League Champions Diversity and Inclusion—a November 2016 Update
Image Credit: Antoine Saito
Two pioneering studies are the latest examples of the League of American Orchestras' longstanding commitment to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion among orchestras in the U.S.
Both reports offer insights based on rigorous data and careful methodologies. Racial/Ethnic and Gender Diversity in the Orchestra Field uses longitudinal data – going back nearly 40 years in some cases – to identify trends and to ultimately establish a baseline of where we stand today. Forty Years of Fellowships also looks back – examining the efficacy of one of the field's most common strategies for addressing the homogeneity of the musicians who play on stage – while looking forward: Forty Years of Fellowships contains a number of recommendations that could be used to strengthen not only fellowship programs but diversity efforts of all kinds.
These reports build on the League's ongoing efforts to provide leadership and resources in support of orchestras' efforts to better reflect the communities they serve. In the past year, the League held two major cross-sector convenings to develop national strategies and also focused its June 2016 national Conference on diversity and inclusion.
A Conference highlight for many was a closing keynote by Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, of Maryland's 7th District, who described how poverty had prevented him from pursuing his musical ambitions as a child. He said, "This wonderful organization decided to have a Conference and look at the whole issue of diversity making sure all of our children – all of our people – are part of what orchestras do. I came to tell you what you already know; diversity is not a problem – it is our promise."
Convenings and Working Groups
In a special convening that kicked off the Conference, the League created five working groups from among a broad set of national stakeholders, each to create action plans to tackle a dimension of the diversity challenge. These groups and their strategic priorities came out of an earlier convening the League organized in December 2015 in partnership with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Two of the working groups, one devoted to developing a national network of mentors, the other, a national center for resources and support for musicians auditioning, have already found institutional homes, initial funding, and considerable traction. The other groups – on parent and family resources; the music education pipeline; and board and staff diversity – are making progress.
Diversity Statement and Strategic Plan
The League's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the orchestral field is informed by the League's mission as well as, more recently, by its statement on diversity www.americanorchestras.org/diversity and its strategic plan (2016-2020) www.americanorchestras.org/strategy.
The League's 2016–2020 strategic plan makes diversity a priority by committing to increasing orchestras' capacity to be relevant and responsive to the civic and artistic needs of their diverse communities and to serve audiences that are more reflective and inclusive of their communities.
This work is guided by the Diversity & Inclusion Committee of the League's Board of Directors, which was first formed in 2011 as a multi-constituent Task Force to guide the League's work in support of orchestras' efforts related to audiences, orchestra and staff personnel, artists, boards, and governance practice. It became a standing board committee in 2016.
In 2016, in keeping with the League's diversity statement and mission, Jesse Rosen, the President and CEO of the League, made public comments – picked up by the national media -- on a controversy at a meeting of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Programmatic work to date includes an Online Diversity Resource Center including a Diversity Assessment Tool for Board Members. League commissions, grants, and awards include commissions for women composers, and recognition for best practices in engaging underrepresented communities. League communications routinely highlight efforts among our members, including regular feature articles in Symphony magazine. The League also serves in a leadership role through carefully curated content related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in League events.
A Catalyst for Change
The League is excited to continue, though all our channels, to serve as a catalyst for change.