Do America’s Orchestras Serve All People in Our Communities?

America’s orchestras, (and, I suspect, opera companies and theaters) have all been transitioning from a single minded focus on the excellence of the performance or art work, to paying greater attention to the value created for the community. To succeed we must work hand in hand with those artists and marginalized communities that help enrich our art form and generate new access points for audience engagement. We strongly support foundation investment in culturally specific and community-based arts activity, but do not believe, as the report suggests, that this must go hand in hand with less support to larger organizations. Both large and small arts organizations should be supported, recognizing their unique capacities to serve the circumstances and needs of their communities.

— Jesse Rosen

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1 comment on this post.
  1. Rick Robinson:

    Jesse, your points are well taken. I agree that American orchestras are continually trying to engage their communities of diversity with new music by us diversity composers and with the universality of the canon. And that board attitudes are finally bending toward truly serving the diversity and youth communities that are not donors by any means but nevertheless hold our orchestras’ futures in their hands.
    I would never advocate that foundations diminish their support for orchestras… but only because I understand, cherish and am part of that established system.

    Instead I will advocate that this is a valuable opportunity to understand and collaborate much more… both on and off the pedestal of the concert hall… with small organizations for the truly meaningful outreach (in-reach) that our communities deserve. Who was it that said something like, “Do not seek to be understood before you have yourself heard and understood”? Learning needs to go both ways… which paradoxically presents another dilemma.

    However, I was pleasantly surprised this year by collaborating with a fellow Kresge Artist Fellow Haleem Ar-Rashid. He choreographed a bold street-dance for my City of Trees. The result is that people heard and remembered the music BETTER because they were surprised and moved by the dancing. By making my art more entertaining, the music was received better. Some call that compromising, I call it enhancing.

    I believe we will do a better job of reaching IN to the communities of people that pass by our classical concerts. But we must face the music that without making classical mean something REAL to younger and darker music lovers, our position will continue to be called into question.