Helpful Resources to Learn About Racial Inequity in the Arts and Non-Profit Sector

In late May, the deaths of George Floyd in the United States and Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Canada, each at the hands of the police, provoked an international movement condemning anti-Black racism and police brutality. In the months since, Canadian police have also killed Chantel Moore, Rodney Levi, and Ejaz Choudry, reinforcing the calls for action to address police violence against BIPOC communities in Canada.

There is now a greater sense of urgency in this country in the fight against systemic racism. These issues extend beyond just law enforcement; white supremacy and systemic inequities are prevalent in all industries, including the arts and orchestras. Many people have taken to writing about the arts and non-profit sectors to explain these inequities and provide insights to what long-term change could look like.

Reading list compiled by Nina Jeftic, Equity Coordinator, Orchestras Canada (summer 2020)

We Must Breathe – Why it is important to talk about race and racism in the context of classical music by Lukas Krohn-Grimberghe (WQXR), June 2020

In the article “We Must Breathe – Why it is important to talk about race and racism in the context of classical music”, Lukas Krohn-Grimberghe dives into why classical music, an art form often considered to be universal and meant for everyone, benefits from white privilege and is inaccessible to many. While classical music remains overwhelmingly white, Krohn-Grimberghe highlights why conversations about race in the context of classical music are relevant to the ongoing conversations of systemic racism within society.

Time to finally deal with racism and discrimination in Canadian charities, Shanaaz Gokool (Toronto Star), July 2020

Shanaaz Gokool delves into the world of Canadian charities and not-for profits to discuss the discrepancies that occur between their public mandates and private behaviours. Gokool notes that the pandemic continuously shines a bright light on systemic inequities that appear within these organizations, and calls for the sector to act and make changes that will create long lasting change and put an end to these inequities. She discusses major areas that all not-for profit organizations can improve on, from redefining roles within the organization to implementing new management requirements.

Give Us Permanence—Ending Anti-Black Racism in Canada’s Art Institutions, Syrus Marcus Ware, June 2020

In “Give Us Permanence—Ending Anti-Black Racism in Canada’s Art Institutions”, Syrus Marcus Ware writes about Canadian art institutions needing to go beyond their Black Lives Matter statements and acknowledge the inherent racism and white supremacy that has and continues to exist within them. He discusses the important work of Black artists and curators and presents ways to achieve long lasting structural changes within arts organizations, considering both a shift in power dynamics as well as the works showcased.

A Crisis of Whiteness in Canadian Art Museums, Sean O’Neill, June 2020

In his article, Sean O’Neill surveys the boards and senior executive teams of the four largest public art museums in Canada, finding that they are overwhelmingly white. While most of these organizations make efforts to diversify their exhibition programming, O’Neill calls this “outward -facing progress”, as artists and curators are not in charge of making decisions that are be instrumental to seeing systemic change within arts institutions. His article explains why this overwhelmingly white leadership needs to change in order for public art museums to effectively hold themselves accountable and serve their communities.

An Open Letter to Arts Organizations Rampant with White Supremacy, Nana Chinara, May 2020

“An Open Letter to Arts Organizations Rampant with White Supremacy” is a personal account of Black queer femme artist Nana Chinara, who details her recent experiences working in the arts. Chinara discusses an ongoing grant process in which she was mistreated and the lack of accountability from her employers, even after challenging them to take responsibility. Her article highlights that these mistreatments were all choices made by her employers and discusses the numerous ways in which white supremacy affects Black artists in the industry. She provides several suggestions to organizations to uproot the white supremacy ingrained in them.

A Collective Awokening in the Performing Arts, Michael Zarathus-Cook, June 2020

Michael Zarathus-Cook writes about the performing arts world and explains that the idea of diversity alone does not create a safe space for BIPOC artists, the industry needs to begin to foster a culture of inclusivity. He discusses the need for inclusivity in every aspect of the organization in order to create these spaces, not just in works programmed and performers featured, and that inclusivity extends beyond race. Hosted by Against the Grain Theatre, Zarathus-Cook led two panels as a follow-up to his article featuring BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, and disabled artists where they discuss the need for equity in the performing arts and what changes can be implemented.

A Collective Awokening in the Performing Arts Panel part 1

A Collective Awokening in the Performing Arts Panel part 2

8 Ways People of Color are Tokenized in Nonprofits, Helen Kim Ho, September 2017

In efforts to diversify or be more inclusive, many organizations may try to recruit or highlight their BIPOC staff/work, which often leads to them being tokenized. In her article, Helen Kim Ho discusses why these organizations, who are dedicated to the common good, so frequently have adverse outcomes to their diversity and inclusion initiatives. She reviews 8 ways that people of colour are tokenized within non-profit groups and why each of these is harmful to those individuals affected.

