NYSCA's DinO Initiative

On December 9, 2020, NYSCA’s Music and Arts Education programs hosted the seventh statewide “DinO” convening – and the first virtual version of the gathering. DinO, or Diversity in Orchestras, is short for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Orchestras, Classical Music, and Classical Music Education in New York State. Launched in March 2016, DinO is designed as an opportunity for the different parts of the classical music field to collectively explore challenges and opportunities along the “pathway” for professional musicians from more diverse backgrounds.  DinO discussions have included several of the state’s major orchestras, service organizations, conservatories, community music schools, youth orchestras and other funders. NYSCA has created several special funding initiatives to address field-wide needs articulated during these gatherings.

The lack of diversity in this field is more pronounced than in many other art forms, specifically in a dearth of Black and Latinx representation. In major orchestras, according to data from the Sphinx Organization, African Americans make up about 1.8% of musicians, and Latinx players about 2.5%. One focus of the DinO group has been to support the training of musicians and administrators of color in the classical music world, alongside efforts to improve the inclusiveness of their professional environments. As such, the first special initiative was a NYSCA-wide fellowship program, offered through NYSCA’s Regional Economic Development Council opportunity, in which grantees could apply support toward fellowship positions for individuals from communities that have been historically underrepresented in the arts. It was offered from 2017-2020, and open to any arts discipline. A number of music organizations were included among the recipients. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, for example, was able to use fellowship funding to hire its first African-American assistant conductor.

But staff recognized that simply adding a single fellow and diversifying staff is not sufficient to remove the organizational structures and cultures that have historically created barriers to entry for artists and practitioners of color. Meaningful change requires that entire organizations take consistent and intentional steps to advance goals around diversity, equity, and inclusion. With that in mind, NYSCA modified the fellowship program, requiring host organizations to offer multiple fellowships simultaneously, provide fair compensation to all fellows, and develop specific curricula and professional development opportunities that could help participants advance to the next level in their careers. Host organizations were also invited to apply funds to activities that would advance their diversity and inclusion priorities in an effort to create more equitable and welcoming organizational environments for the incoming fellows. At the same time, NYSCA launched a second special opportunity in 2019, offering intensive, yearlong and organization-wide staff training with anti-oppression consultant YK Hong for participants in the DinO group. It supported five organizations, including Diller-Quaile School of Music, Symphoria, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Albany Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.  Participating organizations were able to involve their entire staff, musicians, and teaching artists.

In 2020, the training initiative was continued for a second year, and three organizations were given the chance to deepen their commitment by inviting YK Hong to work with their boards. At the December 9, 2020 meeting, the group heard reports on this process from recipients Orpheus, Symphoria and Diller-Quaile. Several groups averred that this was the best such training they had yet encountered, describing the process as emotional and deep. We heard of the hard work involved, the powerful revelations that YK was able to elicit from participants, and the realization that feeling uncomfortable can lead to real progress as difficult subjects are discussed.

The December 9 convening was the best-attended gathering to date, with over forty leaders of arts education and musical organizations from across New York State in attendance.  Once again, the discussion was moderated by Aaron Flagg, Chair and Associate Director of Juilliard Jazz Studies.

Particularly in light of the major changes throughout the US over the past year, all agreed with YK that one "cannot finish" this work, but, rather, the mission and the commitment are what are constantly being pursued.   As one leader said, "We're never going to BE there -- but we seek diversity as an opportunity, not a task."