Aware that the field of classical music in America has not adequately addressed diversity, equity and inclusion, they have struggled for over a half century to change the situation. After decades of fellowship and diversity programs, tens of millions of dollars spent and countless promises from leaders to tackle the issues head on, only 1.8% of the nation’s orchestras’ musicians are Black and 2.5% are Hispanic[1]. By contrast, the nation is growing increasingly diverse: in fact, in the majority of the cities that host the largest American orchestras, the term “minority” for populations of color is now statistically incorrect. It stands to reason that greater diversity on stage, in administration, and governing boards will show that people of color have tremendous value to contribute to classical music in America, our orchestras will be stronger and more sustainable, and our communities will be better served.

Over the past five years, organizations like the League of American Orchestras, Mellon Foundation, New World Symphony and the Sphinx Organization have convened national funders, administrators, professional and aspiring musicians from around the country to discuss solutions and launch new programs. Millions of dollars in funding have been dedicated to new projects aimed at solving the issues expressed in several recent conferences.

At all these meetings, the issues raised could be grouped under the issue of cultural equity.  Americans for the Arts describes cultural equity as embodying the values, policies, and practices that ensure that all people—including but not limited to those who have been historically underrepresented based on race/ethnicity, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, or religion—are represented in the development of arts policy; the support of artists; the nurturing of accessible, thriving venues for expression; and the fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources.  Their “Statement on Cultural Equity” of May 23, 2016 stated, “Cultural equity is critical to the long-term viability of the arts sector.” 

It recently became clear that a solution needed to include two parallel paths. The first is teaching and training the student, and mentoring and supporting the young professional, with the goal of widening the pathway for musicians of color so they can be successful in the field. The second is overcoming the structural inequities that are imbued in policies, practices, and systems in our organizations that prevent opportunities to be given to deserving and aspiring musicians of color.

The National Instrumentalist Mentoring and Advancement Network (NIMAN) is a national association of organizations committed to furthering equity and opportunities for aspiring classical musicians from underrepresented ethnicities with the goal of creating a level playing field for all musicians.

[1] League of American Orchestras. (2016). Racial / Ethnic and Gender Diversity in the Orchestra Field. Retrieved from https://americanorchestras.org/knowledge-research-innovation/diversity-studies.html