Matt Miller, President and CEO of AICP, today announced the appointment of Sheila R. Brown as the association’s first-ever VP, Equity & Inclusion. Brown will represent the association in all matters related to diversity, equity and inclusion; lead AICP’s Equity & Inclusion Committee; and work directly with AICP members to advise on implementation of initiatives, as well as navigate client and agency directives in the space.
Brown joins AICP from the CineCares Division of Cinespace Film Studios, where she was its Executive Director. There she developed the Mirkopoulos Inclusion Program (MIP), a highly effective job training initiative that allows young adults from traditionally underserved communities, many with little to no production experience, to obtain paid job training opportunities on network TV shows.
At CineCares, Brown was instrumental in driving the program to impressive success rates, helping to boost diversity in the Illinois production workforce from 14 percent to 31 percent. In addition, the program inspired legislation in the State of Illinois to strengthen the Film Tax Credit; recent amendments to the program included the establishment of the Illinois Production Workforce Fund, which seeks to increase training and/or employment of underrepresented groups in the Illinois TV and film industry.
Miller said the hire of a full-time executive to lead the association’s E&I initiatives has been in the works for some time. “When we released a statement after the tragic death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, we took a moment to ask ourselves, ‘Is this for the long run, or are we just making a statement because it seems to be what everyone else is doing?’ While that’s a rhetorical question, it was an important one: our E&I Committee has backed up that commitment with true initiatives and real accomplishments,” he noted. “Sheila’s hire is the next step in that process. She’s a highly experienced professional who’ll be able to take us to new heights.”
Brown previously took part in one of AICP’s Commitment to Change webinars, being interviewed about CineCares by Tabitha Mason-Elliott, Partner/Head of Production at BARK BARK and Vice Chairperson of AICP’s National Board of Directors. Mason-Elliott has also served as Chairperson of the AICP’s E&I Committee since its launch. National and Midwest Chapter Board member Qadree Holmes of Quriosity Productions in Chicago recommended her for the position, and from there things moved quickly.
Mason-Elliott was, like Miller, impressed with Brown’s experience and accomplishments at CineCares. More importantly, she appreciated the balancing act of navigating between the studios, the unions and other stakeholders. “I really wanted to find someone who was a solid bridge-builder, in terms of understanding our industry and its complexities and who could get all the parties involved to get some sort of skin in the game,” Mason-Elliott said. “But it’s also important that you approach that task with a level of pragmatism, fearlessness and cooperation, so we could actually get things done. Sheila possesses all these qualities and is truly the perfect fit for us.”
On shifting gears from film and TV to advertising, Brown says she’s ready for the transition. “For me, it’s time to create change in a new way,” she says. “The low percentage of minority employment in production and post in advertising means there’s lots of room to maneuver here.”
Her approach will be studious, yet energetic, she added: “I’m coming in and looking to understand the parties, and understand where the struggles lie, and what’s been done before. It’s really about being totally familiar with the dynamics. Because that’s where you can begin to look for allyship, and where you can better identify the challenges.
“I’m not your typical E&I person,” she continued. “I’ve been in the industry for more than 30 years; I’ve worked as a producer and owned my own production company. That experience – combined with 53 years of lived experience as a person of color – is what I am bringing to this position. I’ve always been good at building relationships and being an ally. I want us to achieve things that work for almost everyone, so we can start to move the dial.”
A Chicago native and alumna of Columbia College, Brown began her career working for SportsChannel Chicago, a regional sports TV channel, as a programming assistant. She quickly rose to production coordinator and then production manager. Brown was the youngest person ever appointed to the broadcast advisory board for a professional sports league at the NBA. She went on to found Freedom Entertainment, Inc., where she provided broadcast production, event management and marketing/public relations to such clients as the NBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball, TNT, Lifetime, ESPN, The Oprah Winfrey Show, MSNBC, People Magazine, P&G/Gillette and the M.K. and J.B. Pritzker Family Foundation.
Miller expects Brown’s impact to be felt around the industry. He’ll be introducing her to the industry at AICP Week events in New York on June 7, at which Brown, along with Mason-Elliott, will moderate several panels on diversity initiatives and progress in advertising production.
“Sheila will not only work to grow our E&I Committee’s initiatives,” Miller said, “but she’ll be able to consult and support our members as they look to develop initiatives within their own companies and when they’re working with clients to achieve their E&I goals. She will also be a fantastic spokesperson for AICP within wider industry circles.”