Open Letter to Directors, Executive Directors, and CEOs of Canadian Charities and Non-Profits, Senator Ratna Omidvar, June 2020

In this open letter, Senator Ratna Omidvar reveals that a majority of non-profits in Canada do not collect data on the diversity of their employees and leaders. Collecting this information annually would be a way to hold these organizations accountable as well as see if and how progress is being made. Senator Omidvar claims that when it comes to diversity, “the sector’s spirit is willing, but it’s flesh is weak”, and calls for the non-profit sector to be leaders in the battle against racism through this crisis

Nonprofits and Foundations Are Unintentionally Promoting Racism: Here’s How to Stop, Michele Norris and Sean Gibbons, February 2019

Michele Norris and Sean Gibbons confront the issues of racism in non-profits head on and discuss how these issues are intertwined with the environment we live in (while their focus is on America, these claims ring true in Canada as well). They write about the influence of the sector and why they cause unintended harm. The article goes through an example of this and discusses the steps taken to reduce it. Norris and Gibbons call for honest introspection within the non-profit world as part of the necessary practices that need to be built to combat racism.

Dear White Orchestras, Alexander Laing (Arts Journal), January 2017

When discussing the lack of Black and Brown people orchestras, Alexander Laing claims that the majority of discussions center around a universalist ethic, where it’s assumed that orchestral music is a universal artform. In his articles, he challenges readers and those part of the classical music/orchestral world to move towards a particularist ethic when discussing issues of race, a definition he borrows from author Jennifer Harvey which “recognizes that there is no one shared standard against we might measure or interpret our experiences of race, nor one to which we may all be held similarly accountable.”

Notes on Racism, and White Supremacy In Classical Music, Brandon Keith Brown, May 2020

Conductor Brandon Keith Brown comments on how racism and white supremacy have personally impacted him and his career in “Notes on Racism, and White Supremacy in Classical Music”. He calls for white people to start doing anti-racist work within themselves. Brown believes that classical music belongs to everyone, and states that a “visceral commitment to include Black artists, audience, artist managers and administrators in their business plan” will be essential to the long-term survival of any orchestra.

Can the arts world fight systemic racism in a real way instead of resorting to tokenism?, Zainub Verjee, June 2020

Zainub Verjee provides an overview of the Canadian arts world, citing several examples from across the country of various artistic responses to social movements. She points out that these struggles are “wiped out of the public memory”, and that the motivations behind diversity are business related. Verjee questions whether the current climate will be enough to begin a commitment to fighting systemic racism on an ongoing basis, or if this crisis will join the others as tokenistic responses.

I’m tired., Andrew Adridge, July 2020

Andrew Adridge, a Toronto-based Guyanese-Canadian baritone writes a vulnerable work sharing his perspective as a Black performer in the classical music industry. He asks members of this community to start to speak out and advocate for Black and Indigenous people. While Canada has a multicultural population, Adridge notes that nothing else has been done by us as a country to prove we are a multicultural country.

REMOTE | Andrew Adridge ‘The Way The Industry Is Currently Structured, I Have No Business Hoping To Be In It’, Michael Zatharus-Cook, June 2020

Michael Zarathus-Cook sits down with baritone Andrew Adridge to discuss the current #BlackLivesMatter movement and changes that need to happen in the performing arts community. Adridge states that the lack on accountability being taken in Canada leads to what he calls “Performance Representation”. He envisions “Authentic Representation”, where “an underrepresented person can actualize a path to belonging”. Adridge explains that the classical music industry plays a role in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which is a problem beyond just law enforcement.

Art is integral to Black Lives Matter: a conversation with Dr. Kristin Moriah, Nathan Gallagher, June 2020

Nathan Gallagher speaks with English professor Dr. Kristin Moriah to discuss the role of art as a catalyst for social change. Focusing on Black Lives Matter- Toronto, Moriah notes that several of their founding members are arts practitioners and that one of their first actions to attract attention was a piece of performance art- when they temporarily stopped Justin Trudeau’s float at the Toronto Pride Parade. She comments that art and literature provide a different element of understanding to people, and that engaging with Black art can help deepen the insights of those who don’t comprehend the Black experience.

Why we need Black and Indigenous leadership at Canada’s top museums now more than ever, Syrus Marcus Ware and Sean O’Neill, June 2020

Syrus Marcus Ware and Sean O’Neill call for urgent change within management in arts organizations. After the recent #BlackOutTuesday campaign, several people have spoken out about the racism they experienced at these organizations. Both Ware and O’Neill advocate for structural change within these organizations to begin to combat the racism imbedded within them. Ware notes that it is only in the moments of unrest that museums choose to engage with Black artists, and thinks that including Black and Indigenous voices in management as well as regularly programmed artists will increase the excellency of the work featured.

