In December 2015, as part of its longstanding commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the League of American Orchestras and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation convened about 45 stakeholders from in and around orchestras to understand barriers to achieving greater diversity among musicians in orchestras—and to formulate corrective strategies. Orchestra CEOs, staff, musicians, and people from higher education, afterschool music programs, community arts education, and more spent two days in New York City in what became a launching pad for a national resurgence of conversation and action in support of achieving diversity in orchestras. Many key relationships among people and organizations were established, laying the groundwork for ongoing dialogue and action.

One immediate outcome of this meeting was the creation of the annual Diversity Forum, which convenes at the League’s Conference; the Diversity Forum brings together activists in and around orchestras to exchange information and perspectives, and to take collective action. The first Forum, in June 2016, spawned five national task forces to advance the League’s strategy:

Build an Audition Support System

Create and launch a National Diversity Audition Fund to provide travel, financial support, and training opportunities for orchestral auditions to pre- and early-professional musicians from under-represented communities in orchestras.

Establish a Mentor Network

Launch and promote the National Instrumentalist Mentorship and Audition Training Initiative, a program for pre-professional orchestra musicians of color. Co-chairs: Howard Herring, president and CEO, New World Symphony; Stanford Thompson, executive director, Play On, Philly!

Strengthen Music Education Pathways

Determine orchestras’ and youth orchestras’ optimal roles in strengthening local music education pathways through collective impact efforts. Co-chairs: Lee Koonce, president and artistic director, Gateways Music Festival; Leni Boorstin, director of community and government affairs, Los Angeles Philharmonic

Support Increased Board and Staff Diversity

Identify strategies and resources to support the diversification of orchestra boards and staff. Co-chairs: Shea Scruggs, director of music admission and assistant dean for preparatory and summer programs, School of Music, Ithaca College; Jim Hirsch, chief executive officer, Chicago Sinfonietta

Promote Organizational Readiness

Advancing principles and practices of diversity, equity and inclusion requires organizational cultures that support those aims. This group is charged to explore how orchestra cultures help and/or hinder diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and what steps can be taken to develop highly supportive cultures. Co-chairs: Alex Laing, principal clarinet, Phoenix Symphony; Megen Balda, executive director, Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies

Since the task forces were chartered in June 2016, the Audition and Mentor groups have merged and are finalizing plans for a major national effort offering an array of resources for early-career musicians of color. The new program is expected to launch in spring 2018. The three remaining task forces are continuing their work, with facilitation by the League. The third Diversity Forum will take place in conjunction with the League’s National Conference in Chicago, June 13-15, 2018.


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