Diversifying Orchestral Music in New York State: Convening #2

Last week, NYSCA reconvened with leaders in the orchestral and music education fields from all over the state for the second iteration of our discussion, Diversifying Orchestral Music in New York State: New Approaches and Strategies. The meeting was intended to address and rectify the underrepresentation of groups such as African-Americans and Latinos in the field, through education, mentoring, career development and professional opportunities. Also in attendance was Anna Brown, Special Attorney/Global Director of Diversity & Inclusion at the law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP, who shared with us insights about the inclusion of historically underrepresented groups into long established fields. Below are some of the key points we discussed – and stayed tuned for more information about measures NYSCA will be taking to ensure diversity in New York State arts organizations.

Practices and ideas from the corporate law world that we can incorporate:

  • Where to start: Approach different levels at the same time – representation at the board and executive staff level matters, so does what and whom we see onstage. Engagement with audiences, including young people, is essential.
  • It’s the right thing to do and it’s good business. Increasing diversity not only brings a greater wealth of perspectives to the workplace. It can also ensure that your work and your brand reflect your audiences, and that people will identify with your work and want to be involved with you, whether as clients, partners or audience members.
  • Examine where minority groups are dropping out of the profession. Use exit interviews, ideally conducted by an outside party, as a tool.
  • Begin cultivating future employees early – mentorship opportunities in law begin in middle school.
  • The largest impediment, and the most difficult to address, is unconscious bias. As much as possible, we should be examining how and why we form the work relationships that we do – and do not.
  • People want: respect, opportunities to progress, feedback, sponsorship and reinforcement.
  • Look outside of your organizations and industries for new ideas and perspectives.

The following additional points were brought up:

  • The American League of Orchestras provides demographic information that can give all of us in the field an understanding of where we stand collectively and measure up individually.
  • For funders evaluating grant applicants actively working towards inclusion, it may be useful to look closely at the commitment expressed within applications: Why pursue this? Why now? How long have you been having these conversations?
  • Fellowships can be an effective way to nurture talent – but only if they’re created and administered effectively. Make sure fellows are truly integrated into a work culture, that everyone knows who they are and why they are there, that they have someone to talk to, that they are socially and intellectually engaged.

Questions for continued discussion:

  • Resistance to classical music particular to certain communities and universally provides a challenge: what do we do about class associations and unfamiliarity of repertoire and ritual?
  • How can we work collaboratively to: provide progressive opportunities for promising students to become professionally involved and make community concerts meaningful for engagement? One proposal: large organizations conducting outreach may want to look to local organizations who have already built relationships in a community as partners.

Thanks to all who joined us!


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