Here we are in late July, in what would have been a traditionally quiet time for many arts and cultural organizations. (Of course, not the ones with full summer schedules.)
But this year the stillness is especially unsettling with so much uncertainty about the coming months and new year ahead.
So perhaps this week a breather is needed along with some deep reflection on rebuilding better arts and cultural institutions that speak to a more diverse and dynamic world — and certainly a different one from the time they were first established.
Governments and foundations are reexamining their relationship to the arts and culture, at least via its funding. As England prepares its nearly $2 billion arts assistance package, governmental leaders are publicly insisting “significant diversity deficits” in the arts around race, gender, class and disability must be tackled as part of the recovery package.
Government, at least on that side of the Atlantic, is taking issues of systemic racism seriously when it comes to public funding. A taskforce in Wales has been set up with plans to improve diversity in the arts sector there. “It will focus on areas including accountability, research and ambassadors, in addition to creating a diversity council, a diverse board bank and setting up secondments for people of color in the arts.”
In the U.S. there is still not governmental financial support to the arts at the level that the U.K., Germany and other countries are creating. Neither is there the governmental mandate for the creation of more equitable institutions in its giving process.
But foundations are moving in that direction and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest supporter of the arts and humanities in the U.S., announced a fundamental reset in focusing its grant-making program entirely through the lens of social justice, following Ford Foundation’s mission shift several years ago.
No names were mentioned of institutions that didn’t align with the new vision, reported artnet.com, “but museums that are stuck in the traditional canon of Western art, with a myopic focus on white male artists, likely won’t make the cut. And the foundation isn’t just looking at programming, but also at museum staff and leadership, recognizing the importance of diversity at all levels.”
This quiet time — with few cultural events to cover — allows some Big Picture arts journalism, too, including a grand data-driven sweep on the state of the arts in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion published this month by The New York Times.
“With their major institutions founded on white European models and obstinately focused on the distant past, classical music and opera have been even slower than American society at large to confront racial inequity.”
So began a piece that featured nine Black performers talking about steps that could be taken to begin transforming a white-dominated field.
Under the headline “Opera Can No Longer Ignore Its Race Problem,” Joshua Barone writes: “The Metropolitan Opera, the nation’s largest opera house — indeed, its largest performing arts organization — paints a telling picture. Its board of 45 has only three Black managing directors. Of the 10 people on its music staff, one is Black; of the 90-member orchestra, two. The Met has presented 306 operas in its 137-year history, none of them by a Black composer.”
Anthony Tommasini’s piece includes some hard data to support his statement: “The status quo is not working” as it relates to classical music and diversity.
“American orchestras remain among the nation’s least racially diverse institutions, especially in regard to Black and Latino artists. In a 2014 study, only 1.8 percent of the players in top ensembles were Black; just 2.5 percent were Latino. At the time of the Philharmonic’s 1969 discrimination case, it had one Black player, the first it ever hired: Sanford Allen, a violinist. Today, in a city that is a quarter Black, just one out of 106 full-time players is Black: Anthony McGill, the principal clarinet.”
The Washington Post joins in with even more disturbing data. “Data collected from 500 American orchestras for a 2016 study by the League of American Orchestras paints a starkly white picture when it comes to diversity in classical organizations… The proportion of Hispanic and Latino musicians grew from just 1.8 percent in 2002 to 2.5 percent in 2014; while over the same 12-year period, the proportion of black musicians languished at around 1.8 percent.” The stats for staffs, boards, conductors, music directors and other employees were just as dismal.
A fine Washington Post story by Michael Andor Brodeur includes a quote from the great singer Jessye Norman’s memoir that resonates: “Racism is so pervasive in this country and in the world at large that it has, in many instances, become unconscious. It can slip into the daily discourse and go unrecognized, even by people who clearly ought to know better.”
Now that’s something to think about on a quiet summer’s night.
— FRANK RIZZO