May 10, 2016

As President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, I was present at the April 26 meeting of arts service organization leaders hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts, in which a conversation on “Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity in the Arts” occurred. I was seated at a table of eight that included both Michael Butera, Executive Director of National Association for Music Education, and Keryl McCord, Operations Director for Alternate Roots, and was tapped to report out to the full group on the results of our conversation.

I write now in part as an observer and participant but also as one deeply concerned about the urgency of taking constructive steps to address diversity, inclusion, and equity across the arts community. This is a process that calls for national arts leaders to step up and engage with one another and not give in to the forces that would divide us. 

I can attest to the accuracy of Keryl McCord’s account of what was said and what took place. Mr. Butera indeed said that he could not take action to diversify his board, and that African Americans and Latinos lacked keyboard skills needed to advance in the music education profession — two statements which many of us around the table challenged. The group was unable to further pursue the meaning of his comments as Mr. Butera abruptly and angrily walked out of the room, well in advance of the meeting’s scheduled end time.

If the arts community is to accelerate progress in the areas of diversity, inclusion, and equity, we must all, especially national leaders, be prepared to navigate difficult conversations. When it gets uncomfortable you’re probably in the right place. But, care must be taken to maintain respect, to listen actively, to ask questions, to assume good intentions, and above all, to remain engaged. The true pursuit of equity requires staying at the table when the conversations get tough.

As a national arts organization that is immersed in conversations and efforts related to diversity and inclusion, the League is taking steps to address a long and persistent lack of diversity in our field and to close gaps in access to arts education in our nation’s schools.

The incident at the NEA reveals the opportunity and pressing need for the arts community, in all its diversity, to find common cause in a just and equitable arts ecology committed to access and excellence for everyone.

Jesse Rosen
President and CEO, League of American Orchestras
May 10, 2016


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