Lately I’ve been asking myself how I feel, as a woman of color, about working in classical music, an industry that struggles with a long history of dismissiveness towards diverse voices. Music has been a driving force in my life since early childhood; the music world was a complicated environment in which to develop a sense of identity while also grappling with stereotypes as a music student and later as a working professional at leading arts organizations.
And yet with minority voices now speaking out more frequently and more forcefully about their experiences, it’s an empowering time to be thinking about ways to build a more inclusive music world. People across organizations large and small are willing to support change in the field, but straightforward solutions are hard to come by since diversity issues affect virtually every corner of the industry.
Since the path forward isn’t going to come from the direction of any one person, it’s becoming clear that the classical music industry needs to discuss solutions more often, with more people of different perspectives. Here are some thoughts on engaging in this discussion in the workplace, among peers and creative partners, and elsewhere.
- Engage a cross-section of people on race and diversity in programming.
When topics and questions of diversity in programming come up at work, make a point to solicit opinions from women and people of color throughout the office, even if their specific field of work isn’t artistic programming. (If there aren’t any minorities in your office, review your hiring processes.) Studies show that most minorities who work in the arts are not in curatorial positions, so while we work to address that imbalance, we can still seek out a range of views by stepping out of our silos.
- Ask questions when you disagree.
I recently had a complicated conversation about diversity with an industry contact that ground to an awkward halt when we disagreed. I’ve also been in similar situations in which the other person responded, “Wow, that’s interesting. Can you tell me more?” Complicating conversations on these topics is a fear of being perceived as insensitive or ignorant, despite best intentions. But I appreciate someone taking the time to respectfully ask questions about differences in viewpoints. It creates a space where both parties can learn and engage more deeply.
- Be eager to get advice from experts.
Let’s say you want to program a concert of music from another part of the world on your music series. Assuming you’re not from there, be committed to seeking advice from or collaborating with people who are and can bring valuable perspective, authenticity, and richness to the program. No amount of research can replace this. On a related note…
- Seek opportunities to add more diverse perspectives to projects.
In the new music industry, there’s no end to opportunities to bring creative partnerships and collaborations into a project. For example, take notice if your creative team for a production is looking fairly homogenous, and consider bringing in someone with a different background.
- Inform yourself with podcasts, classes, and lectures.
Even if you’re not in contact with many minorities in your personal or professional circles, there are simple ways to stay plugged into the national conversation about the minority experience, like attending classes or lectures, which are offered at many colleges.
Podcasts are another easy way to listen to really intelligent people talk at length on important topics of gender and cultural equity. Two podcasts that I’m listening to right now and highly recommend are Code Switch from NPR, which talks about race, ethnicity and culture, and Still Processing, a pop culture podcast hosted by New York Times writers Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, who give super sharp and thoughtful commentary on the music and entertainment industry.
This is a short list of ideas drawn from my scope of experience in the industry. I’d love to hear what else you all are witnessing in the industry, and what ideas we can pull from these experiences to move our society and culture forward.
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Carol Ann Cheung is a marketing communications professional who specializes in working with new music. In 2016, she joined the team at Boosey & Hawkes, where she works with some of the world’s most renowned composers, including John Adams, Steve Reich, Osvaldo Golijov, Anna Clyne, David T. Little, and Sean Shepherd. Prior to Boosey & Hawkes, Cheung worked at Carnegie Hall as an editor for six years, where she concentrated on publications and marketing campaigns for the Hall’s experimental and new music programming. Cheung’s passion for working with new music... Read more »