The community: a stakeholder or occasional special guest?

In this post, Afa Sadykhly Dworkin—Vice President of Programming and Artistic Director of the Sphinx Organization and a panelist at our first live event—reflects on the ongoing discussion of how American orchestras relate to their communities.

One of the topics that seems to never be exhausted fully, is the relevance of a symphony to its community. Even broader, it is about the relevance of music in general to the community it strives to serve. If we look upon music as a medium through which a community should, ideally, express itself, identify with one another, and find social value, then music needs to represent the community. In doing so, one must look at the content. What do we perform on stage? Who is in the audience? Are the audience demographics shifting? Are we seeking for those demographics to reflect the diversity of our actual community? If yes, how urgent is that desire/goal? I suspect that the answer should be “very urgent, as this may well directly relate to the long-term survival of live music.”

Imagine what the audiences would look like in a vibrant place like New York, Los Angeles, Boston or San Francisco, if they truly reflected the rich diversity of that city…

Naturally, with so many different challenges confronting the orchestral reality today, one of them is something we can realistically overcome: orchestras today perform a statistical zero percent of works by Black or Hispanic composers. The community, of course, is not very well reflected in that aspect.

Artists on stage are beginning to look more diverse, though the process is rather gradual, as many fundamental changes typically are. Many orchestras are looking at educational efforts as a means to affect the pool, which is great. One of thing that can happen, is community representation on Board and staff of orchestras. All of these are ways in which a community in a given city can see itself in a transformed role of a stakeholder, rather than an occasional, special guest in our magnificent concert halls. The alternative is and should be concerning to us.

—Afa Sadykhly Dworkin

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