A Statement on Racial Inequity from Orchestras Canada

While Orchestras Canada serves a national network of Canadian orchestras, our office is on the treaty and traditional territory of the Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg. We offer gratitude to the First Peoples for their care for, and teachings about, our earth and our relations. We will honour those teachings.

We are grieved by the anti-Black racist events in recent weeks.

We acknowledge that our society is built on, yet critically weakened by, systemic racism.

Orchestras Canada is committed to a more just society for all.

We are committed to sustained and effective action, manifested through our internal practices and our service to orchestras and the music that is shared.

With much to learn, we approach this important work with humility and transparency, guided by colleagues with lived experience. Their guidance is truly a generous gift.

We call on Canadian orchestras to recruit Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Colour in decision-making roles, as board members, lead volunteers, arts workers, and arts leaders.

We call on Canadian orchestras to welcome Black artists, Indigenous artists, and artists of colour to their stages, as conductors, performers, soloists, composers, mentors, and creators.

Until Canadian orchestras are fully welcoming and accessible, Orchestras Canada will encourage orchestras to adopt external strategies and internal practices that will foster an inclusive network of diverse leaders, artists, arts workers, volunteers, and audiences.

At our national conference in 2016, members asked OC to take the lead on commissioning and curating resources to inform Canadian orchestras’ work in inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. Since then, this work has been a focus for us, and has informed our research, knowledge-sharing, and convening practices, along with our nominating and recruitment efforts. The following is a short list of the resources that we’ve developed; more can be found here.

OC Resources

Other resources that we have found helpful

On Open Youth Orchestras and Inclusive Music-Making

Photo, Ian RitchieA letter from Ian Ritchie, guest speaker at OC’s 2019 National Conference to the OC Membership on the Re-sounding the Orchestra report:

Having first participated in conferences organised by your ACO predecessors back in the early 1990s, when I chaired the Association of British Orchestras and ran the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, I was delighted to be invited again to take part in your recent deliberations in Ottawa. In acknowledging not only those heady days of innovation and change in the orchestral landscapes of our respective countries but also these present times of strategic ingenuity and creative effort so evidently at work in many Canadian orchestras, it may seem rather presumptuous of me to offer any suggestions to add to your already well-considered responses to the recent Re-sounding the Orchestra report. But I shall take that risk!

Re-soundingI should like to advocate the possibility of developing socially-inclusive, community-based ‘open’ youth ‘orchestras’, in partnership with established professional orchestras throughout Canada, as a strategic and practical response to the report’s understandably challenging and uncompromising demands, drawing on the Setúbal Youth Ensemble model which I have developed over the past five years through my Music Festival in Portugal. In brief, through an open auditioning process which makes no assumptions of any Eurocentric orchestral structure, the resulting Ensemble has recruited and maintained roughly a quarter of its membership from the aural tradition, reflecting the local population of immigrants from former African and South American colonies of Portugal, another quarter comprising young people with various disabilities and special needs, and approximately half coming via the mainstream of music education – all chosen for their talent. With the instrumentation dependent on the selected young musicians rather than the other way about, there is no standard repertory and therefore all the Ensemble’s music has be specially composed or arranged: this has given unique creative opportunities to a new generation of composers, embracing unusual instrumental combinations (including the use of accessible technology, where appropriate) and inventing special notations to enable the participation of those unable to read the conventional musical language. This Ensemble is Setúbal’s official ‘youth orchestra’.

I believe that it will be important for orchestras to protect the continuation of a positive and manageable evolution rather than to stir up a sudden and potentially damaging revolution, in responding resonantly to the Re-sounding report. The Setúbal model can support this approach, inviting decisive action and encouraging any necessary ‘revolution’ to be driven by the new and emerging generations of collaborative musicians. Such ensembles – which will be young, innovative, adaptable, inclusive and diverse musical communities – are much more likely than established and understandably less flexible adult orchestras to persuade conservatoires and universities to listen and respond to demands for fundamental transformations in their educational and training pathways. These pathways are currently too narrow and poorly signposted for musicians from non-Eurocentric and Indigenous backgrounds to make useful progress; and they are completely blocked for most people with physical disabilities, learning difficulties and other special needs.

To summarise, the adoption of the Setúbal Youth Ensemble model, locally adjusted for each distinct ensemble and community, will not impose standard western classical hierarchies and practices of leadership, instrumentation, repertoire, notation and rehearsal procedures but shall admit various musical genres (reflecting the group’s varied membership), new works, arrangements, improvisation, mutual creativity and adjustable time-frames into the process. Such an approach is not necessarily expensive; it is accessible for young musicians of all backgrounds and can help to address the reported concerns of those seeking equity, especially amongst the Indigenous population; it gives composers and other creative artists a broader palette of opportunities to collaborate; it can advance music as an art-form in itself and more widely on a number of fronts, including its proven but untapped potential in human development, health and well-being. That would be a resounding success!

Ian Ritchie (London, England – July 2019)