Wednesday, 8 June 2016

A plan for diversity

in this post: Why diversity means more than simply selling tickets to diverse people. And why that might be impossible to do. And then – most happily – a bigger, more productive way to get diversity.

This is something I can help you with as a consultant. Go here to learn about my consulting work.

diverse hands blogConversation with a friend who runs an important classical music organization. How can they get more diversity, something funders like?

Maybe not the right way

What seems to be the simplest answer: Sell tickets to more kinds of people. This group has a standard classical music audience, upscale and white. So they could sell more tickets to minorities, particularly (in an urban setting) African-Americans and Hispanics.

But how do they do that? Anyone should be able to think of all kinds of obstacles. Not many African-Americans and Hispanics already in the audience, almost none on stage, no African-American or Hispanic culture reflected in the performances.

If these people aren't coming now, there must be some reason for it. And that won't easily be overcome, given that the people and the culture of the group are white.

No blame for that. We all are what we are. But to move outside our boxes, we have to think outside them, and that's not easy.

Another way

To think you could just go out and sell more tickets to people unlike you — that's a simplistic solution. Mechanical, I might say. And most likely unattainable.

So I'd suggest a more far-reaching way to go. Find ways to participate in the life — the culture, the everydayness — of the people that you want to reach.

That might seem impossible. If you sat down to brainstorm it, nothing might occur to you at first.

But if you kept at it, brought in some people who've thought about these things before…

  • You could create a presence in black churches in your community, as the St. Louis Symphony did some years ago, when they worked in — wait for it — almost 30 of them. Visiting, playing music, demonstrating instruments, selling discount tickets to the orchestra's performances. (That program, I fear, fell victim to a financial crisis years ago.)
  • You could do performances in the communities you want to reach. Big ones, serious ones. Like doing William Grant Still's oratorio on lynching. But not only pieces aimed at these communities. Don't patronize them that way. Also take your normal rep, maybe with performers either from or reflecting the communities you go to, but also sometimes not. Why not show that you, as your normal selves, are happy to share what you offer?
  • You could partner with music groups from these communities. And no, don't just think of gospel choirs. Too easy. (Though don't leave them out.) What else is there? Go visit, and find out!

Cautionary words

Two crucial tips. You must honestly be interested in what goes on in these communities, culturally and otherwise. The sharing you create must go both ways.

And, no matter what you do, you'll have to do it for a few years before you see significant results.

For one thing, that's true of any new initiative. But in this case, there's something else. The people you'll be dealing with must learn to trust you. Do you think they don't know that you get funded for outreach to them? Do you think they've never been burned, never been used, and then discarded?

So keep at it. Prove you really mean it. And that you enjoy the cross-cultural mixing.

Then, I'll bet, you'll see results. Which will even include a more diverse audience for the kind of performances you do right now.

Because in the end this problem isn't so different from attracting a new white audience. You have people who aren't coming because they don't see you in their world. Change that, and they well might come.

Again, this is something I can help you with as a consultant. I'd be thrilled to work with any group that really wants to be diverse.

And here's a tiny trap I almost fell into. When, above, I wrote "the kind of performances you do right now," I almost wrote "your main performances."

Which is exactly the kind of thinking that we have to change! Your work for diversity has to be just as important to you as your performances of Mozart in your concert hall, or else it won't ring true.

Original Content: A plan for diversity

No comments:

Post a Comment