ADG, IATSE Local 800, is a labor union representing approximately 3,000 members who work throughout the world as Production Designers, Art Directors, Scenic, Title and Graphic Artists; Set Designers and Model Makers; Illustrators, Matte Artists, and Previs Artists.

ADG IATSE Local 800 is a part of the larger international labor union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).

In 2020 The Art Directors Guild (ADG), IATSE Local 800 partnered with Elevate Inclusion Strategies. The goal was to lay the groundwork, through Elevate’s Professional Development and Skills Training Program, for the Guild to become a more inclusive organization. One that reflects the diversity of California and the varied commercials and film and television productions its talented members create.

Elevate recently caught up with ADG, IATSE Local 800 Diversity Committee Co-Chairs Shelley Wallace, Michele Yu and Alexander Stamm to discuss their vision for an inclusive Guild and the role Elevate has played in helping them realize that objective. 

A Commitment to Greater Inclusion

Wallace, Yu and Stamm are a dedicated trio — devoting several hours a week toward achieving the collective goals. Their passion and commitment, along with other Diversity Committee members and the union leadership, are beginning to pay off. 

Culture shift is challenging at the best of times. Still, the approach ADG, IATSE Local 800 has taken, with the guidance and support of Elevate Inclusion Strategies’ training programs, could be a valuable blueprint for other entertainment unions and guilds.

Solidarity for all

The bedrock of this work is the grassroots notion of solidarity. The co-chairs have achieved a high level of success in their professional careers and want to help pave the way for similar successes for equity-deserving groups including Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), people with disabilities, and 2SLGBTQIA+. 

Wallace, the first African American woman to join ADG, IATSE Local 800 over 27 years ago, is eager to see more diversity in film and television. “When I joined, there were so few people who looked like me, and over the years, I realized that there were also many other groups that were very underrepresented or felt unheard. That has driven my desire to see greater access,” she explains.

Improving access is fundamental

Stamm is one of the members to spearhead improved access to union membership and work opportunities in the industry through educational outreach efforts, by building relationships with universities, colleges, high schools and non-traditional education organizations. They are also forming connections with grassroots organizations to raise awareness about ADG, IATSE Local 800 in historically underrepresented communities and invite people to consider a career in film and television. The team has even created a presentation about ADG, IATSE Local 800 for members across the state to present in their communities. 

Stamm is also part of an initiative to examine the portfolio review process so that elements of bias are identified and addressed. “We’re not perfect. We have a lot of work to do,” says Stamm, “But we are putting in the effort and trying to move forward.”

Creating a safe and welcoming space

As well as improved access to the union, the co-chairs want to ensure that members who identify from equity deserving groups feel a sense of belonging in a place where they can thrive and grow. 

“When I joined [the union], I was looking for a community. Working non-union, I had to fight my battles on my own,” says Yu. Initially, finding that sense of belonging was important to her, particularly as a woman of color. “I sought out the Diversity Committee as a place to have different conversations. There are certain topics you only feel comfortable talking about to people who have gone through similar struggles.”

Yu’s experience is not uncommon. The ADG, IATSE Local 800 is steadfast in its pursuit to support an authentic and welcoming environment. All Guild members now have the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills to work inclusively and to advance the shift away from entrenched exclusive behaviors and practices. 

Over the last two years, the CEO of Elevate Inclusion Strategies, Natasha Tony, supported the ADG, IATSE Local 800 board, committees, and staff with training on the fundamentals of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and the board on Inclusive Leadership for Film and Television and, more recently, a two-day intensive on  Conflict Resolution for Supervisors and Leaders. The fundamentals training will roll out to the general membership in 2023.

Shelley Wallace

ADG, IATSE Local 800 Diversity Committee Co-Chair

Alexander Stamm

ADG, IATSE Local 800 Diversity Committee Co-Chair

Michele Yu

ADG, IATSE Local 800 Diversity Committee Co-Chair

Culture shift is challenging at the best of times. Still, the approach ADG, IATSE Local 800 has taken, with the guidance and support of Elevate Inclusion Strategies’ training programs, could be a valuable blueprint for other entertainment unions and guilds.

Developing an Inclusive Culture: designing and implementing the process

Aside from her expertise as a labor relations representative at an IATSE local, Natasha’s 15 years of experience as a casting director has given her a deep understanding of the film and TV industry and its culture. 

“We met with multiple firms, and we knew Natasha could jump right in and tailor the training for our organization. Her film industry knowledge and union experience is crucial,” says Yu. She also valued Natasha’s ability to guide people through difficult conversations. “Having someone in the room that is neutral and professionally trained to stay the course and keep the conversation moving in the right direction is vital.”

Wallace agrees. “Natasha has credibility. Members relate to members and I’m grateful that she’s a woman of color – she understands microaggressions and language better than anyone. Nothing surprises her.”

The training the co-chairs received from Natasha had an impact. “It is massively important,” says Stamm. “How can we move toward diversity, equity, and inclusion, if we are not eliminating any bias or able to handle our differences in a respectful way?”

A firm supporter of inclusion training, Stamm, Wallace and Yu, would like to see training programs like Elevate’s, Inclusive Leadership for Film and TV Online Retreat for Supervisors and Leaders and Elevate’s Inclusive Workplaces for Film and TV Workers mandatory IATSE-wide, much like harassment or forklift training – paid for with producer contributions

Another inspiring initiative from ADG, IATSE Local 800 is the launch of a popular panel series that covers a range of topics designed to raise awareness of the experiences of film and television workers from the Latinx, 2SLGBTQIA+, and disability communities. 

The impact of inclusion training and skills building

The Diversity Committee and Guild are undoubtedly making headway toward building an inclusive organization. They are inspired by the results of their efforts to date and hopeful for the future. “A lot of what I’m most proud of is the loyalty and passion of the people working with me to reach across the table to try and make a more inclusive environment for our guild,” says Wallace. “I’m very proud of our outreach. We’ve been given a lot of support from the leadership. But, ultimately, what will make me most proud is when we can look back and see many new members from a wide range of underrepresented communities who build amazing careers within our guild, and the industry as a whole.”

Tony agrees, “As an IATSE member since 2007, I am always prepared to roll up my sleeves and walk alongside dynamic members leading culture shift. The collaborative approach I take with my film and television clients is very much modeled on the creative process. To ensure that members have access to the skills that they need to build an inclusive union, and, in turn, inclusive workplaces is good work. ADG’s commitment to change is inspiring!”


Contact us to learn more about Elevate Inclusion’s Professional Development and Skills Training Program for Film and TV professionals. Download our brochure here.