depicting. It’s now been proven as a versatile tool in letting any employer or collaborator know inclusion and equity are vital to your work as a contractor.

How did you come across the concept? Where have you seen it implemented?

Rucker: I first heard about it like many others , while watching the 2018 Oscars when Frances McDormand said “I’ve got two words for you: inclusion riders.” Before that night, the legal language was being perfected by lawyer Kalpana Kotagal and writer/actor Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni after years of studies at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC with Dr. Stacy Smith. Since then, it has been implemented by Pearl Street Films, with Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel and Michael B. Jordan with Warner Brothers Media.

How did you arrive at the inclusion rider you’ve created?

Rucker: I would looking for a version that my colleagues in the arts and music business could use in any contract with any situation be it music festival, arts nonprofit, or other creative endeavor. Austin attorney, Alyce Zawacki approached me after BABES FEST 2018 and helped write this version that I feel works for a wide variety of contracts.

How can artists in the #BBATX network implement the inclusion rider? How can it be used as a tool?

Rucker: Any artist can now access the rider at bit.ly/FullGallopEquityClause. I recommend letting your employer or collaborator know by email or conversation that you have an additional clause you’d like to include in your contract to allow a dialogue and chance for questions if they don’t understand the concept. You can modify it for your own use to work out a process for discussing inequitable situations should they arise and what the “satisfactory outcome” would be on behalf the hiring party to reconcile any inequitable practices.

What sorts of conversations have arisen out of creating this Inclusion Rider and attempting to implement it / create community buy-in?

Rucker: The panel discussion at last year’s BABES FEST brought some great realizations for me, that there are many creatives in Austin looking for tools to better represent themselves and their communities. Since then, I’ve spoken at two other national conferences about the concept and have seen other versions used in the arts. I’ve used the clause twice myself with my contracted projects and have heard from other Austin freelancers that they also used it and feel empowered after getting it added to their contracts. The City of Austin Arts Commission started a working group on Cultural Equity as a result of my presentation and has now hired a consultant to evaluate all of their grant practices to further their work to become more accessible and more inclusive to all Austin arts communities.

What sorts of road blocks have you run into with this concept? Where are the ethical gray areas and difficult conversations around what an Inclusion Rider means for artists’ rights and the arts industry’s evolution?

Rucker: The most common road block for myself and likely others in using an equity clause or inclusion rider is that amending contracts and invoking legal rights to do so can make some nervous. However, the process in going over a contract sent to you and making recommendations to enhance and cater to one’s liking can be very empowering and can break a cycle of saying yes to entering situations without expressing your ethical beliefs and needs.

I’ve read that you think this concept is more effective than a quota system—can you describe where you think the quota system is lacking?

Rucker: Yes, the question of the difference between inclusion riders and quota systems has been asked of me as well as many others trying to implement the concept and from the perspective of the women who wrote the inclusion rider “something is perpetuating invisible quotas to type cast,” in the film industry for instance, and inclusion riders are a tool to slow down the process, be more thoughtful and counter the biases that are already in place. The goal of inclusion riders is to create a work environment that more closely resembles the community that organization or project is serving, however, quota systems often miss the outreach element of connecting with community and instead get hyper-focused on hitting the mark, I find.

What changes in the industry are you seeking from a better and more widespread use of Inclusion Riders?

Rucker: I started this conversation specifically with the Austin arts industries with the hope to see more of our arts communities represented in a variety of ways: arts funding, music fest lineups, nonprofit boards and staff hirings, etc to make public programming accessible to all Austinites and make access to funding and bookings for all artists more inclusive.

Bonus Q — What does personal and professional synergy look like for you?

Rucker: Synergy and collaboration are essential to the work I do and what I believe in personally. Without input from others and collaboration between individuals and organizations, the arts become less relatable and negate what I believe to be their sole purpose, to enhance the quality of life. Inclusion Riders ATX is a perfect example of synergy for me and I thank my close friends and colleagues that have helped promote the concept and to #BBATX for their support.

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